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Has this ever happened to you?  You complete an intense workout in the gym and the next day you feel awesome. No soreness. No stiffness. No dragging. No problem. Right? But on other days, you complete the same workout, around the same time, with the same level of intensity, and it seems like it takes longer to recover. You feel sore for what seems...FOR-EVER.. and you may even feel like a complete slug the next time you hit the gym. You don't even get that awesome feeling you experienced the other times. So, you ask yourself, what’s up? What was different? Why am I feeling this way?

The answer could be a lot of reasons, including having a huge fatty meal just prior to your workout (i.e. pizza), not eating anything for over 6 hours so you go into your workout hungry (i.e. didn’t have enough time), too much partying the night before, or feeling a bit run down (i.e. you’re getting a cold). Or, maybe, it's how you approach the overall recovery process, such as not eating enough protein-rich foods, not getting enough sleep, or getting back in the gym just a little too soon.

Fact is, there are three things to consider when you want to maximize your recovery from an intense workout: nutrition, rest and time. Skimp on any one of these and you may be limiting your potential for a good recovery.

  1. Nutrition - As you already know, eating is critical because it replenishes energy spent and gives you the nutrients to help build and repair tissue. But it is important to note that although all three macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat) provide caloric energy, it is only protein which provides the amino nitrogen needed to build and repair tissue. That’s why it’s important to consume foods that contain protein, or you'll end up consuming a lot of empty calories that won't help your recovery or help you reach your fitness goals.
  2. Rest – You’ve probably experienced that on the days you’ve had a good workout, you feel more tired than usual and you are ready to get some good sleep. Sleep is important because that’s when your body is focused on recovery. And, if you’ve been supplying your body with the key nutrients it needs throughout the day (i.e. protein), then your body is better poised to build and repair tissue. That’s when you “grow”.  So do not discount the importance of getting some restful sleep in your recovery cycle.
  3. Time – Important because it plays a key role in a) Nutrient Timing and b) Time-to-Recovery.
    • Nutrient timing refers to the time when you consume key nutrients. In other words, eat the right stuff at the right time. For example, take the sugary carbs (i.e. juices, lemonade) right after your workout, and I mean right after - like within 30 minutes, because that’s the best time to optimize their use and take advantage of your body’s ability to absorb simple sugars and convert them to glycogen – our body’s way for storing glucose; Whereas, if you were to take those same sugary carbs when you have been sedentary (i.e. sitting around watching TV, or sitting at the office) that may lead to making hard-to-burn-off fat stores instead of building those quick-to-get-to energy stores, such as glycogen. Proteins (i.e. chicken, fish, meats, protein supplements) on the other hand, are best consumed at least 30 - 45 minutes after a workout. Why? Because, unlike sugary carbs, protein requires more work to absorb in your gut. And your gut works best when it is getting good blood flow. That’s not happening when you are working out or shortly thereafter, because during that time, it’s your exercising muscles that are getting the good blood flow. Once you’ve stopped exercising and you’ve allowed your body to cool off, then your gut is able to get good blow flood and can absorb those nutrients more efficiently.
    • Time-to-Recovery refers to the amount of time you allow your body to recover. For example, if you’re training biceps on Monday, then you should allow your body enough time to build and repair that muscle group. Although this is really dependent on the individual’s physiology, as a general rule one should allow at least a couple of days. So, in other words be patient. If you want to see some progress, don’t hit the biceps again for at least 2 days, 3 if you can swing it.
      To summarize, getting in shape and staying in shape requires a lot of discipline - but if you stick to the basics and apply the rules for optimal recovery, which includes taking in enough protein, then you can make it a lot easier on yourself in achieving your fitness goals.

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