Recovery from exercise, be it strength or endurance training, is essential for optimal health and muscle growth. After all, it is during recovery, not exercise, that the body ultimately develops new muscle.
Although there are benefits to exercise like the temporary boost in metabolism, the immediate act of exercise comes with a cost. Exercising of all sorts expends the body’s energy, increasing the consumption of energy and reducing both liver and muscle glycogen reserves.
Glycogen is stored glucose, the primary and preferred energy source of the cell. It is necessary for various physiological functions, including the conversion of thyroid hormone into its active form (triiodothyronine) and providing a source of readily available energy when glucose is sparse.
If glycogen stores are exhausted, this can result in stress. When liver glycogen is completely expended, the liver signals the HPA-axis, which increases the production of adaptive stress substances adrenaline and cortisol. In the short term, these substances work to spare any remaining glucose by artificially keeping blood sugar stable and shifting the metabolism away from glucose oxidation to fat oxidation. This is a helpful survival mechanism; however, if liver glycogen is not eventually replenished, the body will continue to produce adrenaline and cortisol to keep a high rate of lipolysis.
The chronic elevation of adrenaline and cortisol can lead to many issues, including:
- Muscle loss
- Accelerated skin aging
- Hair loss
- Immune suppression
Needless to say, proper glycogen stores in the liver and muscle are essential for not only building lean muscle but for maintaining good health. If you are an athlete, physically active or under the regular physical stress of any sort, consider these tips for optimal recovery and repair.
Tips for Exercise Recovery
1. Replenish Liver Glycogen: Replenishment of muscle glycogen probably occurs preferentially over the replenishment of liver glycogen after exercise. Muscle and liver glycogen can be replenished within 24 hours after exercise, provided that adequate carbohydrate is consumed. To avoid prolonged suppression of thyroid hormone (which tends to occur after intense exercise), be sure to replenish muscle and liver glycogen immediately after exercise. 1
8-10 grams of carbohydrate/kg of body weight should be consumed. This ends up being around 200-400 grams of carbs depending on weight and activity level. Keep in mind, while normal muscle and/or liver glycogen levels can be normalized within 24 hours after exercise, muscle function may or may not be fully recovered unless additional carbohydrates are consumed. We suggest keeping carbs from fruit, which do not require insulin to be metabolized and replenish liver glycogen 500x more effectively than sucrose.
2. Mitigating the Stress of Exercise: At basic, exercise is a stress, since it depletes energy reserves and increases the demand for energy. This means that physical activity is usually catabolic; especially aerobic, endurance athletics, which tend to increase levels of catabolic hormones like cortisol and estrogen. 2
Low volume strength training tends to promote a more favorable cortisol to testosterone ratio (catabolic to anabolic). But it is during rest and recovery that anabolic growth hormones are elevated. During strenuous exercise, if exercising while undernourished, the body tends to secrete more cortisol, and less testosterone. In fact, endurance athletics are known to suppress thyroid and testosterone and increase the catabolic hormone, cortisol. Ideally, you want more testosterone to cortisol to promote healthy metabolic function, muscular growth and a resistance to stress. Over exercising, or too strenuous of exercise will result in an inverse ratio of cortisol to testosterone, which can result in muscle loss and stress.
The use of herbs like Ashwagandha prior and after exercise can help to mitigate some of the stressful effects of exercise, while increasing testosterone. This is why we recommend taking Revitalize prior to exercise for protection against stress. It will help to ensure a more favorable hormonal balance post exercise as well. 3, 4
3. Heat Therapy: Generally speaking, it is best to keep body temperature up (98.6 F) to promote optimal metabolic function, circulation and therefore healing. Various experiments have confirmed that exposing the muscles to heat improved impaired muscle glycogen resynthesis. Studies concluded that recovery from exhaustive exercise is accelerated by raising muscle temperature. This makes sense from the basic perspective that heat is expansive where cold is contracting. Heat thereby promotes circulation, where cold inhibits it. So, it might be wise to apply a heating pad to sore muscles or to spend a short period of time in a sauna or in the sun to promote healing and recovery.
4. Sleep: There is no better remedy for the physical body like a good sleep. In REM sleep the body releases a cascade of self-repair enzymes and growth hormones that repair the musculoskeletal system. In general, sleep is a protective mechanism against stress. Getting extra rest and sleep will ensure fuller recovery from stress and exercise. Be sure to reference our other articles on sleep for tips on improving sleep quality.
There is such a thing as overtraining – too much stress of any sort can fatigue the nervous system resulting in elevated levels of stress hormones like prolactin, estrogen, cortisol, and others. While you can definitely mind over matter physical fatigue, overtraining will likely manifest as erectile dysfunction, insomnia, anxiety, and chronic digestive issues.
Other signs of overtraining:
- Tight, achy or weak muscles.
- Chronic fatigue.
- Various sleep problems; waking up in the middle of the night, lack of deep sleep, night sweats.
- Lack of motivation overall.
- Physical injury; pulling muscles, pain, etc.
- Mental and emotional instability; Irritability, stress, anxiety or depression.
- Frequent headaches.
One of the best ways to ensure optimal recovery from exercise is to simply avoid overtraining, giving your body minimal amounts of stress and injury to have to repair in the first place. However, not many athletes like hearing they are overdoing it. We want to take a dual-sized approach, increasing our resistance to stress by ensuring we are eating enough nutrient-dense calories and increase your rest and recovery in-activities like naps, sauna, spa, massage, acupuncture, walks in nature, magnesium baths, etc. while reducing over training.
The Bottom Line
There are many benefits that can be reaped from the right type of exercise; increased metabolic function, more energy, lean muscle, and more. However, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Without proper fuel and recovery, exercise can become counterproductive, quickly. The tips in this article will help you ensure that you reap the good from your workouts with minimal downside.
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