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Rest Days Are Growth Days
Everyone likes to focus on the training aspect of fitness because it’s the exhilarating and fun part. Everyone who starts lifting typically gets addicted to the feedback loop of lifting > seeing progress > lifting more > more progress. It’s a beautiful cycle, but don’t get over zealous and forget where the real growth happens—rest and recovery.
As previously discussed, muscle growth occurs after a novel stimulus has been applied to the muscle—the muscle experiences muscular damage, thus creating an adaptive response to grow and compensate for the stimulus. The latter half of this process takes place when you aren’t in the gym and while you are recovering.
It is then when it’s most important for increased performance and muscle growth that recovery is treated as pertinent as training is—in order to see new muscle growth.
What Influences Recovery
First and foremost, you must ensure you are “feeding the machine”. For 24 hours post workout, your body goes through a process of an “anabolic window” in which your body will use available nutrients to facilitate repair to the muscle and add new tissue to ensure the muscle can be prepared to meet the same stimulus—in the “mind” of your muscle, be able to successfully “beat” the stimulus (survive).
Ideally, you will eat around 30g-60g of protein between over every 3-4 hours. This isn’t to “boost your metabolism”—that is a myth. This is to make certain you are peaking muscle protein synthesis (triggering muscle growth) and allowing it to baseline so it can spike again.
Beyond diet, there are numerous other factors to consider. Sleep (is the biggest), stress (also huge), stretching/myofascial release, and others I will discuss.
Sleep is where your true recovery and growth happens. You need 7-8 hours a night for optimal recovery. Many processes go on during sleep that trigger mechanisms for recovery—we won’t dive too deep into those—but rather what you can do to improve sleep quality right now:
Avoid late day caffeine usage.
Avoid blue light exposure 60 minutes before bed.
Have a regular sleep schedule.
Consider sleep aids such as melatonin, L-tryptophan, and valerian root.
A meal with carbs before bed can increase serotonin excretions and promote restfulness.
Avoid heavy liquid intake 60 minutes before bed.
A warm shower to promote relaxation prior to bed.
A fan as your core temperature must drop before sleeping.
These factors are essential as sleep manages a ton of functions for the body. Proper sleep promotes metabolism, insulin sensitivity, increases life expectancy, and promotes performance in the gym.
GET YOUR SLEEP.
Stress can be perceived as a chemical process involving the chemical cortisol. Cortisol is considered the “stress hormone” as it is secreted when you are placed in a stressful situation. In small amounts, cortisol is actually beneficial, but when allowed to run in excess is extremely detrimental to your health. Cortisol is a silent killer. Below is a graph from Dr. William Wallace on Instagram displaying the negative effects of excess cortisol.
I want to add that cortisol can entirely disrupt the recovery process from weight training, and it has a negative correlation with testosterone levels. Both of which are counterproductive to your fitness goals.
To improve your cortisol levels I have a few solutions:
Practice mindfulness/meditation (has been show to lower cortisol substantially)
Go for walks, preferably somewhere quiet and scenic
Cardio and other aerobic exercise
Supplementation of Ashwagandha and 5-HTP
Eliminate toxic people in your life
Managing stress might not seem like it’s the most important facet of fitness, but when broken down you can see it’s actually very, very beneficial.
Stretching and Foam Rolling
Stretching—in general—provides good benefits for muscle growth. This is due to mobility factors, promoting blood flow (and thus nutrient flow to the muscles), and other mechanisms that would require a novel’s-worth of writing.
Foam rolling and massage guns are another effective method of recovery as it provides a myofascial (muscle fibers) release. This subsequent release causes the muscle to relax and untighten—this will help cure Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) and get rid of potential knots in the muscle.
I suggest getting deep tissue work at least once a month as this will ensure you are not developing over-tight muscles and hindering your muscle’s ability to perform.
This ultimately will aid the recovery process and help you feel more fresh in future gym sessions. This is explicit as we know performance and intensity are the main drivers of muscle growth.
Sauna therapy is a very popular recovery method—the benefits are actually fairly substantial. First, starting with the release of toxins through sweat. Everything we consume contains some form of toxins unfortunately, and the sauna provides us the opportunity to excrete some of these toxins—including heavy metals (not the kind I listen to in the gym, think mercury, arsenic, and lead). This can also lower your risk for certain cancers, metabolic disease, testosterone lowering phytoestrogens, and increase your immune system. The heat stress has also been linked to an increase in muscle mass due to heat shock proteins. 15-20 minutes is all you need.
Cold water therapy, or ice baths also have a substantial effect on lowering inflammation and improving blood flow. Blood flow is especially important as it is what delivers the much needed nutrients to the muscles and promotes blood circulation. Keep sessions to 10-15 minutes at around 50 degrees fahrenheit.
Compression therapy is another method—the research is still ongoing—but products like the Normatec sleeves provide compression on your limbs that will then promote blood flow and nutrient delivery to muscles. I personally use the leg sleeves 3-5 times a week.
There are a variety of other methods to achieve recovery, but this should be sufficient to compensate your fitness endeavors. Recovery is extremely important because this is where the true growth happens. There is definitely a diminishing return in additional methods, but you can truly never do “too much”.
The goal here is to feel good and continue progress. If you can mange this, you will be wildly successful with your fitness goals.
Please keep in mind the stress aspect of this post. This is the foremost reason for more early deaths than anything on this planet. Please take care of your mind and body—you only get one. Health is wealth.
This is not Legal, Medical, or Financial advice. Please consult a medical professional before starting any workout program, diet plan, or supplement protocol. These are opinions from a Cartoon Ox.