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The best ways to recover after intense exercise

June 11th 2015 / Hanna Ibraheem

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Six nutrition and fitness experts reveal their top tips on how to recover after a gruelling workout…

Always find yourself struggling after a round of intense exercise?

We quizzed six of the biggest nutrition and fitness experts in the industry for their best rest and recovery tips…

HYDRATION: Steve Mellor, Head of Personal Training at Nutrition at Freedom2Train

WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT?

When you exercise, your body sweats to thermoregulate your body temperature, meaning you don't continue to get hotter and hotter. Your body is smart and it starts to sweat as a cooling mechanism. This happens even when it’s cold. It’s very important to replenish this sweat loss, as dehydration can cause cognitive impairment (not good if you’re at work or driving home), cardiac stress, inability to reduce core body temperature, unconsciousness, hypothermia and more. Thirst is a sign of dehydration and should be addressed immediately. If you’re thirsty, you are already 2-4% dehydrated and 2% dehydration can reduce your physiological output by up to 20%.

WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU DON’T DRINK ENOUGH?

In addition to the above, one key thing to pick up on is your blood changes in viscosity, meaning your blood gets thicker. This means the heart has to work harder to pump the blood around the body putting undue stress on the heart muscle. We are 70% water, so 2-4% of a 60kg female would be up to 1.7L of water. With this loss, the body can cope but key bodily functions will be impaired and slowed down.

HOW MUCH SHOULD WE DRINK A DAY?

1.6L per day is the NHS guidelines for women, if you're active or work in warm conditions this should be increased. I advise clients to aim for 2.5L at least and more on those days that they workout hard.

DOES THIS CHANGE ACCORDING TO EXERCISE?

Yes, you should always drink more on exercise days, the ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) says that we should drink 500ml pre-exercise and then 150-200ml every 15 minutes to stay hydrated throughout. They it goes on to say that we should drink 1.5L of fluid after exercise for every 1kg of bodyweight lost.

These are generic recommendations and all fluid guidelines are dependent on the individual, so monitoring urine colour (keep it light) and body weight changes on workout days should offer a more bespoke guideline. For exercise over an hour, you should opt for some sodium to be replaced too, going for NUUN electrolyte tablets are a great way to hydrate and don't have additional sugar. They can be bought online and in numerous sports shops.

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FOAM ROLLERS: James Duigan, Creator of Bodyism

WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT?

Use of a foam roller and stretching are very important both before and after exercising to limit muscle soreness. Soreness in your muscles is actually micro-tears in the muscle fascia (the film surrounding our muscles) and the muscles themselves. By warming up and cooling down our bodies correctly through foam roller work and stretching, we can help loosen the muscle fascia to allow the muscle itself to work to its full potential both in the exercises to come and in its recovery afterwards. It is also important to ensure you have taken on board enough essential amino acids and protein in your diet to help the body repair naturally after the workout too.

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HOW DOES IT WORK?

Foam rolling relaxes overworked and tense muscles and helps stimulate blood supply. Use a foam roller daily for best effects and use to massage your entire body. A ‘Trigger Point’ foam roller is a relatively small piece of equipment, so pretty easy to incorporate into your workout regime be it at home before or after training.

WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU DON’T DO IT?

Stretching and cooling down your muscles after a workout is really important to their recovery. If you don’t stretch off properly after exercising, you risk experiencing DOMs (delayed onset muscle soreness), which is a sign of insufficient warm up, or cool down, over-work, too much weight and not enough rest. In its extreme, it can be incapacitating which isn’t great for any exercise or training program!

EPSOM SALTS: Chris James, Yoga, Health and Wellness Experts

WHAT ARE EPSOM SALTS?

Epsom salts is an inorganic salt containing magnesium, sulphur and oxygen. It takes its name from a bitter saline spring in Epsom in Surrey, England, where the salt was produced from the springs that arise where the porous chalk of the North Downs meets non-porous London clay!

WHAT DO EPSOM SALTS DO? AND HOW DOES THIS HELP YOUR RECOVERY?

Epsom salts have a variety of different uses; gardeners use it to improve crops, while athletes use it to soothe sore muscles. It has even been cited as being effective in the removal of splinters.

Magnesium helps regulate the activity of more than 300 enzymes in the body. A lack of magnesium in the body can contribute to high blood pressure, hyperactivity, heart problems and other health issues. Sulphate is essential for many biological processes, including helping to flush out toxins and helping to form proteins in joints, brain tissue and mucin proteins.

Traditionally, Epsom Salts is used to prepare foot baths, intended to soothe sore feet. I often advise my clients to have a long hot soak after a race, marathon, or Iron Man competition, because in a bath the magnesium sulphate can easily be absorbed into the skin, reducing the inflammation that was created through physical exertion.

Hypomagnesemia can occur if there is an electrolyte disturbance in which there is an abnormally low level of magnesium in the blood. Hypomagnesemia may result from a number of conditions including inadequate intake of magnesium, chronic diarrhoea, malabsorption, alcoholism, and chronic stress!

HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU USE EPSOM SALTS?

I recommend 1 bath a week of Epsom salts for my clients.

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GTG RECOMMENDS: Westlab Pure Mineral Bathing Epsom Salt, £4.99

After a gruelling workout session, all we want to do is run a hot bath and chuck in a load of these magical salts. Created to relax stiff and aching muscles, this Epsom salt flushes out toxins and leaves you feeling refreshed. Additionally, its uses don’t stop at the bath; these salts can also be used for foot baths, facials, exfoliating and pedicures.

NUTRITION: Martin MacDonald, Celebrity Nutritionist and Director of Mac-Nutrition

WHAT ARE THE BEST FOODS TO EAT AFTER INTENSE EXERCISE?

With the most important nutrient after exercise being protein, foods that are high in protein are particularly important. Most commonly used are things like milk or a whey protein shake however, when it comes to the protein part of recovery, its likely that things like tuna, chicken or eggs would be just as good. After protein is taken care of the next more important aspects of recovery are the carbohydrates stored in the muscle (glycogen) and hydration. This is one reason why milk is often used as it replaces protein, carbohydrates and water all at once. However, the carbohydrate portion can come from many difference sources such as fruit e.g. bananas or something as simple as rice!

WHAT DO THESE FOODS DO AND HOW DOES THIS HELP YOUR RECOVERY?

Eating 0.3 x your bodyweight in kg of protein, so 21g of protein for a 70kg individual, completely activates the pathways that lead to muscular recovery and stops any breakdown caused by exercise. A single scoop of a whey protein shake, like Impact Whey Protein, would cover this amount - there is no need to have huge amounts at one sitting. The amount of carbohydrate or water you need depends not only on your bodyweight, but also the amount of exercise you did.

WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT TO MAKE SURE YOU EAT THE RIGHT FOOD AFTER EXERCISING?

Eating the right foods is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, eating protein initiates the recovery of damaged muscles and is the key player in adapting to the exercise and getting 'better', which we can all agree is the whole point of training! Eating carbohydrates and rehydrating are particularly important, simply so that you can go about your normal daily routine as well as complete your next exercise session whenever that may be.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE POST-WORKOUT MEAL?
It’s not exactly a meal but I have become very partial to Rocky Road flavoured whey protein. It’s absolutely delicious with half water, half milk. What I have alongside this various depending on my mood, how hard I've worked and when I will be eating my next meal. Sometimes it will be fruit, other times I might have tiger bread (my favourite) or if I've worked particularly hard it will be pick'n’mix!

REST DAYS: Matt Roberts, Celebrity Personal Trainer and Fitness Author

WHAT IS IT IMPORTANT TO HAVE REST DAYS?

If you want to get the most out of your exercise program, few things are more important than striking the right balance between time spent training and time spent resting.

Exercise causes stress on the body (in a good way) and time spent in recovery from that stress allows the body to adapt and grow stronger. If you don’t allow for the right amount of recovery then your body won’t adapt and you won’t get the results you want.

WHAT HAPPENS TO YOUR BODY ON REST DAYS?

When we exercise many of the systems in the body are disrupted to cope with the exertion. During recovery, the body works to bring everything back into balance. If recovery is adequate then the body adapts and grows stronger through a concept known as supercompensation. This then allows us to train harder and repeat the process.

HOW OFTEN DO YOU RECOMMEND HAVING REST DAYS?

For recreational exercisers, having a couple of days a week off from structured exercise should be adequate. However, recovery can be affected by lots of different things like sleep quality, life stress, current fitness level and diet, so it’s best to take a flexible approach to recovery. Listen to your body and be mindful of other stressors in your life.

WHEN HAVING A REST DAY, SHOULD YOUR FOOD INTAKE FOR THE DAY CHANGE?

In general it’s best to simply ensure adequate intake of protein, carbohydrate and fat from whole food sources on a regular basis whether resting or training. For the majority of people, this should support your training and recovery needs. PrecisionNutrition.com provides one of the best guides to portion sizes that is very easy to follow.

SLEEP: Christina Howells, Personal Trainer and Co-Founder of That Girl

WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT TO GET ADEQUATE SLEEP AFTER EXERCISE?

When we sleep, we move into what is known as an anabolic phase, which literally means rebuilding. Our cortisol and adrenaline levels decrease

Allowing the body to replenish, repair and rebuild. Heart rate and blood pressure also slow down so your cardiovascular system gets a rest.

Without enough sleep, the brain’s ability to function quickly decreases impacting concentration, co-ordination and the learning of new skills. Motivation levels are also highest when we are mentally alert and had enough sleep.

When we sleep, we release melatonin, which acts as your super bodyguard during the night. It’s a powerful antioxidant, which naturally scavenges free radicals protecting us from oxidative stress. Melatonin has also been seen to offer protection against reproductive cancers, in particular breast cancer.

WHAT HAPPENS TO YOUR MUSCLES AND YOUR BODY WHEN YOU’RE SLEEPING?

When we sleep, our muscles can take a break and relax. In fact, during REM sleep the muscles actually become temporarily paralyzed.

As we sleep, cortisol and adrenaline decrease whilst human growth hormones are released to stimulate the cellular repair process allowing muscles to restore and grow after exercise and daily activity. On the other hand, sleep deprivation causes levels of stress hormones, cortisol to increase and growth hormone to decrease, which limits repair and healing and greatens our risk of injury.

HOW MANY HOURS OF SLEEP DO YOU RECOMMEND PER NIGHT?

The National Foundation of Sleep suggests a “rule of thumb” amount of sleep, which many doctors and scientist have agreed on 7-8 hours a day of sleep. Sleep deprivation can have much negative consequence such as reduced cognitive function affecting our ability to exercise, and motivation to exercise.

Additionally, our appetite hormones, ghrelin and leptin, go out of balance. Ghrelin, the appetite hormone, increases whilst leptin, our fullness hormone, decreases. You end up feeling hungrier without feeling satisfied by what you eat, causing you to eat more.

DOES YOUR LENGTH OF SLEEP DIFFER WHEN YOU’VE DONE MORE INTENSE EXERCISE?

The more energy you are using the more your putting your body under stress so it makes sense you need to consider getting an extra hours sleep or a nap in the day.

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