If your fitness goals include gaining lean mass and increasing strength, you've probably got your training program under control. But have you considered a muscle recovery plan?
Your recovery is just as important as your workout. Think about it, if you’re muscles are tired and injury-prone post workout, there’s no chance you’ll sustain a gruelling training program long term. Fitness experts warn excessive exercise without proper rest and recovery can lead to hormonal changes, poor sleep patterns, chronic fatigue, reproductive disorders and decreased immunity.
The American College of Sports Medicine suggest muscles need up to 48 hours of recovery time between sessions, although this may depend on your level of fitness. For beginners, studies show 3-4 days of exercise per week, with a rest day in between, is ideal. For experienced exercisers, 1-2 rest days per week may be sufficient, if you optimise your recovery nutrition.
To plan the perfect diet for exercise and recovery nutrition, there are four things you must consider.
Studies show frequent intakes of 20-40g of protein every 3 hours, particularly within the first hour post workout, optimises muscle growth and repair. Aim to consume foods that offer ‘complete proteins’. Complete proteins offer all essential amino acids, particularly branched chain amino acids (BCAA’s) that assist with muscle synthesis. Food sources of complete proteins include meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs and soy. Food sources of incomplete proteins include brown rice, wholegrain breads, oats, legumes, nuts and seeds, and leafy greens. However, if you pair whole grains or leafy greens with legumes, nuts and seeds, you will achieve a complete protein meal.
If you’re not consuming enough calories, (including carbohydrates!) any protein you ingest will likely be used as a fuel source to restore muscle glycogen and support essential bodily functions. There will be very little fuel left for muscle recovery!
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids, not produced by the body. So, we need to source them through diet. They have been shown to reduce inflammation in muscle tissue post exercise, and delay or prevent muscle soreness and injury. Food sources include oily fish, algae, soy, walnuts, chia and linseeds.
Electrolytes regulate our nerve and muscle function, our body's hydration, blood pH, blood pressure, and the rebuilding of damaged tissue. They include sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium. During exercise, these electrolytes can be lost in sweat. In cases of extreme exercise or ‘heavy sweating’, electrolyte imbalances can occur. Consequences of electrolyte imbalance can range from mild (i.e. fatigue and muscle cramps) to severe (irregular heartbeat and convulsions). Although imbalances are rare, it’s a good idea to include foods rich in electrolytes, just in case.
Read on and discover 4 muscle recovery superfoods to include in your daily diet. Don't forget to add these foods as part of a balanced meal or snack, and aim to eat at regular intervals throughout the day!
One serve of ‘high protein’ yoghurt (i.e. Chobani) contains 17g of ‘complete’ protein. Yoghurt also offers electrolytes – calcium, potassium and magnesium, and low GI carbohydrate, especially when paired with fresh fruit. Although not discussed in the list above, probiotics, as offered in yoghurt, have also been shown to reduce muscle damage and improve muscular recovery in clinical trials. Probiotics and gut health are an exciting area of new research for exercise performance, all well worth including in your diet.
Oats are a great source of low GI carbohydrate, magnesium and potassium. They are also very versatile. Team them up with peanut butter in a smoothie or breakfast bowl to achieve a complete range of essential amino acids. Tofu: This one is especially important for the plant-based dieters – with soy being the only substantial vegan protein source offering all essential amino acids for muscle recovery. Tofu is right up there with beef and chicken for total protein content per serve, too.
One of the best ways to meet your requirements for omega-3 fatty acids, salmon contains DHA and EPA, which are more effective as anti-inflammatories than ALA, found in seed and nut sources. Salmon is a ‘complete’ protein source, and did you know, a 100g serving of tinned salmon with edible bones offers the same amount of calcium as 200ml of cow’s milk?
The humble baked bean cannot be ignored as it offers an affordable and convenient source of protein, low GI carbohydrate, and all essential electrolytes. Team with soy-linseed toast to create a ‘complete’ protein meal, and for a cheeky serve of omega-3’s. That’s all four boxes ticked!