The recovery process cannot be understated and is one of the most important factors contributing to strength gains.
In fact, repeated bouts of resistance training can be detrimental if the hours proceeding the gym aren't handled properly.
A typical recovery period for resistance trained muscles is anywhere from twenty-four to forty-eight hours1.
What occurs during this time will decide whether or not you're progressing towards your goals.
The reason for this is that the aforementioned time frame will prompt your body into either positive or negative protein balance; the former is associated with prevalent muscle protein synthesis and the latter with prevalent muscle protein breakdown.
It is this balance that determines muscle hypertrophy versus atrophy.
There are two main components to recovery:
Related: Everything You Need to Know about Post-Workout Nutrition
1. Nutrition: Proper nutrient intake and timing are absolutely crucial in the hours immediately after and up to forty-eight hours following a heavy bout of resistance training. We will discuss the importance of carbohydrates as well as protein, with emphasis on essential amino acids (EAA), and how they act to ensure maximum increases in overall size and strength.
2. Down-time: Getting adequate rest is instrumental in maintaining the longevity of your training. Achieving your goals won't happen overnight, or even over weeks. It may take months, and for that reason you want to ensure you're getting the rest you need to keep up the intensity day in and day out. We will also discuss the catabolic pathways associated with not getting enough sleep every night.
Nutrient Composition & Timing During Recovery
Many changes occur once you've completed a bout of heavy resistance training. For one, your glycogen stores have been depleted; so re-fueling those stores is a must. Moreover, muscle protein synthesis as well as muscle protein breakdown are enhanced.
However, in the absence of proper nutrition, muscle protein breakdown dominates to produce a net negative protein balance2. Proper protein intake shifts this balance towards a net positive and timing of these nutrients is important to enhance the anabolic response.
As mentioned, carbohydrates are important to re-fuel and to ensure adequate energy stores are present in time for the next training session. Providing carbs immediately following exercise ensures a greater rate of glycogen synthesis2. This is validated in that delaying carbohydrate ingestion by as little as two hours may slow glycogen synthesis by as much as fifty percent2.
The reason for this distinction is that immediately post workout, muscles are more sensitive to the activity of insulin2. Therefore, adequate carbohydrate intake is recommended at zero point six to one gram per kilogram per hour, immediately following exercise and for every two hours thereafter up to six hours2.
In line with proper carb timing, daily recommendations have been made at four to seven grams per kilogram body weight3 or between fifty-five to sixty percent of total calories4.
Protein availability is absolutely essential during the recovery period as neither fat nor carbohydrates are sufficient to stimulate muscle hypertrophy on their own5. In fact, muscle protein synthesis is not adequately stimulated to provide a net positive balance in the absence of protein, even if adequate carbs are provided2.
However, carbohydrate consumption alongside protein may prove beneficial considering the insulinogenic effect of carbs1. It has been demonstrated that ingesting protein with carbohydrates will further increase amino acid (AA) availability and protein synthesis2.
Lastly, choosing the right source of protein as well as when to consume them are important considerations.
Whey protein is proven to be digested quicker and as such elicits a greater increase in protein synthesis. Casein, on the other hand, does little to effect synthesis but works wonders to inhibit muscle protein breakdown. As such, whey protein may be the better choice immediately post workout; whereas, casein protein has been shown to stimulate greater gains if taken before bed6.
Moreover, a protein solution solely composed of EAA and carbs has been shown to elicit muscle protein synthesis even in resting individuals7. As such, EAA, particularly branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) - leucine, isoleucine and valine, optimize protein synthesis post-workout2.
In summary, protein recommendations during recovery are such that EAA plus carbs are consumed at a ratio of one to three or one to four immediately following exercise. Consumption of protein in amounts of twenty grams every three hours for twelve hours of recovery are also deemed optimal8.
Fat should be left as the remainder of calories such that adequate carbohydrate and protein levels are met. Total fat intake should range from fifteen to thirty percent of total calories depending on your fitness goals3.
Rest & Sleep During Recovery
The advantages of getting adequate rest and sleep during recovery are two-fold. For one, adequate rest reduces the risk of overreaching and overtraining. The former occurs when one can no longer perform at the same capacity and the latter involves pathophysiological outcomes associated with inability to perform, irritability, and inability to recover short-term9.
Sleep, on the other hand, ensures maintenance of normal hormone levels and that metabolic and cognitive discrepancies do not hinder your progress10.
Including rest days in your training regime as well as allowing twenty-four to forty-eight hours rest between exercising the same muscles, are instrumental for adequate recovery. Without sufficient rest, excessive training may develop into overreaching which, if further left untreated, may develop into overtraining.
Unfortunately, single rest days are not sufficient for recovery from overtraining, which may require greater than 2 weeks of deliberate rest9. It goes without saying that developing overtraining syndrome (OTS) will greatly hinder your gains as you are forced to stay away from the gym.
For this reason, ensuring adequate rest days to recharge and refuel will avoid unwanted and obligatory long-term inactivity.
Related: Rest More, Lift More: The Trick for Turning Seconds into PRs
Lack of sleep will certainly be detrimental to your gains in the gym. You should be getting your eight hours a night. Interestingly, one study found that even sleeping just a few less hours a night may have significant ramifications on body composition.
Subjects in an energy deficit while receiving only five and a half hours of sleep compared to eight and a half hours, saw a significant reduction in lean body mass and a slower rate of fat loss11. Moreover, lack of sleep hinders cognitive function which makes focusing in the gym a lot more difficult.
Finally, hormone imbalances occur as a result of sleep loss. For instance, sleep deprivation leads to increased cortisol and decreased testosterone10. A sustained, proteolytic environment due to these hormonal shifts are evident based on observations that sleep deprivation increases urinary excretion of urea, indicating increase protein breakdown10.
Pay as much Attention to Recovery as you do to Training
Again, the importance of recovery cannot be understated. The same approach you take to planning your time in the gym should be similarly attributed to the time you spend out of the gym. You will continue to see progress so long as you’re allowing proper recovery time.
Otherwise, your training may quickly regress or even worse, come to a complete halt. So with sufficient feeding and adequate rest, you'll be well on your way to a successful season of intense training!
- Tipton KD, Wolfe RR. 2001. Exercise, protein metabolism, and muscle growth. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 11:109-132.
- Kerksick C, Harvey T, Stout J, Campbell B, Wilborn C, Kreider R, Kalman D, Ziegenfuss T, Lopez H, Landis J, Ivy JL, Antonio J. 2008. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: nutrient timing. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 5:17.
- Helms ER, Aragon AA, Fitschen PJ. 2014. Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 11:20.
- Stoppani J, Scheett TP, McGuigan MRR. 2008. Nutritional Needs of Strength/Power Athletes, p 349-370. In Antonio J, Kalman D, Stout JR, Greenwood M, Willoughby DS, Haff GG (ed), Essentials of Sports Nutrition and Supplements doi:10.1007/978-1-59745-302-8_17. Humana Press, Totowa, NJ.
- Svanberg E, Moller-Loswick AC, Matthews DE, Korner U, Andersson M, Lundholm K. 1999. The role of glucose, long-chain triglycerides and amino acids for promotion of amino acid balance across peripheral tissues in man. Clin Physiol 19:311-320.
- Snijders T, Res PT, Smeets JS, van Vliet S, van Kranenburg J, Maase K, Kies AK, Verdijk LB, van Loon LJ. 2015. Protein Ingestion before Sleep Increases Muscle Mass and Strength Gains during Prolonged Resistance-Type Exercise Training in Healthy Young Men. J Nutr 145:1178-1184.
- Tipton KD, Gurkin BE, Matin S, Wolfe RR. 1999. Nonessential amino acids are not necessary to stimulate net muscle protein synthesis in healthy volunteers. J Nutr Biochem 10:89-95.
- Areta JL, Burke LM, Ross ML, Camera DM, West DW, Broad EM, Jeacocke NA, Moore DR, Stellingwerff T, Phillips SM, Hawley JA, Coffey VG. 2013. Timing and distribution of protein ingestion during prolonged recovery from resistance exercise alters myofibrillar protein synthesis. J Physiol 591:2319-2331.
- Hawley CJ, Schoene RB. 2003. Overtraining syndrome: a guide to diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. Phys Sportsmed 31:25-31.
- Dattilo M, Antunes HK, Medeiros A, Monico Neto M, Souza HS, Tufik S, de Mello MT. 2011. Sleep and muscle recovery: endocrinological and molecular basis for a new and promising hypothesis. Med Hypotheses 77:220-222.
- Nedeltcheva AV, Kilkus JM, Imperial J, Schoeller DA, Penev PD. 2010. Insufficient sleep undermines dietary efforts to reduce adiposity. Ann Intern Med 153:435-441.