When we lift heavy weights, this can fatigue our entire body. Without proper recovery, we can end up feeling extra sore, and sometimes end up with an injury. Physical stress acts on the body just like mental stress, and can contribute to adrenal fatigue, as well as trigger autoimmunity. Even hardcore athletes need to take that time to rest and recover, so they may perform their best, maintain their strength and endurance, and most importantly, support their health. Here we discuss five things you can do to help recover your body, so it is ready for the next heavy lifting session!
Minerals such as magnesium are especially important for ATP (energy) production. Heavy lifting depletes our levels of magnesium. Athletes who are also on special diets may get less magnesium through food. Therefore, people who lift tend to need a higher daily requirement of magnesium. Magnesium is known as the calming mineral. One of it’s many functions is to turn the body from being in a stressed state, to being relaxed.
Magnesium also reduces stress for athletes! When there is a physical demand placed on the body, our cortisol levels rise. This can affect the entire HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary axis), therefore contributing to inflammation, thus activating the immune system. Magnesium, however, has been shown to reduce cortisol concentration, and halt immune response activation following strenuous physical exercise.
Nourish the body with real whole foods, rather than protein powders that just are not as nutrient dense. Getting adequate nourishment helps to decrease inflammation that can occur from the added stress on the body. Although it is important to eat soon after heavy lifting, it’s also important to give yourself a little time to breath and relax first. You will get more nutrients from your foods, if you are in a relaxed parasympathetic nervous system state.
Focus on quality pasture raised and wild caught meats, and fish, which contain all essential amino acids and omega 3 fatty acids. Eat fresh organic produce, and healthy fats, such as coconut oil, ghee, and pastured lard. However, you want to avoid fats following your workout, as fats slow digestion, and therefore the energy be easily accessed by the muscles. The immediate post-workout meal should be lean protein and carbohydrates. About carbohydrates…
3. Eat Starchy vegetables for Carbs (Glucose rather than Fructose)
The best time to consume carbohydrates is immediately after working out. This way the glucose can go right to the muscle. If you are eating a ketogenic diet, and keeping your carbs on the low side, 30-45 minutes after working out is the ideal time for carb consumption. This can help replenish glycogen stores after heavy lifting.
Glycogen depletion can contribute to fatigue in an athlete, and decreased performance. However, fructose does not help replenish glycogen. Fructose lowers whole-body glycogen synthesis, thus impairing subsequent exercise performance. This is presumably due to decreased liver glycogen stores. Fructose is found in fruits, such as bananas, apples, pears, peaches, oranges, etc. The better carbs to reach for when recovering are starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes, potatoes, yams, beets, yuca, carrots and squash.
4. Prioritize Sleep
As a recovering athlete, sleep is of utmost importance! Sleep is when we produce hormones and neurotransmitters to help us heal. Most of us are not getting adequate sleep, and this can affect our athletic performance. Sleep needs to become a top priority, especially for athletes. Sleep deprivation can impact glucose metabolism, mental health, and the hormonal response of athletes. Sleep deprivation impacts athletic performance, whereas sleep extension seems to improve performance.
In order to get optimal sleep, wear blue light blocking glasses or stay off of all screens two hours prior to bedtime. Blue light interrupts our natural sleep rhythms, through suppressing melatonin production. This can impact our ability to both fall asleep and stay asleep, thus impacting performance. Ease into sleep by reading a book, taking a warm bath, or even doing some stretching! Which leads us into our final tip…
5. Stretching & Yoga
A good stretching makes for happy muscles! You might try taking a yoga class even once a week, get inverted into downward dog, and give those muscles a good deep stretching! As mentioned previously, using a foam roller can substantially help in the recovery process. Foam rolling is one of the more popular ways to loosen tight muscles. Foam rolling reduces post exercise fatigue, and allows athletes to extend their workout time and volume. This can create long term performance improvements. The best time to stretch or do yoga is after a strength training session when the muscles have been ‘warmed up’ making us less prone to injury.
Take time to nourish with real food, sleep, and take care of your body after heavy lifting, and you will find you perform better, increase your strength, and have less chance of injury. Most importantly, you are increasing your health. People who lift heavy are not always healthy, but if you take care of yourself and recover, you can reap the benefits of strength and health gains!