10 Natural Ways to Enhance Muscle Recovery
From steam baths to foam rollers, these post-workout tips COULD make a huge difference in your training results.
You’ve heard it for years from personal trainers and scientists: What you do after exercise is almost as important as the workout itself. Now, after years of research into muscle recovery, we have a clearer understanding of just how essential the post-workout period is for your overall fitness progress.
Bodybuilders have known this for decades through trial and error. Muscles don’t grow bigger and stronger while you lift weights. They grow after when the body is at rest. After being “damaged” during the workout, your muscle cells go through a process of repair, or adaptation, where they increase in size and strength. It’s as if your muscles are saying, “If I have to go through that workout again, I’m going to be ready!”
Even if your goal isn’t muscle growth or improving strength, exercise recovery is crucial. Without adequate rest, your muscles won’t repair themselves and your endocrine system and adrenal glands could go into overdrive. Your body responds by releasing cortisol, the “fight-or-flight” stress hormone. Excessive cortisol can lead to a number of health issues, including fatigue, weight gain, hypertension, etc.
You have to make sure your body receives adequate rest after exercise, even if you’re performing a low-impact activity like yoga or Pilates. You also want to relieve DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness). DOMS isn’t unhealthy, but it can make you suffer for as long as 48 hours after an intense workout.
But efficient recovery isn’t just about avoiding pain and complications; it’s about getting maximum benefit from your exercise regimen. With the right recovery program, you can accelerate your progress and get the most out of every workout.
10 NATURAL WAYS TO BOOST YOUR RECOVERY GAME
While “recovery” has become a common buzzword in today’s fitness world, the term means different things to different people. Some stress nutrition and sports supplements, while others believe self-administered physical therapy is the answer. Many elite trainers, including many professional athletes, swear that a session in a steam room is the best way to recover from exercise.
The truth is that all of these methods can help you achieve your exercise and recovery goals. But to stay on track for your fitness progress, it’s better to rely on holistic solutions. On the top of the list is rest. Make sure you get your 7-9 hours of sleep per night and try to keep your workouts between 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the intensity and goal.
With that in mind, let’s look at our favorite 10 natural ways to enhance exercise recovery.1. Stretch and/or perform myofascial release. Stretching is routine for some people who work out regularly, but many exercisers skip this valuable warm-up and cool-down technique. One study found that stretching before and after exercise can help reduce muscle soreness.
If you’ve ever used a foam roller to relieve muscle tightness, you’ve performed self-myofascial release (SMR). Research shows that SMR can help reduce soreness and improve muscle activation after training. Physical therapists trained in hands-on myofascial relief can also provide benefits if you need more intensive treatment.
2. Ingest a protein shake or a high-protein meal. Replenishing your muscle cells are essential after exercise, especially if your goals are centered on muscle growth and strength. Some call this period after training the “post-workout window,” but research isn’t specific on the exact time period for maximizing gains after training.
Proteins are known as “the building blocks of life” and you should aim for at least the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of 0.8 g of protein per kilogram (2.2 lb) of bodyweight. Keep in mind the RDA is intended for sedentary individuals, so muscle builders may want to increase their protein ingestion.
3. Hydrate with water and/or a sports drink. You can’t beat water as your hydration of choice. Health-care practitioners recommend drinking between one half-ounce and one ounce of water for each pound of bodyweight. (If you weigh 150 pounds, that means you’d drink 75-150 oz per day.)
Some sports drinks, including some of the big sellers, have loads of sugar, so read labels carefully. Still, your body needs its electrolytes replenished after intense exercise, so it’s not a bad idea to down a low-sugar sports beverage.
4. Use branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). The three BCAAs, leucine, isoleucine, and valine, are critical for muscle repair and growth. Especially valuable is leucine, the only dietary protein that has the capacity to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Leucine is an “essential” amino acid, meaning that your body doesn’t make it. You have to ingest it from foods, liquids, or dietary supplements. If you exercise often and intensely, you should look into BCAAs.
5. Ingest glutamine. Glutamine is the most prevalent amino acid in the human body and provides numerous benefits post-workout. One study found that glutamine increased muscle recovery and reduced soreness. Glutamine is found in chicken, fish, spinach, dairy, and other foods. You can also get it as a supplement. Some protein shakes are fortified with glutamine, so check labels.
6. Get a massage. Research shows that therapeutic massage can be effective in helping to reduce DOMS and improve muscle repair. The mechanism appears to be in well-applied compression techniques.7. Try “active recovery.” Active recovery is a targeted cool-down method that you do after your workout. Simply perform 5-10 minutes of low-intensity exercise, such as pedaling on a stationary bike, after training to get the heartbeat going. This helps clear metabolic waste from your bloodstream that’s built up from the wear and tear of your exercise. Research supports this technique for reducing soreness and enhancing muscle recovery.
8. Take a salt bath. Immersing yourself in a warm bath with therapeutic Epsom salts or tropical sea salts for 20-30 minutes has been a long-time recovery aid for athletes. Epsom salt is another name for magnesium sulfate, and magnesium appears to be the mechanism that aids the body during the recovery process. Use two cups of Epsom salts per a standard-sized bathtub for your soak.
9. Take ginger and curcumin. This spicy duo just may be a recovery powerhouse, according to a study. Curcumin and ginger can help reduce soreness and inflammation after training.
10. Steam therapy. Taking a steam shower after exercise has long been a valued recovery technique among hard-training athletes who need to recover quickly in order to prepare for the next competition. But even everyday exercisers may benefit from steam’s far-reaching potential effects on circulation, detoxification, soreness, and overall muscle recovery.
THE WONDERS OF STEAM THERAPY FOR RECOVERY
The benefits of intermittent hyperthermia on the body after a workout have been touted by numerous fitness experts. In an article published by InStyle, Equinox Tier X Coach Matt Delaney says that steam rooms may help lower blood pressure and open up your blood vessels. “In addition, the heat can help to relax muscles and the increase in the circulation may boost the body’s inflammatory response post-workout, helping you recover faster,” says Delaney.
The body’s reaction to heat acclimation appears to be a key mechanism in the ability of a steam bath to help remove lactic acid from muscles after training. Lactic acid is a byproduct of muscle exertion. The feeling of your muscles “burning” from the fatigue of lifting weights is caused by the release of lactic acid. It’s part of the metabolic waste that gums things up in your bloodstream after training.
A study also shows that moist heat can significantly reduce DOMS after training. According to the researchers, “Most clinicians feel that moist heat penetrates deep tissues better than dry heat for warming.”
Also, steam rooms may help your tired joints and connective tissue heal after a workout. Says the conclusion of one study: “Heat is beneficial in increasing muscle and ligament flexibility and may help reduce athletic injuries….”
Even more to the point, research has found that intermittent heat treatments can limit cell damage after exercise, while enhancing muscle regrowth. This really is the mother lode of post-workout recovery effects. Heat’s ability to augment protein synthesis not only aids in your recovery, but it helps your body utilize your post-workout protein dose to its potential. No wonder pro athletes regularly use steam rooms after training.
Steam rooms may also replicate some of the benefits gained from other recovery modalities. Techniques like active recovery, massage, and SMR help enhance circulation. So do intermittent heat treatments. Scientists have found that moist heat can dilate small blood vessels and improve blood flow, which also helps reduce hypertension.
But there are other benefits of steam therapy that you don’t need a scientist to explain. Steam baths are soothing and relaxing. Many people say they can feel stress leaving your body after a few minutes in the calming heat of a steam room. Tired muscles feel rejuvenated, your spirit refreshed. After only a short 10-15-minute session, you feel like you’re ready to take on the world again.
HOW TO MAKE STEAM PART OF YOUR RECOVERY ROUTINE
If you have access to a steam room, make sure you take advantage and see for yourself how it might augment your post-workout recovery. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that you wait 10 minutes after exercise before using a steam room, so keep that in mind.
Unfortunately, many people don’t have steam rooms in their health clubs and gyms. What may surprise you is how easy it is to install a steam bath in your own residence. Do you have an extra bathroom? Then you have a potential steam bath.
Installing a home steam room is much simpler and more affordable than you may think. See for yourself by checking out MrSteam’s case studies, or by visiting a dealer showroom. With daily access to a steam room, you’ll get more out of your workout and more out of life.