Why You Should Prioritise Recovery When Training


When we think of "exercise recovery", the majority of us will think of recovering from an injury sustained during exercise. However, recovery is the key to a healthy body in all forms of sport and training. If we are not letting our bodies rest and recover, our performance can't improve.

Why Is Recovery So Important?

Contrary to popular belief, it's not lifting weights and performing 1000 push-ups a day that builds muscle. When we exercise, we are only providing the muscles with the potential to grow. As weights are lifted in the gym, our muscle fibres are broken down. However without the right nutrition and sleep our muscles will not recover properly and therefore will not grow.

Feed Your Body

Feeding the muscles with the right macronutrients (proteins, carbs and fats) and micronutrients from whole food sources, will provide the muscles with the nutrients they need to repair and grow bigger and stronger.

If you want to increase your muscle mass by around 10%, the daily recommendation is to eat around 1.6x your bodyweight (in kilos) in grams of protein. So if you weigh 60kg, you may want to be eating at least 96g of protein from a range of sources.

If you are more of a marathon runner, you will still want to eat protein to help your muscles repair, but also carbohydrates to refuel your body's energy supply. Your body may be repairing even 2-3 days after your workout, so keeping on top of your nutrition throughout the week is key.

You can never go wrong by eating whole foods (fruit and vegetables) as these supply the micronutrients that help the macronutrients do their job. While your car (the macronutrients such as protein in this analogy) might get you from A to B (skinny to muscular), without putting the right petrol (the micronutrients in this analogy), your car won't get you nearly as far as it could have with the right fuel source.

Prioritise Sleep

So you've lifted weights in the gym and fed your body the right nutrients it needs. Now what? Sleep is essential. A cocktail of hormonal and physiological changes happens when we sleep. This is where your body and its muscles repair and grow as your body is in a full state of rest. 

During sleep, our body produces growth hormones that help the muscles that you have worked out repair and grow.

How Much Sleep Should You Get When You Are Exercising?

The recommended amount for adults is between 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Throughout your sleep, you will travel through various stages of light to deep sleep, with REM sleep (one of the later stages of the sleep cycle) being the most restorative both mentally and physically.

On a similar note, while consuming alcohol may help you get to sleep quicker it can vastly reduce the quality of your sleep, meaning that you will not get all the health benefits that you usually would.

We can lose up to an hour of sleep every night from poor quality sleep, so what may seem like 7 hours, may only be 6.

How Can You Improve Your sleep?

There are a number of ways you can get a better night's sleep. Putting your phone down around an hour before you go to bed as the blue light emitted from your phone can interfere with certain chemicals in your brain that help you wind down for the night.

Having a regular sleep/wake schedule can also help. For example, if you are going to bed at 12 am one night, 10 pm the next, 11 pm the next and so on, your body doesn't know when your bedtime is and can stop you from sleeping when you want to. Try and get a regular pattern in place that suits you, for example going to bed at 10:30 pm, reading for half an hour and setting your alarm for 7 am can be a great way to wind down and get the sleep you need.

If the question is "should I sleep longer than usual when working out?" the answer is, that it depends on how much you sleep already. If your regular routine gives you 7-9 hours, perfect. If not, you may want to put a bit more emphasis on your nighttime routine.

Hydrate Properly

Water isn't only important to have before and during your workout. Research has shown that hydrating after your workout and throughout the day can aid digestion, muscle repair and, according to the British Medical Journal, heart rate recovery while reducing general fatigue. 

How much water should you drink? Dividing your bodyweight in kilos by 30 is a great way to stay hydrated. For example if you weigh 60kg, drink 2L of water throughout the day. 

Ice Baths and Cold Showers

Another key element to recovery is blood flow. This is where cold showers can come in. This does not mean you have to turn the shower cold and get in immediately. Having a shower at your usual temperature before turning it cold for 60 seconds and then back to warm again can get your blood flowing and help you recover.

Ice baths can help flush lactic acid out of the muscle while reducing swelling and tissue breakdown. This can be great for recovery from cardiovascular exercise, however, if muscle building is your goal, ice baths and colder temperatures can reduce your body's response to tissue damage, which it needs in order for muscles to grow.

This was supported by a 2015 study from the Journal of Physiology that found participants who practised 10 minutes of cold-water immersion showed less muscle growth than participants who practised active recovery.

Not only is recovery key for injuries, but it also plays a vital role in the life of anyone who exercises. In order to grow, your muscles need to be fed with the right nutrients and given the right amount of rest in order to repair. When we lift weights, we are only giving our muscles the potential to grow, and it is with a good recovery strategy that we can truly enhance our performance and become a faster, stronger and healthier version of ourselves.

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