Far too many people are under the impression that if you merely work out every day, you’ll make progress. While it is true that exercise is where it starts, that’s certainly not where it ends. Those that lift daily but neglect their recovery are the ones who find themselves frustrated and gainless, wondering why their max has been the same for 6 months and muscle growth has stagnated.
Fortunately, it’s usually just a matter of optimizing your time outside of the gym to make the most of each and every workout. So let’s dive right in!
Nutrition is everything when it comes to locking in those gains you made in the gym. Without a proper diet, your body doesn’t have the building blocks it needs for you to achieve your goals…unless your goal is to be skinny and frail that is.
We’ve all heard how important protein is, but rarely do we hear why. For those unaware of why protein is such a big deal, here you go:
Proteins are comprised of amino acids. If you were to read a textbook on nutrition, it would probably refer to amino acids as “the building blocks of protein“. When you consume whole proteins, they’re broken down into individual amino acids which are then shuttled into muscle tissue where they are reconstructed through the process of muscle protein synthesis.
Your body requires protein to maintain muscle, and more protein to build it. The easiest way to consume complete proteins is to eat meat. Sorry if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, but it’s true. This makes intuitive sense when you consider that meat (a great source of protein) is simply the muscle of a given animal.
Don’t eat meat? That’s okay, there are certainly many other sources of protein, but you really do need to make sure you’re getting enough protein to support your fitness goals if you don’t eat meat.
How Much Protein Is Enough?
How much protein you should be consuming depends entirely on your fitness goals and your current level of physical activity. Fortunately there has been quite a bit of research in this area so it’s no mystery.
In order for a sedentary (non-exercising) person to maintain (not build) muscle, he/she must consume around .8g of protein per kg of bodyweight, or .36g per pound.
This would be like a 150 person consuming around 55g of protein per day. If you read the nutrition facts on the food you eat, you’ll probably see that the RDI for protein is around 50g/day (assuming a 2000 calorie diet). This may be okay for someone who absolutely doesn’t exercise at all, but what about those of us who exercise? What about those of us who exercise A LOT?!
Research regarding dietary protein requirements indicates unanimously that exercise significantly increases protein requirements, in some cases as much as double!
In order for someone who exercise regularly (daily or almost daily) to maintain (not build) muscle mass, he/she needs to consume 1.6-1.8g/kg. This would be like someone who is 150 lbs consuming 100-120g of protein per day. Recall that this is to MAINTAIN muscle mass, not build it.
If you exercise daily and are looking to GAIN muscle, not merely maintain the muscle you have, you need to shoot for around 3g/kg, or 1.4g/lb daily. So take that same 150 pound person, add some ambition to actually gain muscle, and you’re looking at a protein intake of roughly 200g per day.
So next time your training partner (who’s way smaller than you and can’t lift as much) tells you you’re wasting your money on protein powder, simply explain to them (without getting upset) that crunched the numbers already and that shake is what is allowing you to hit your protein requirements.
Of course, it is very possible to hit your protein targets without the use of a protein supplement, but depending on your schedule, it may make it much easier.
According to self-proclaimed “weight-loss gurus” carbs are the enemy because unused carbs may be converted to stored fat. While it is true that high carbohydrate intake with no exercise to utilize all those carbs may result in more fat storage, exercising significantly increases your body’s carb needs.
This is simply because carbohydrates are stored in muscle tissue as glycogen, your body’s preferred source of energy for workouts. This means that if you consume carbs regularly, but also exercise regularly, you won’t automatically get fat. In fact, if you cut the carbs too much, you’ll have a hard time getting stronger and finding the energy to get through tough workouts.
How Many Carbs?
That largely depends on what the rest of your diet is looking like, but if making gains is the goal, shooting for 2g of carbs/lb of bodyweight is not a bad idea. Of course, how many carbs you should consume should depend on your bodyweight goals as well, but cutting your carb intake won’t help you get stronger so if that’s the goal don’t be so quick to ditch the carbs.
Your total carb intake isn’t nearly as important as what kind of carbs your consuming. Simple carbs (sugar, fruit juice, most pastas, candy, etc.) will spike your Insulin levels massively, leading to Insulin resistance over time, so you should limit your simple carb intake to immediately post-workout.
Consume complex carbs (whole grains, beans, vegetables, etc.) to supply your muscles with the glycogen they need while maintaining healthy Insulin sensitivity.
If you workout frequently, you need rest. It’s that simple.
You’ve heard it time and time again, but are you doing anything about it? Probably not. Ongoing research confirms that almost 50% of Americans don’t get as much sleep as they are supposed to (based on aggregated research).
You may think you’re being more productive by sleeping less, but it’s certainly not helping you achieve your fitness goals. Research confirms that exercise can significantly increase the need for sleep, which makes intuitive sense when you consider how tired you are after those intense training sessions.
It’s one thing to stay up later than you should some nights and wake up earlier than you would like to when you have somewhere to be, but if you’re neglecting your sleep requirements on a consistent basis, you can expect it to become harder and harder to achieve your fitness goals.
Shoot for 8 hours, accept 7, and get no less than 6.
Even if you’re sleeping enough hours every night, but are hitting the gym daily, you may also be compromising your gains. Sleep isn’t the only type of rest your body needs to build muscle. Yes, rest days suck…but giving your body a day off every few days isn’t going to kill you. In fact, you may be surprised at how strong you are when you lift after taking some time off, assuming you’re eating right.
How much time to take off (a day, a week, etc.) is too dependent on individual factors for any research to yield some sort of ideal rest strategy, but just go by how you FEEL. If you feel run down every day, you need to take a break.
If you feel like you can keep going, you probably can, but you need to listen to your body when it’s trying to tell you something. That pain in your back may be your body letting you know you need to chill.
The importance of stretching cannot be overstated…Do it or pay the price! When you lift all the time, you’re muscles tend to stay tense. Stretching regularly can:
1 – Increase Flexibility
You may not think you care about being flexible, but just wait until you got to squat and can’t even achieve proper form because your so muscle-bound. That’s a problem even a meathead should care about. Stretching regularly will help your muscles stay flexible and allow you to achieve proper form when it really matters.
2 – Reduce Risk Of Injury
Having overly tense muscles all the time will increase the likelihood of injury. This is a fact. You may not realize how much strain your putting on your muscles by keeping them wound-up all the time, but you’ll certainly understand when you get injured out of nowhere when you weren’t even trying that hard.
Another great way to relieve tense muscles is Myofacial Release…
Myofascial Release, more commonly referred to as “foam-rolling” is what all those old people in the gym are doing when they appear to be rolling back and forth on those weird cylindrical pieces of Styrofoam. Well, turns out they’re on to something!
This is probably the single best activity you can do that will reduce the likelihood of injury. All you have to do is grab a foam roller, locate a tight spot in your muscle, and roll back and forth slowly on that spot. The more it hurts, the more you should do it. A slight numb feeling is normal and is not a cause for alarm. You should ideally roll on the same spot until the pain is no longer felt, then move on to the next spot.
Here’s a little anecdote to illustrate the benefits of foam rolling…
After years of lifting, and not really caring about flexibility or taking any sort of measures to prevent injury, I found myself with pretty severe lower back pain. It wasn’t a single event that triggered the pain, like a massive squat or improper deadlift, it was just that my lower back muscles were always tight to the point that bending over for more than a few seconds caused pain.
A close friend of mine (who happens to be a hell of a personal trainer), Rob Giarao, submitted to me that my back pain wasn’t really my back, but my hip flexors and glutes. You see, years of lifting heavy and not stretching had induced a state of permanent tension in my waste area. My glutes and hip flexors were constantly pulling on my lower back, creating tension that became more and more painful over time.
Rob introduced me to foam rolling and after just a few 20-30 minute sessions focusing on the muscles around my waste area, the pain subsided. After a few weeks of consistent foam-rolling, I was pain free. I couldn’t believe it!
Over time, I also noticed a fair amount of flexibility that I never had before. My squat depth increased, my deadlift form improved, and best of all, my lower back didn’t prevent me from going heavy. Thanks rob! Thanks foam-roller! Now back to business…
Switching Up The Workout
This may seem like a strange suggestion for the purpose of preventing injury, but merely focusing on different types of workouts can relieve the strain you place on certain muscle groups over and over.
Rather than doing workouts that target one muscle or muscle group, consider some compound workouts that utilize multiple muscle groups and target all the small connective muscles that tend to be neglected by traditional bodybuilding style workouts.
One of my favorite pieces of equipment, which all complete gyms need to have, is The Prowler. There really is no end to the amount of fun (and pain) you can have with this thing. Push it, pull it, whatever!
If you’ve been abiding by traditional workout routines and don’t do much cardio, The Prowler will DESTROY you…in a good way. It’s great for optimizing full body, functional strength, not to mention activating all those little muscles that you always forget about.
So next time it’s leg day but you’re concerned about the beating you gave your legs last leg day, go load some plates onto the Prowler and give it a go!
If you’ve taken the time to correct the above flaws but still feel like your recovery could be better, there are some safe, effective supplements worth considering. Unfortunately, most multi-ingredient “recovery” supplements are full of unproven, unnecessary ingredients are contain “would-be” effective ingredients that are severely under-dosed.
If you know what to look for, however, you’ll be able to select the right supplement…
L-Carnitine L-Tartrate is the amino acid Carnitine bonded with Tartaric Acid (the Tartrate part). It is one of the most bioavailable forms of Carnitine making it ideal for use in studies. For that reason, nearly all of the studies assessing the effects of Carnitine on recovery have used L-Carnitine L-Tartrate.
At 1-2g/day L-Carnitine L-Tartrate has been shown to reduce biomarkers of oxidative damage from exercise, thereby making it an effective and reliable recovery aid (assuming the right dose). Unfortunately, most “recovery” supplements under-dose L-Carnitine L-Tartrate, in some cases quite severely.
Citrulline, though usually used in pre-workout supplements where it is used to improve muscular endurance, has also been shown to reduce Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) from lifting.
This makes it worth considering by anyone who is truly interested in optimizing their exercise recovery, but dosing is everything. Most BCAA/Recovery/Pre-Workout supplements contain nowhere near a clinical dose. You need to shoot for 6-9g. Don’t bother with anything less.
The Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) consist of Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine. When it comes to building/preserving muscle, Leucine reigns supreme, as it is the most potent amino acid (out of all the amino acids, not just BCAAs) when it comes to stimulating muscle protein synthesis.
BCAAs can not only help reduce muscle breakdown, but may also combat soreness, especially when combined with Taurine (which we will discuss next).
The problem with most BCAA supplements is that they tend to provide an arbitrary dose of BCAAs, without proper consideration for the fact that Leucine is the most important. This often results in a very low dose of Leucine (2.5g or less). If you want to actually benefit from BCAA supplementation, make sure you’re getting atleast 3-5g of Leucine in addition to the other BCAAs.
Furthermore, Taurine has been shown to reduce muscle soreness when combined with BCAAs, despite neither supplement doing so in isolation. This indicates a kind of synergy at work and is yet another reason to toss Taurine into the recovery mix.
WHAT ABOUT Glutamine?!
If you read through the supplements above, but have taken numerous recovery/bcaa supplements before, you probably noticed we didn’t mention Glutamine. That’s because Glutamine actually kind of sucks.
Long ago, in the early days of bodybuilding supplements, Glutamine was thought to provide numerous benefits, including performance enhancement, muscle growth, and recovery.
However, if you step back and take a look at the research as a whole, you’ll notice that Glutamine doesn’t live up to the hype.
There is some preliminary research to indicate that Glutamine may help preserve immune function during extended duration exercise that might otherwise compromise immune function, but so far the evidence is tenuous at best.
If you insist upon tossing Glutamine into the mix, you’ll need to take at least 5-10g, far more than you’ll find in the average BCAA supplement.
If you’re familiar with Amino Beyond, you probably noticed all of the ingredients we just discussed are in there, all dosed to precise clinical standards. If you’re constantly pushing your limits in the gym and would like to enhance your recovery as much as possible, there is no better supplement than Amino Beyond.
It’s the only BCAA-based supplement with clinical doses of Leucine, Citrulline Malate, L-Carnitine L-Tartrate, and Taurine, guaranteed to
- Boost muscular endurance
- Reduce muscle soreness
- Enhance recovery
- Reduce catabolism
- Promote optimal muscle growth
Go ahead and shop around, but if you take the time to compare ingredients to ingredients and doses to doses, you’ll quickly find that Amino Beyond is in a league of its own.
The Bottom Line On Optimizing Exercise Recovery
Ensuring an adequate recovery is important if you want to make the most of your training. You can lift all the weights in the world, every day of the year, and it won’t mean anything if you neglect your recovery outside of the gym. Supplements (such asAmino Beyond) can do wonders but can’t compensate for a terrible diet and inadequate rest. If you’re serious about your training, you should be serious about your recovery as well.
DO YOU FEEL SMARTER?!
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I'm Matt, Founder of Momentum Nutrition and SuppWithThat.com. I've spent the better part of the last decade researching and experimenting in the areas of fitness, nutrition, and supplementation, and this is where I write it all down.