Muscle Recovery | Your Guide to Promote and Maintain Muscle Health
Muscles are the powerhouse of the body and are responsible for all physical activities. Working the muscles properly is essential to stay healthy and in shape. Resistance training such as weightlifting can help build muscles while aerobic activities like running can improve muscular endurance. When muscles become fatigued it is important to take the necessary steps to allow for recovery of the muscle.
Proper muscle recovery is essential for any athlete seeking improved performance and reduced risk of injury. While it may seem counterintuitive to rest in order to be more active, taking time away from vigorous activities gives the body much-needed reprieve.
Definition of muscles
Muscles are made up of bundles of long, slender cells called muscle fibers. They are composed of proteins called actin and myosin and are responsible for muscle contraction. This contraction causes a force that is used to move parts of the body or support a static position such as sitting or standing.
There are three different types of muscles: skeletal muscles, cardiac muscles, and smooth muscles. Skeletal muscles are connected to the bones through tendons, which allow them to move and flex. Cardiac muscles are found in the heart and help it beat properly. Smooth muscles line our internal organs such as intestines, helping them contract and relax.
Overview of muscle recovery
The objective of muscle recovery is to help muscles repair themselves after exercise and build strength so that they recover stronger than before. Without proper recovery, exercise performance can decline and the body can become susceptible to injury or illness.
The process of muscle recovery is multi-faceted and includes both physical and mental elements. Physically, it involves restoring energy stores, repairing damaged tissue, reducing inflammation, restoring joint range of motion, and increasing blood circulation to the area after a tough workout. Mentally, muscle recovery helps combat fatigue and stress which can often accompany rigorous exercise or training sessions. Together, physical and passive exercise recovery elements facilitate muscle growth.
What happens during muscle recovery
When muscles recover stronger than before, it is a physiological response known as muscle adaptation and is a result of several biological processes that occur on the cellular level.
Muscle fibers become stronger when they are exposed to muscle-damaging exercises, such as lifting weights. As muscle fibers repair themselves, muscle protein synthesis increases and new muscle cells are formed. This process is what ultimately leads to an increase in muscle size and strength.
In addition to the muscle adaptation that occurs at a cellular level, the body will also undergo metabolic adaptations. These include an increase in muscle enzymes, a decrease in muscle fatigue, and an increase in the body’s ability to use fat as fuel during exercise.
Factors affecting muscle recovery
The duration of muscle recovery depends on a number of factors, including the type and intensity of workout, recovery activities, nutrition intake, and lifestyle habits such as sleep quality and stress levels. Athletes should give their body the time it needs to recover after exercise in order to maximize performance during the next workout session. Additionally, it is important to incorporate active and passive recovery techniques into muscle recovery plans to fully replenish and build muscle strength.
The primary factor that affects muscle recovery time is intensity of physical activity. Muscles adapt quickly when exposed to low intensity activity for short periods of time. However, high intensity activities cause more damage and require a longer recovery period. Intensity also plays a role in determining how much rest an athlete needs between workout sessions. While light workouts can be performed daily, high intensity workout sessions need to be spaced out to allow for adequate recovery.
Delayed onset muscle soreness
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is one of the most common forms of post workout muscle pain and occurs when muscles are strained beyond their usual range of motion. It usually begins 12-24 hours after exercise and peaks between 24-72 hours after exercise. It typically resolves within 3-5 days but can last longer in some cases.
Types of muscle recovery
Active recovery involves a range of gentle, low-impact exercises to increase blood flow to the muscles, maintain muscle flexibility, reduce muscle soreness, reduce lactic acid buildup (2), and eliminate toxins in the muscles.
Walking or light jogging is a beneficial activity that can help reduce recovery time by promoting circulation to the affected muscles. Improved circulation increases the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the muscle tissue, which helps the recovery process. Walking or light jogging also helps the body flush out waste products such as lactate and metabolic byproducts, that build up and cause fatigue.
Stretching helps to reduce muscle tightness while increasing muscle length, balance, and range of motion.
Foam rolling helps to promote muscle recovery by releasing tension from muscle fibers, improving circulation and promoting muscle relaxation.
Passive recovery activities do not involve physical movement but instead rely on rest, along with a number of recovery aids such as heat, massage, or stretching. They help reduce the severity of the muscle damage, swelling, and fatigue by promoting tissue healing, reducing muscle inflammation and fatigue, and improving muscle strength.
Massage therapy helps by encouraging the release of muscle-relaxing chemicals and muscle-building hormones.
Hydrotherapy helps to reduce post workout muscle soreness and improve muscle recovery by promoting circulation, reducing muscle inflammation, and decreasing muscle fatigue.
Compression garments help to reduce muscle swelling and promotes circulation.
Heat treatments can help by increasing temperature and blood flow to the muscle.
Electrical stimulation helps by directly stimulating targeted muscles to make them contract. The repeated muscle contractions improves blood flow to the area, facilitating repair.
Massage helps decrease muscle soreness and stiffness and also promotes blood flow.
There are a few precautions to take into account when utilizing active and passive recovery techniques. When it comes to active recovery, it is important not to overexert oneself. Physical recovery activities should be done at a low intensity, as pushing too hard during recovery can lead to very sore muscles and delayed recovery times.
Allow adequate rest times between recovery activities. Recovery should not be done too frequently or for long periods of time as this can lead to fatigue and further muscle pain.
Passive recovery activities should also be done in moderation. Applying heat, massage or stretching recovery aids too frequently can actually cause more pain and discomfort.
It is important to listen to one’s body when using recovery aids; recovery activities should be stopped if pain is too severe or if physical discomfort continues after recovery .
Good nutrition fuels the muscle repair process following intense exercise. Eating healthy foods helps to not only fuel the body, but to also help muscles repair and rebuild themselves. Achieving an appropriate level of nutrition while working out ensures that athletes can achieve their desired performance outcomes, as nutrition plays an important role in maintaining proper body weight and muscle tissue integrity (3).
To support adequate muscle repair and growth after a tough workout, it’s important to provide proteins, carbohydrates and other nutrients that are essential for the muscle repair process. Protein provides the building blocks for muscle growth, which allows for new tissues to be created during recovery periods. Carbohydrates give energy so that athletes can perform at optimal levels during workouts and replenish energy stores after exercise. Vitamins and minerals are crucial for muscle recovery, as they help to provide essential nutrients.
Drinking enough fluids
Adequate hydration is essential to help muscles recover after physical activity. Without fluids, the body cannot effectively perform its vital functions, including transporting oxygen and nutrients that help muscles repair themselves. In addition, fluids are important for helping to regulate body temperature and prevent dehydration, which can lead to fatigue, dizziness, and cramps.
After physical activity, fluids should be taken to replenish fluids lost during activity as well as help the body recover more quickly. It is important to remember that fluids do not just come from water; fluids can also be obtained from beverages such as juice, sports drinks, and milk.
Sleep is essential for muscle recovery. Quality restorative sleep allows the body time to repair and rejuvenate muscles, which helps athletes to maintain peak performance levels. Poor sleep quality or inadequate sleep duration results in sleep deprivation, which has a direct effect on physical performance and muscle recovery following exercise.
Studies have shown that individuals who suffer from poor sleep or lack of adequate rest perform less effectively than those who get enough rest and quality sleep (4). Exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD) leads to a reduction in strength and endurance as well as an increase in perceived levels of fatigue and soreness. Research indicates that individuals experiencing poor quality of sleep post-exercise experience more negative consequences due to EIMD than those who get a good night’s sleep the night after exercise.
Research conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that athletes who slept for 8.5 hours a night experienced less fatigue and muscle soreness post-exercise than those who only slept for 6 hours or less. In addition to this, athletes who achieved the 8.5 hours of sleep also had faster recovery rates and improved performance levels.
Poor quality of sleep is also linked to an increase in cortisol levels, which leads to a longer time needed for recovery following exercise. Elevated cortisol levels also can lead to reduced immunity, impaired cognitive function and increased risk of injury due to weakened muscles.
To maximize muscle recovery post-exercise, athletes should get between 7-9 hours of sleep per night in order to optimize their physical performance and ensure effective muscle recovery.
Stress has been linked to various physiological processes that can inhibit the body’s ability to recover from workout-related fatigue (1).
Stressors (e.g., financial worries, interpersonal problems, and drug or alcohol use) increase cortisol production in the body. Stress-induced hormones such as cortisol interferes with the body’s natural recovery processes by triggering an inflammatory response. This in turn delays muscle healing, prolongs muscle soreness and stiffness, and makes post workout fatigue more severe (2).
Increased stress can also deplete the body’s own natural supply of muscle-building hormones, such as testosterone and human growth hormone. This reduces the rate at which muscles can rebuild themselves after workout-related fatigue has been experienced.
Research has shown that reducing stress levels can help speed up muscle recovery after working out.
Meditation and deep breathing exercises are passive recovery activities that calm the mind and body and can help to reduce levels of cortisol in the bloodstream, allowing muscles to recover more quickly after a workout. Taking part in activities that involve social interaction can help to alleviate stress, as these have been linked to increased levels of happiness and relaxation.
Active and passive recovery methods, together with healthy lifestyle habits such as a healthy diet, adequate hydration, stress management, and quality sleep, are essential for optimal recovery. Athletes should make sure to prioritize them in order to maximize their performance.
Muscle recovery is an integral part of any workout routine and it’s important that athletes give their bodies the time they need for post workout recovery.
By incorporating adequate rest periods between workouts, replenishing fluids and nutrients, and taking measures to manage stress levels, athletes can ensure that their muscles are able to perform at peak capacity during each workout session.
- Stults-Kolehmainen, Matthew A, et al. “Chronic psychological stress impairs recovery of muscular function and somatic sensations over a 96-hour period.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research vol. 28,7 (2014): 2007-17. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000000335
- Menzies, P, et al. “Blood lactate clearance during active recovery after an intense running bout depends on the intensity of the active recovery.” Journal of Sports Sciences, July 2010; 28(9): 975–982: (2010). https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2010.481721
- Mielgo-Ayuso, J, and Fernández-Lázaro, D. “Nutrition and Muscle Recovery.” Nutrients vol. 13,2 294. 20 Jan. 2021, https://doi.org/10.3390%2Fnu13020294
- Mah, Cheri D et al. “The effects of sleep extension on the athletic performance of collegiate basketball players.” Sleep vol. 34,7 943-50. 1 Jul. 2011, doi:10.5665/SLEEP.1132