“Muscles are torn in the gym, fed in the kitchen and built in the bed!
Either we want it all or nothing at all!
It takes a great amount of motivation to push ourselves to get our muscles moving but once we start, we want to make up for all the time we didn’t.
We challenge ourselves every day to push harder, lift heavier or run for longer. And as a result, we eat lesser, rest lesser and recover even lesser. If exercise is to health, recovery from exercise is to vitality. We tell ourselves to be better each day but do we bother to ask ourselves some pertinent questions to become better?
Did I stretch today?
What would you do when if your child breaks into a fit of howls? Do you stuff a whole bar of candy down his throat or do you pick him up, hug him and soothe him down?
Your muscles have screamed their fibers off while you were killing it at the gym today, setting your marathon record or completing 108 suryanamaskars. But oops! You were so engrossed exalting at your workout victory that you forgot to stretch! Your muscles need a hug too. Balm them with gentle stretches and don’t rush through them; give a good 10 minutes to stretch and cool down for lowering your heart rate and preventing excessive soreness, before packing your bags for the day.
Did I break in between sets?
I can answer than on your behalf. “No!” because you were so busy setting new records for yourself that you forgot give a short break to your buddies right below your skin slogging their mitochondria out for you! A short burst of rest in between your exercise is required to prevent overstraining muscles due to continuous vigorous contractions.
Please have mercy on your muscles. Even a food processor comes with a disclaimer ‘please do not run it for more than 3 minutes at a stretch’!
Did I drink enough water?
You are losing salts, vitamins and most importantly hydration as you sweat through exercise sessions. There is no other option but to replace them. For muscle contraction, hypertrophy and basic systemic functions, water is the base medium for all biochemical reactions that involve salt channels. Post-workout and during it, your water bottle should be your second skin!
Did I sleep well?
As a Bangalorean, I am no alien to how life whizzes past in 24 hours without giving a moment to breathe. You start your day with intense workout, head to work, toil for 10 hours, beat the traffic, grab some dinner, get your home in order and if you have some time left, you devote it to sleep. This sleep cycle, for an average adult is not more than 5 hours a day, and for some even lesser. You know you have another long day waiting on the other side of your night-sleep, but what you don’t know is that your body is at its functional best only while you are asleep! Yes you heard it right. A good deep sleep, referred to as a non-REM sleep is extremely essential for recovering from the soreness of a hectic day. “Children grow more if they sleep more”, we have heard incessantly all our lives, yet we never bothered to understand why. We all have been fed with the constructive role of growth hormone for muscle building but what we were not told is that GH is secreted at its highest concentration only during a non-REM sleep. And that is when GH triggers a pathway for muscle hypertrophy and gives your fibers that extra bulge you notice next morning. Ergo, to see your muscles grow by 7mm, gift them with a good 7hours sleep!
Did I eat well through the day?
And how did you possibly think will a jet engine run on diesel? Again, we either under-eat hoping to magically convert fat into fog or over-eat to reward ourselves for the extra hours we burnt down at the gym. Either ways, we mess up the fuel we need to make our efforts pliable. Eat sufficiently and in the correct portions to beseech your muscles. If you are training hard to build strength and endurance, add the extra dash of proteins to your diet but don’t ignore the carbs. You need to fuel up for the next day as well. Don’t go for fad diets and shortcuts to reach your destination. There is always something fishy about the smoother roads!
Did I overtrain?
Ah! Now that is something everyone does but hates to admit. The have-it-all psychology again at play, you are pushing way-way too hard for your muscles to endure. And Snap! There is goes. Macrotears, stress fractures, muscle strains, and joint pain-injuries of varying types and intensities are as common to hear from fitness freaks as score inputs on an India-Pakistan match day! Either you have done too much to done something gravely wrong to end up with prolonged soreness and injuries. Either ways you leave your muscles more vulnerable than strong. Go slow; do it right, be consistent and steady, and gradually up your intensity. Sharpen your muscles, don’t shock them!
Did I take a day off?
Would you take up a handsomely paying job in your dream company, which expects you to work 7days a week? So basically you sit with a fat cheque on your desk but no offs on your calendar! I assume any sane human will not. So what’s with your invincible till-death-does-us-apart devotion towards workouts?
People expect to receive some gallantry award for running a non-stop streak in their exercise regimen. And believe it, it is anything but an accomplishment. All you are doing is tiring yourself out and abusing your body to achieve unrealistic life goals. You cannot go trotting interminably around the world in 30days and expect your BMW to take you on another excursion on the 31st! Rest your body for atleast a day every week. Do not indulge in any vigorous exercise except daily chores and moderate movements. It will infact invigorate you to perform better the next day because a rest day allows your muscles, nerves, bones, and connective tissue, some serious quality time to rebuild and get ready for the next strike. Your muscles need a day’s break from exercise just as much as you need a Sunday off your profession!
I follow a thumb rule: the quality of my rest day is directly proportional to the intensity of my exercises on the other days. so if I have trained insanely through the 6 days, I rest equally well on my day off. The next day gives me a mind-blowing surge of energy to lift 10kgs heavier on my squat bar!
Now isn’t Rest the Best exercise!
Did I listen to my body?
We listen to that gym mate who recently lost 10kgs in a month with a keto diet. We listen to that colleague who finished her 21k mark in 1.5hours. We listen in stupefying awe to that gym instructor with bulging muscles who swallows supplements like candies. We listen to youtube 30day-shred advice. We listen to everything and everyone, but our own bodies! Transforming bodies of others inspire us. But what actually should find us our purpose is what our bodies are capable of doing. We conveniently ignore signs of fatigue, excessive soreness and deprivation that our body constantly gives out. Being aware of how much we can and when to stop is the first rung of ladder to step on, after which, the ascent will be inevitable!
Did I rest my mind?
This one, the last but the paramount, is the crux of the matter. In process of losing weight or achieving our fitness goals, we lose our minds! Literally.
Drive to be healthy is good but desperation is totally unhealthy. Physiologically, the stress of achieving or the inability to reach the mark plays a havoc on our central nervous system. Mania and depression are two ends of the same spectrum of performance, any incapacity of which becomes unacceptable. And in case you didn’t know, say, you are eating clean, exercising regularly AND your answer to all the questions posed above is YES, despite it, if anything can actually deter your body to perform and exhibit desired results, stress is a hands-down winner!
Remember, Rest is as much a part of the plan
Athletes involved in wrestling, CrossFit, powerlifting or tennis undergo high-intensity or eccentric muscle contraction with multiple exercise sessions within a timeframe of 24 hours or with as little as 0-6 h time gap between two exercise sessions. This type of contraction can lead to muscle damage and soreness. Such eccentric exercise can cause excitation contraction coupling and can make muscle fiber release pro-inflammatory cytokines that attract neutrophils and macrophages to repair the damaged tissue. Such disturbances cause muscle dysfunction and decreased performance.
While antioxidant supplements cannot reverse the inflammation cascade, they can at least prevent further worsening of muscle strength due to muscle damage. Post-exercise supplements that include protein, especially whey protein supplements, or amino acids can improve recovery from eccentric exercise. Although supplements that contain proteins or antioxidants have proved to be useful in treating muscle soreness, there are no studies that uphold the fact that a combination of both protein and antioxidant supplementation can help in muscle recovery and soreness.
Effect of protein and antioxidants on muscle recovery
The study included 60 male participants between the age group of 18-30 years. These participants were quite sedentary and did not involve themselves in physical activity more than 2-3 times every week for the sake of fitness. During the first day of testing, participants performed 100 eccentric contractions (ECC) of the knee extensors of the right leg and they were constantly encouraged during these 100 contractions. The participants were organized into 3 different groups, but no significant differences were observed for age, height and weight measures, macronutrient dietary consumption, vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, sodium, calcium and iron intake between the groups.
All the 3 groups experienced muscle soreness following ECC. The primary purpose of this study was to find out whether a combination of protein and antioxidant supplements was more effective than only protein or carbohydrate control in reducing muscle soreness and function following ECC. The findings convey that:
We feel exhausted and depleted of energy after a day’s hectic work, running errands at home or after a vigorous workout session. When this is the case of a common man, what about sports personalities and athletes who train continuously for prolonged hours in the ground or court? Recovery is an integral part of any training activity. Dairy foods make an excellent option to replace the carbohydrates lost during exercise.
What is so special about dairy products that make them versatile for refueling?
Wear and tear in muscle tissue is common after training and these tissues undergo repair to make them better than before. High-quality proteins help to garner muscle strength after a strenuous session of endurance training, vigorous-intensity training and endurance events. Depending on the size and shape of the active people undergoing training, these individuals require anywhere between 20-25 grams of protein. Studies have discovered that dairy protein supersedes other protein sources in optimizing muscle protein synthesis post training.
If a person wishes to consume 20g of protein after training he/she can go for options such as 600ml of flavored milk, 200g of unsweetened yogurt with 30g of nuts or half a cup of low-fat cottage cheese with crackers.
Indispensable for an Active Lifestyle
Dairy foods are also packed with calcium, a nutrient needed for strong bones and teeth. Immune system can be suppressed when an individual performs high-intensity exercise and this phenomenon can be reversed only with the intake of high-energy foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and protein. Dairy foods fulfill all these requirements to the dot.
A lean and fit body is fundamental for an athlete and research proves that eating dairy foods helps to stockpile on lean muscle gain and fat loss. Studies also show the link between eating dairy products and reduced risk of obesity.
When we involve ourselves in some activity we usually don’t think about the negative aspects right at the start of the activity. Likewise, people involved in sports think about success and goals and don’t think about injury. But, they are well aware that participating in sports includes muscle pulls, sprains broken bones, stress fractures or orthopedic surgery that can keep you temporarily out of practice/participation. Foods play a critical part in helping you recover from surgery, heal wounds faster and make your bones and muscles stronger to help you get back to practice and events as soon as possible.
During times of injury, you need not and should not follow the same food practices as your physical activity is limited and hence, calories burnt is also lesser. Ensure to rule out your post-workout protein shakes or energy bars to fuel workout plans and decrease portion sizes to compensate for the decrease in calories burnt. Eat three to four energy-packed meals that are rich in vitamins and minerals cutting down all calories added from pre- and post-workout snacks.
Proteins for Strong Muscles & Bones
High-quality proteins are essential for a strong immune system and to accelerate wound healing. By high-quality, we mean foods such as eggs, low-fat cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt or baked chicken that can be consumed in the initial days after injury or surgery. Soy-based foods is a good food choice for vegetarians and soy milk or almond milk is an option for people who don’t/can’t drink cow’s milk. Don’t assume that you need to eat proteins only to build muscles, you need them for building strong bones too. Fractured sports persons must definitely include some portion of protein with every meal and snack.
Big Shots of Healing
Individuals need a combination of different nutrients to heal injuries out of which vitamin C and zinc are the big shots of this healing process. Vitamin C helps to make collagen and repair tendons, ligaments and heal surgical wounds. Although citrus fruits strike us immediately when we talk about vitamin C, other good sources include strawberries, kiwi fruit, broccoli, baked potatoes and bell peppers. While zinc supplements are an easy way out to replenish your body, it is better to add zinc to your body in the form of foods such as meat, fish, poultry, dairy foods, whole-grain bread and cereals, dried legumes and nuts. This is because, too much of zinc can lead to nausea and vomiting.
Healthy bones are always linked with calcium and vitamin D whose best sources are low-fat dairy foods. Milk is always fortified with vitamin D to aid in calcium absorption while yogurts are not. Hence, it is better to check the nutrition label of any yogurt before purchasing it to ensure that you get your vitamin D right. So, next time you have a stress fracture eat foods rich in these two nutrients to strengthen your bones.
Although fiber might not be helpful in healing or recovery, pain medications prescribed post-surgery/injury are bound to create constipation. Water, prunes or prune juice can help relieve constipation.
Nutrition is the backbone of performance in sports. Best nutrition practices before, during and after workout/game day are essential for optimized performance and the nutrition goals for each is different. Success or defeat, the post-game or post-exercise period is crucial to restore the body with the lost nutrients and allow it recover.
Recovery is a challenge for athletes who undergo two or more sessions of training every day or participate in multiple events in one given day. In such scenarios, the work-to-recovery ratio do not match, and the best possible thing is to start an event with maximum energy.
During the recovery period, an athlete needs:
Recommended Foods for Recovery