You lose out on fitness gains if you don’t prioritize recovery. Photo by Gabe Pierce on Unsplash Foam roller, massage gun, compression boots, cryo membership — you have it all. You’re royalty when it comes to workout recovery. Have you ever wondered how well those things actually work, though? Even the fanciest tools may not have the profound effect you think they do. Here’s a look at what does and doesn’t help you recover from workouts. What might work Massage and percussive therapy Massage therapy is backed by a rather impressive body of evidence, but studies on massage as it relates specifically to workout recovery is limited. Percussive therapy is a newcomer to the muscle recovery arena, but the available science shows promising results. Both massage and percussive therapy work by manipulating your fascia and, if deep enough, your muscle tissue, which can work out kinks that cause soreness. Percussive therapy devices, such as the HyperVolt, may help with sore, knotty muscles. Cryotherapy Cryotherapy is nothing new (hello, ice baths after practice), but whole-body cryotherapy — the trendy kind where you sit in a below-freezing chamber of nitrogen — is relatively novel. The concept behind cryotherapy makes sense: Muscles become inflamed after exercise, and cold reduces inflammation. However, some research shows that the age-old ice bath is at least as effective as that cryotherapy chamber session… Compression therapy Health professionals have long used compression to treat pain and speed up healing of inflammatory injuries. When it comes to muscle recovery, compression therapy (a la NormaTec) might help because it can increase blood flow to specific parts of your body, thereby increasing the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to taxed muscle fibers. Compression boots like the popular NormaTec ones may facilitate better recovery. Far-infrared therapy Surprisingly, this one actually has some solid science to back it up. Far-infrared therapy, which works by transferring energy as heat into deep layers of body tissue, may stimulate your body’s healing processes and help speed up muscle recovery. Who’d’ve thought? (Besides scientists). Stretching Surprise! While most people are aware that stretching can have immediate effects on the way you feel, science doesn’t necessarily support stretching as a bona fide workout recovery tactic. Evidence is conflicting at best, but that doesn’t mean you should swear off stretching. Your own anecdotal evidence is worth following in this case — if stretching makes you feel better and improves your recovery, then stretch. Stretching may not support muscle recovery specifically, but that doesn’t mean it won’t help in other ways, like mobility. Foam rolling Surprise again. Foam rolling may not be the fitness cure-all you thought it was. Like stretching studies, foam rolling studies present conflicting evidence: Some studies say rolling relieves soreness, while others say it doesn’t. Some research even suggests foam rolling is better for warming up than for cooling down. But, again, don’t discount your own experience. If you think foam rolling helps you recover, definitely keep it in your routine. What we know works Post-workout nutrition Protein: Ya need it. Carbs will help, too. Your body is equipped with everything it needs to do its job -- repair your muscles. Studies show that post-workout nutrition is a significant controllable variable in the muscle recovery process, so don’t neglect your post-lift protein shake. Balanced meals go a long way. Photo by Logan Jeffrey on Unsplash Sleep Those six hours you get each night won’t cut it if you want to maximize muscle recovery. Research points to a clear link between sleep and whole-body regeneration, from hormone and metabolism regulation to — yep, you guessed it — muscle recovery. So, don’t feel bad about hitting snooze tomorrow. Water As always, water comes in clutch. Your body must maintain fluid balance to function optimally, and dehydration can impair the recovery process. The bottom line Workout recovery is about the fundamentals: mobility, hydration, nutrition, and sleep! If you’d like to learn more about post-workout recovery, talk to a personal trainer at your nearest World Gym.
Protein: The hypothetical king of all macronutrients. No one gets angry at protein like they do at carbs and fats. There’s no debate about whether low-protein or high-protein is the way to go, and there’s certainly no arguing that you should cut protein out of your diet completely. That’s because thousands of research studies on protein prove this macronutrient’s critical role in weight maintenance, metabolism, muscle growth, strength, and general health and fitness. Because protein sits atop the macronutrient throne, people tend to assume more protein is better. More protein, more muscle, they think — in reality, consumption of this glorified provision is more nuanced than that. U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Protein The official protein intake guidelines are so-so. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) work together to create a new set of dietary guidelines every five years. The most recent set of guidelines, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, stipulates that people should aim to get 10 to 35 percent of their total calorie intake in protein. For example, a person on a 2,000-calorie diet should aim to eat 200 to 700 calories in protein each day. (10 percent of 2,000 is 200 and 35 percent of 2,000 is 700). Protein has four calories per gram, so this means a person eating 2,000 calories per day should eat 50 to 175 grams of protein each day. (200 divided by four is 50 and 700 divided by four is 175). The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI, a unit of measurement set forth by the Institute of Medicine) for protein is 0.36 grams of protein per pound — or 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram — of bodyweight. For a 150-pound woman, that comes out to 54 grams of protein per day. For a 200-pound man, that comes out to 72 grams of protein per day. As any fitness enthusiast can see, those numbers are low. That’s because these figures are based on the amount of dietary protein needed to avoid protein deficiency and related problems, not how much protein you need to support muscle growth and strength. How Much Protein Should You Eat Every Day? Adding protein powder to smoothies is an easy way to increase your protein consumption. Despite the cut-and-dry guidelines from the USDA and IOM, this simple question doesn’t have a simple answer. Saying 10 to 35 percent of your calories should come from protein still doesn’t tell you how many grams of protein you specifically should eat to best reach your goals. And the IOM guidelines are rather useless for people who exercise often and intensely, especially in the form of weightlifting. These guidelines, though helpful for the average sedentary person, don’t account for body composition, fitness goals, activity level and other factors that influence your protein needs. So how much protein do you really need? Well, the verdict is still out. Recent research suggests that a protein intake of 0.7 grams per pound of bodyweight best supports muscle preservation, growth, and strength. Other estimates go as high as 1.1 grams per pound of bodyweight. Most experts agree that eating more than one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight doesn’t have any additional benefit, and it can lead to gastrointestinal distress and, depending on the source of the protein, health issues like gout. Based on the estimates in research studies and minimum intake guidelines, a happy medium of 0.5 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight is likely to help you build muscle and improve your fitness. For specific nutrition and fitness advice, ask a personal trainer at a World Gym near you. References / Links for More Information Protein in diet: Medline Plus Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation How much protein can the body use in a single meal for muscle-building? Implications for daily protein distribution Increased protein intake reduces lean body mass loss during weight loss in athletes Recent Perspectives Regarding the Role of Dietary Protein for the Promotion of Muscle Hypertrophy with Resistance Exercise Training Effects of 4 weight-loss diets differing in fat, protein, and carbohydrate on fat mass, lean mass, visceral adipose tissue, and hepatic fat: results from the POUNDS LOST trial Increased protein intake reduces lean body mass loss during weight loss in athletes How much protein do you need every day? - Harvard Health Blog Gluconeogenesis and energy expenditure after a high-protein, carbohydrate-free diet Postprandial thermogenesis is increased 100% on a high-protein, low-fat diet versus a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet in healthy, young women