Your body deals with nutrients differently at different times, so by consuming particular nutrients right after your workouts, you can improve your performance, muscle growth and speed up overall recovery. Naturally, the point of post-workout nutrition is to replenish your depleted glycogen reserves, decrease protein breakdown and increase protein synthesis.
However, if you limit your post-workout recovery only to nutrition, you are most likely missing out on a great opportunity to stimulate immense muscle growth, so read this article to learn how to grow bigger and stronger in less time with the help of a few simple techniques!
How to speed up recovery after training
Chugging down a huge protein shake after you finish your workout isn’t the only nor the best way to optimize your muscle gains. For some real results, do at least one of the techniques presented in the text below, anywhere from 5-15 minutes after your last rep.
1. Soft tissue work
If you thought that foam rolling is only important while preparing for a grueling workout, think twice. Techniques such as this one are an extraordinarily effective and easy way to stimulate and speed up muscle recovery, aid lymphatic drainage and reduce muscle soreness after the lifting session as well.
As soon as you finish your workout, foam roll the soft tissues that were the most involved in the workout, so for example, if you were training arms, the post-workout rolling should focus on the arm muscles. Then, shift the focus to the large superficial muscles and spend adequate amount of time on multiple segments of the body, not only the most activated region.
2. Static stretching
Another important way to repair any damage caused by the workout and increase muscle growth is by performing static oscillatory stretches.
While their function in the pre-training preparation pales in comparison to a well-rounded dynamic warm-up routine, static stretches work amazingly well for reducing muscle soreness, maintaining optimal body alignment and increasing the ability to build muscle when performed after workout, especially when paired with soft tissue work on the same body areas.
Holding static stretches for at least 60 seconds will target contractile muscle tissue and allow more of a pliable neural response to tissues due to increased circulation, thereby stimulating a recovery response by the parasympathetic nervous system.
So after you’re done with your foam rolling, address the same tissues with static-based oscillatory stretching to further speed up the recovery process.
3. Breathing techniques
Breathing is such a natural act that we only think about it when we’re struggling to catch our breath after a strenuous workout. What exactly does it mean to breathe properly?
It means breathing in a way that supports the physical activity you’re performing and increases its effectiveness. In fact, improving your breath can help you lower blood pressure, improve athletic performance and assist post-workout recovery as well.
Since breathing has such an impact on athletic performance, it’s absolutely crucial to focus on your breathing during the warm-up routine, the training session and post-workout, to speed up recovery. By focusing on your breath prior to exercising, you’re reinforcing proper breathing mechanics before any heavy lifting takes place, resulting with a more efficient workout.
The thing we want you to focus on is replacing chest breathing with belly breathing. Belly breathing, or deep diaphragmatic breathing, is ideal for athletes in most cases because it optimizes the use of the diaphragm’s full range of motion and capacity.
So instead of breathing with your chest and small secondary respiratory muscles, which will undoubtedly leave you gasping for air pretty soon, you’d be better off with incorporating diaphragmatic breathing during your warm-up and training session.
This breathing technique can also help in the recovery process if you apply it during your post-workout stretching and foam rolling. By simply prolonging your inhalation and exhalation and focusing on your breathing while performing your post-workout techniques, you can better engage the diaphragm and stimulate an optimal parasympathetic response.
Try to inhale for 4-6 seconds, hold your breath for a second or two then exhale over a 6 count and repeat. That being said, you should aim to improve your breathing all throughout your day. Even the smallest improvements can build up a huge impact over time, so set aside 10-15 minutes every day to work on your breathing and then carry those new habits everywhere your day takes you.
4. Active lymphatic drainage
Pretty much like your kitchen sink, your lymphatic system can become “clogged” and negatively influence your health and athletic performance. The lymphatic system is basically made up of a network of vessels that carry lymphatic fluid throughout the entire body.
The purpose of the lymphatic fluid is to feed the cells by carrying vital nutrients to them and to “take the trash out”, i.e. deliver cellular waste to the bloodstream, from where it’s handed over to the kidneys, colon and lungs for elimination. So if your lymphatic system becomes “clogged”, you can experience pain, constipation, fatigue and unexpected weight gain, as well as diminished muscular performance and a slowdown of the recovery process.
However, there is a way to prevent this from happening with the help of a few extremely simple techniques that will promote healthy movement of essential nutrients and waste throughout the whole body.
When you train a certain muscle group, your body increases the blood flow to that area in order to fuel the activity, and this increase in local blood flow is accompanied by a lymphatic fluid accumulation. The problem is that too much local lymph production can restrict the recovery process of the local tissues, which means that having control over the amount of local lymph is crucial for accelerating recovery.
One way to do this is by performing a systemic drain with the help of gravity – just lie on your back and elevate your extremities above the level of the heart to push lymphatic fluid back into central circulation.
Another way to reduce lymphatic fluid accumulation is by using low-intensity active recovery activities such as walking that will cause muscle contractions which then place pressure on the lymphatic vessels to push lymphatic fluid back into circulation. To get these benefits, walk slowly for a few minutes right after you finish your post-workout stretching and foam rolling.
5. Prime your post-workout nutrition
When trying to maximize your training gains, you don’t want to forget about post-workout nutrition as well. When we work out intensely, we damage muscle tissues and we use up fuel, which ultimately makes us stronger, leaner and more muscular, but it also means that our bodies require repair right after the workout is done.
Repair and rebuilding occurs through the breakdown of damaged proteins and the construction of new ones and nutrition has a huge influence on these processes.
After the workout, certain nutrients such as water, high glycemic index carbs and amino acids can help you stimulate better recovery by providing your muscles with the raw materials they need – optimal post-workout nutrition requires plenty of protein to aid in protein synthesis and plenty of carbs to help replenish the depleted muscle glycogen reserves, as well as create an optimal post-workout metabolic environment.
We know that the chicken and plain white rice can get boring after a while, but fortunately, there’s a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods you could prepare for your post-workout meal, so don’t be afraid to experiment and take your post-workout nutrition to a new level.
While it’s best to eat a whole food meal that includes both protein and carbs, whole food meals aren’t always very practical and you can sometimes replace them with liquid meals that contain rapidly digesting carbs and protein hydrolysates or isolates for equal, if not better results.
There’s been a lot of controversy over the phenomenon we know as “the post-workout window”. While some experts criticize the notion that such a window exists, claiming that taking advantage of it doesn’t lead to any significant improvements in performance and recovery, a pool of scientific data has confirmed that by employing certain techniques, you can yield a bit better results from your hard gym efforts.
Although research suggests that protein synthesis lasts for around 48 hours after training, it’s absolutely crucial to get optimal post-workout nutrition as soon as possible in order to stimulate repair, growth and ultimately make the best use of the nutrition itself.
Giving your body the nutrients it needs after the workout will speed up muscle recovery, provide enhanced size and strength benefits and less muscle soreness during the following period, while not providing adequate post-workout nutrition will lead to decreased protein synthesis and muscle glycogen storage.
Second, even though our results greatly depend on our ability to optimize the function of the central nervous system in terms of anabolic hormones production, responsive vital signaling and many other physiological mechanisms that regulate our performance, enhancing the work of our parasympathetic nervous system can greatly influence the gains we make as well.
In other words, by shifting towards a stronger parasympathetic response, we can significantly speed up the muscle recovery process and increase the recuperative abilities of the whole body.
Unfortunately, many bodybuilders fail to take advantage of this knowledge and miss out on a great opportunity to increase their training output and get the body they want in less time. Don’t be one of those guys – incorporate the simple techniques presented in this article and start training smarter right away!