Whatever sport you participate in like it or not, muscular performance is a factor. Sports ranging from MMA fighting, long distance running, swimming, cycling, and basketball all the way to rally driving all require the muscles within your body to perform. Many people do not understand the importance of optimising muscle performance in relation to their sport, they regard the term ‘muscle’ as something that is only associated with bodybuilding. This couldn’t be further from the truth! Every time a rugby player makes a tackle, every time two footballers sprint after the ball, every time a basketball player blocks a shot and every time a F1 car speeds around a bend the muscles within the athlete have to work! With that said, you must begin to appreciate the importance of optimum muscular performance whatever it is you do!
To believe the importance of the capacity of your muscles is irrelevant as an athlete, is a bit like saying an engine is irrelevant to the performance of a car! In other words, totally wrong! Once you break down that initial prejudice that so many people have towards muscular performance, you then need to break it down into several segments. There is so much to consider including feeding the muscle correctly, knowing how to prolong the efficiency of your muscles and how to enhance their ability to work.
Another very important aspect of muscular performance is recovery! For those who do appreciate muscle, they will often spend many hours every week working their muscles yet they fail to see the big picture. Without allowing the muscle to recover, how can it develop and begin to work more effectively? It can’t! Hopefully those few sentences enabled you to grasp at least a snippet as to why proper muscular recovery is essential to ANY athlete! To reiterate, it doesn’t matter if you are a professional gymnast or if you do triathlons as a hobby. Recovery, more specifically proper recovery is vital. In fact, this point cannot be stressed enough. It is so important I could go on for another page reinforcing the point, but I think you have got it now so we can move on to the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the topic. To define muscle recovery, I would suggest it is the point where your muscles are returned to a full state of capacity. This is the point where all of the muscle fibres within a given muscle group are completely repaired, in simple terms. What causes muscle fibres to be broken down?
In one word -life. Every time you move your muscles are working and therefore they can potentially be broken down. Admittedly, that is a slight exaggeration to make a very bold point. Exercise and more specifically regular intense exercise is when your muscle fibres can really succumb to the intensity of workload. As a reminder, that can be any form of sport or exercise whatsoever remember! So when you see Lewis Hamilton zipping around a corner in his F1 car at 140MHP you can imagine the stress on his muscle fibres through his neck, back and chest for example. Multiply that by another 20 corners at differing speeds and over 30 laps and you have got yourself a serious case of muscle fibre breakdown. After a race or after any form of exercise, it is essential to start taking steps to enable the muscles to recover.
The recovery process starts as exercise finishes After intense exercise your muscles are primed for recovery. Just like you may feel the bursting desire to neck a pint of water, your muscles crave nutrients. However, knowing what nutrients and when to start eating them is an art in itself. Immediately after a gruelling period of physical exertion as a rule of thumb it is advised that you take in a liquid form of ultra-fast digesting carbohydrates and protein, at a 2:1 ratio. The reason for this is that your muscle glycogen levels, blood sugar levels and insulin levels are all going to be depleted post-exercise. What a very fast digesting carbohydrate will do is help replenish your muscle glycogen levels and raise your blood sugar levels along with your insulin levels. As your insulin levels rise your body is able to shuttle the protein more effectively into the muscle cell, which is when the amino acids within the protein can be utilised to start help rebuilding the broken down muscle fibres. Waxy maize starch is a superb choice of carbohydrate in this instance; with the ability to surpass the stomach and be absorbed by the intestines at nearly twice the speed of dextrose and maltodextrin!
Now you understand the importance of replenishing your depleted muscle glycogen levels as fast as possible, this should be of real significance to you! The fastest digesting protein source you can get in liquid form is hydrolysed whey isolate. Due to the fact the protein particle is so small they are very easily digested by the body and carried to the muscle. Mixing together the waxy maize starch and hydrolysed whey isolate together immediately after you finish exercise is the best way to kick start the recovery process. This is known as taking your body from a catabolic state into an anabolic state. Wait, don’t panic! The word ‘anabolic’ is simply a natural term to describe the environment within your body when it is able to repair and develop lean muscle tissue. Every athlete needs to achieve this in order to improve upon their performance whether they are a dancer, BMX rider or sprinter!
There are also a handful of other supplements which are totally necessary for any avid athlete pre and post-workout to promote maximum muscular recovery.
Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are a ‘bread and butter’ recovery supplement and one which just about every athlete should use. BCAAs are often referred to as the ‘building blocks’ of muscle and in simple terms their role is to help the muscle synthesise amino acids. Keeping things simple, there are 20 amino acids which your body requires to help repair broken down muscle fibres and it can only produce around 12 of them! Supplementing with BCAAs will help your body produce the remaining 8. These remaining 8 are known as ‘essential amino acids’ (EAAs) because your body cannot produce them itself. Taking 6g of BCAAs before and after your exercise period can have a significant effect on your muscle’s ability to recover.
L-Glutamine is recognised as the most abundant amino acid within the body. Although it is classified as ‘non-essential’ because your body is able to produce it, keen athletes will almost certainly need to supplement it. As an athlete who places their body under constant stress through exercise, your natural L-Glutamine production will probably not be adequate to deal with your requirements. This amino acid is responsible for approximately 35% of the nitrogen which is forced into the muscle cell. In relation to recovery, this is of major significance because nitrogen is then synthesised to aid muscle recovery. Supplementing with L-Glutamine can potentially aid with muscle recovery.
Vitamins and Antioxidants are essential to optimising your muscle recovery as an athlete. Due to the intense nature of regular exercise your immune system and CNS can succumb to the stress. As a result, your body is in a state where it needs to concentrate on ‘general health’ and it quickly regards ‘muscle recovery’ of secondary importance. Your body doesn’t WANT to nurture your muscle for performance, you need to make it. By utilising a supplement which can provide you with vitamins to aid recovery, a health immune system and antioxidants to neutralise free radicals in your blood, you can optimise overall ‘muscle recovery’ rather quickly. Recovery – a 24/7 process So far we have merely covered promoting recovery post-exercise, arguably the most important time to do so. Having said that, ensuring your muscles recover from intense exercise and are able to develop into better performing units you must constantly nurture them.
Nutrition is the key to optimising muscle recovery, and for a keen athlete who constantly puts their body through high levels of physical stress every 3 hours is what you need to be looking at. More than that, you need to be eating the right foods.
Protein is the nutrient which will provide your muscles with the amino acids they require to synthesise nitrogen, thus promoting full muscle recovery. However, it is important you feed your muscles every 3 hours or thereabouts in order to sustain the constant feed of amino acids into the muscle cell. If you went for a 12 mile run the day before and you don’t eat for 6 hours your body will begin to breakdown your muscles even further. This will have a negative effect on your progress as a runner, or at whatever other sport you participate in. As an athlete, you require approximately 1g of protein per pound of body weight to ensure maximum recovery.
Protein sources - Chicken breast, turkey breast, eggs, and lean beef steak or mince and protein powder.
Carbohydrates are essential for promoting muscle recovery. As their name suggests they ‘hydrate’ the muscle, drawing water into the muscle cell. What this does is enable the effective transportation of nutrients into the muscle cell which is where they need to be in order to help the muscle recover. The quantity of complex carbohydrates you ingest is very much down to the individual and what sport they do. As a rule of thumb, anywhere between 1.5-2g per pound of body weight is acceptable for a very active athlete.
Carbohydrate sources – oats, brown pasta, brown rice, sweet potato, baked potato.
Fats and more specifically essential fatty acids (EFAs) which are your Omega 3 and 6 fats are also great for recovery. Ecosanoids are a hormone like substance which is required before the recovery process can actually begin, and it is these EFAs which provide the raw ingredients to create this hormone. Whilst it isn’t directly relevant to ‘muscle recovery’ EFAs are great for joint health, which for many athletes is particular crucial considering the level of stress your joints can go through.
Fat sources – oily fish such as salmon and mackerel, nuts, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, organic nut butter.
Bringing it all together
Recognising the importance of muscle recovery as a generic term for all athletes, then understanding how to achieve it and finally doing it are all essential parts to progressing in your sport. As we touched on earlier, people do not realise the importance of optimum muscle performance and the difference it makes in EVERY sport. To get the most from your sport, you need your muscles to perform efficiently and for that to happen you need to recovery properly. Proper muscle recovery truly is one of the secret’s to success in modern day sport.