Written by Josh Thigpen
Here is a fact, if you are going to the gym busting your butt everyday, but you aren’t recovering properly, you are wasting your time.
Recovery is the key to making progress. Your time training in the gym is the catalyst for strength and performance gains, but the recovery process solidifies those gains by doing the actual rebuilding and healing that is necessary for gains.
Of course a proper diet with the right combination and balance of the macronutrients is essential to the recovery process, but there are additional things that can contribute to this recovery process. We are going to discuss some things that you can do in your daily regimen and also at night to optimize the recovery process and maximize your gains.
Fruits & Vegetables
The process of training causes damage at the cellular level. Without getting into a big discussion on the process of inflammation and recovery, we are going to state that a fire out of control is bad, and so is inflammation that is out of control. What we want to do through nutrition is to create an environment at the cellular level in which the negative aspects of inflammation are controlled and the positive aspects are maximized as quickly as possible post-training. Free radicals are produced as a
result of tissue damage. These free radicals can be neutralized by antioxidants.
Antioxidants are abundant in fruits and vegetables as well as herbs, spices and teas. We hear about “superfoods” nearly everyday in the media, but in reality all fruits and vegetables contribute antioxidants and are superfoods. Studies have shown that consumption of a variety of fruits and vegetables ensures that you will get a broad range of all the different antioxidants that nature has to offer and that these benefits
are additive and synergistic. It is estimated that there are over 5000 different phytochemicals that have been identified.
Fish Oil and Antioxidants
Fish oil is another nutrient that is important for recovery. Our cell membranes are made up of phospholipids, which are composed of various fatty acids. Research has shown that daily consumption of fish oil in supplement form ensures that there is s consistent level of EPA and DHA in the cellular membrane. These poly unsaturated fatty acids are anti-inflammatory in nature, meaning that when a cellular insult occurs, the body can quickly get the damage under control, and begin the repair process.
These fats are also prone to oxidation by free radicals and supplementation with a few vitamins and minerals can help balance out these free radicals. The vitamins A, C, and E and the minerals Selenium and Zinc are all important in the cellular antioxidant defense. You can get these by taking a good quality multivitamin/mineral supplement. There is the added benefit of getting additional micronutrients that may be lost by sweating.
Branched Chain Amino Acids
There are a few supplements that have been shown to enhance the synthesis of muscle proteins as well. The branched chain amino acids, leucine, isoleucine and valine have been shown to be the most active amino acids in the initiation of protein synthesis. Specifically the amino acid leucine can singularly initiate this process. In personal conversations with researchers it has been determined that the maximum effective amount is 17 grams per day. This is of course through a combination of food and supplementation. The leucine metabolite beta-hydroxy-beta-methyl butyrate may inhibit degradation of cellular proteins and directly stimulate muscle protein synthesis. BCAA’s also have been shown to inhibit central fatigue, meaning that you can train longer without the mental fatigue associated with
intense training. Supplementing extra on training days may be beneficial. On non-training days taking your normal dosage or just getting them from food could be just as beneficial.
Sleep is the absolute most important time for recovery. At night time your body is working on overdrive to rebuild and recover from intense training. Hormones like Testosterone and growth hormone are released in higher levels when sleeping. Although the body is doing a great job without any added help during sleep, there are still a few things that can be done to yet further the benefits of sleep induced recovery.
One thing that can really aid in sleep is Melatonin. Melatonin is a neurotransmitter naturally produced in the brain that causes the drowsiness that leads to sleep. In today’s world of artificial light, stimulants, abnormal sleep schedules etc. melatonin levels can be low in the body. Supplementing with melatonin can help the body get the deep sleep it needs and go into REM stages of sleep. This will help promote
the hormone releases that are necessary for sleep, and allow the body to rest properly. Melatonin is also a powerful antioxidant. Much more so than vitamin C even. It has even been shown to significantly increase survival rate of cancer patients! Enhancements in mood and decreases in depression have been seen with melatonin as well.
Another way to help the body recover at night is by getting some casein protein before bed. Casein protein is a long digestion protein. It will slowly digest over a longer period of time than whey protein.
This allows for an almost I.V. drip like digestion of the protein. Casein protein acts as an anti-catabolic protein, it works at night by inhibiting protein degradation as well. Keeping protein available for the body to use while it recovers during sleep is of obvious benefit. One way to get this casein protein is cottage cheese before bed time. There are also casein protein powders available that can act in the same way. It is possible that the cottage cheese being more of solid could be slightly more desirable due to the fact that casein powder will be absorbed and digested more quickly.
Zinc and/or ZMA
Zinc and ZMA, or zinc magnesium aspartate, have been shown to help optimize testosterone production during sleep and also promote REM sleep. This is of particular benefit to people who are deficient in zinc. One hurdle that arises with taking ZMA and cottage cheese before bed is that the calcium in cottage cheese may hinder the absorption of zinc. There are some conflicting studies in regards to this subject, and it is not known if the calcium hinders zinc absorption on a level high enough to be significant.
As we stated making sure you are getting adequate amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fats in your diet is critical to recovery. Your recovery can also be enhanced and optimized by adding in just a few important extra nutrients. Make recovery of the upmost importance in your life and you will see the benefits in performance.