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8 Recovery Tips for Faster Muscle Growth

There are hundreds of ways to get in shape and thousands of people trying to tell you the best way to do it. Some work, some don't, but they all rely on one thing. Your muscles must recover before they're worked again.

Here's why. Workouts break down muscle. Exercising causes micro-trauma or tiny tears in the muscle fibers. We get stronger when the muscles heal after the workout. If you want to see progress, these are the 8 most important things you can do to speed your body's recovery.

1. When possible, skip the pills being marketed to reduce after-workout soreness pain. Certain medications like naproxen and ibuprofen (commonly called NSAIDs or Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) can decrease muscle growth.

After a workout, muscles are inflamed. Inflammation is something that muscles must go through to get stronger. Take an NSAID after working out and you stop the muscle-protein synthesis that's required for muscle growth. Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol also suppresses protein synthesis.

Do Pain Pills Kill Muscle Growth? Do Pain Pills Kill Muscle Growth?

2. Go to bed. When you're sleeping, your body is repairing and rebuilding all the parts you've been tearing down. When you're sleep-deprived, your workouts are less effective. According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens typically need 8.5 to 9.25 hours of sleep and adults generally need 7 to 9 hours per night. If you're not getting the minimum, find yourself nodding off during the day or don't wake up feeling refreshed, you may not be getting enough.

Are You Getting Enough Sleep? Are You Getting Enough Sleep?

3. Don't work the same body part, two days in a row. Alternate between muscle groups so every part can recuperate for at least 48 hours. If your workouts are particularly difficult, large muscle groups can take 72 or even 96 hours before they're fully recovered.

That doesn't mean you have to wait the full 72 hours before working the same muscle. If you're dealing with delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), or you haven't fully recovered, research shows that having an "active recovery" session can help maximize strength gains AND reduce pain. Cut the number of reps down by a third, or even in half. That way you're still getting in your exercise while increasing the flow of nutrient-rich blood to recovering muscles.

Muscle Recovery Test Muscle Recovery Test

4. Take one full day off each week. Every time you exercise you're working the smaller, supporting muscles, even when you alternate between different body parts. By scheduling one day of rest you give your body a complete 24 hours to rebuild and recuperate. If you absolutely must do something, try more leisurely activities like a relaxed bike ride, a pleasure hike, yoga or stretching class.

5. Eat something before your strength training or cardio workout. If you're eating a large meal, make sure it's 3-4 hours before exercising. When eating smaller meals (300 calories or less), eat 1-2 hours before exercising. Choose foods that are higher in carbs and protein but lower in fat.

If you're exercising first thing in the morning, you should still eat breakfast but do it at least 30 minutes before. Drink plenty of water and avoid high fiber foods because they can give you gas or cause cramping. You should also avoid foods high on the glycemic index (GI) before a workout. High GI foods can cause your blood sugar to spike, and then crash during the workout. You want to feel energy, not sluggish.

Before You Workout Before You Workout

6. Eat something after your workout. When you finish working out, your body is in a "catabolic state." That means muscle glycogen is depleted and increased cortisol levels begin to break down muscle tissue. Eating properly can slow the muscle breakdown.

To calculate how many total grams you should eat, researchers suggest between .18 and .36 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight and .18 grams of protein per pound of body weight.

If you're trying to lose weight or cut up, choose the lower carbohydrate number. Using that scale a 150-pound person should eat between 27 and 54 grams of carbs and 27 grams of protein.

After You Workout After You Workout

7. Start foam rolling before a workout. "Rolling" has been documented to reduce pain in 94% of patients who suffered from chronic plantar fasciitis and it helps people who have Iliotibial band syndrome. Fascia stretching has also been shown to help alleviate pain in connecting muscles and joints. When pain is decreased, workouts tend to be more effective.

Foam Roller - Fascia Stretching

8. Change your workouts every 6-8 weeks. When your body's constantly exposed to the same environmental conditions, in this case, the same workouts, your muscles learn to adapt and growth stops. To decide when you need to make a change, try the following steps.

Start by writing everything down. If you keep track of your workouts, it's easy to see when you're making progress and when you've stalled. If you've reached a plateau and are no longer seeing progress, it might be time to change. The same is true if you start getting weaker or if you stop seeing physical changes.

Don't fall into the "more weight means progress" trap. There are several ways to change your exercise routine, increasing weight is only one of them. You can also change how long you're resting between sets, the number of reps performed, how many sets you do or how many days a week you workout. Changing from a free weight workout to machines (or vice versa) can also stress muscles in new and positive ways. Variations in any one of these things individually or in combination may be all your body needs for a boost.

Change Your Workouts to Grow Change Your Workouts to Grow

Get more from your workouts, allow your body to recover.

Here's a great video on How Muscles Grow.

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Updated 1/13/2021