I am a very active individual. I do sports (ringball) twice a week, run 5km on weekends and spend every other day either pushing my limits in the gym or playing some casual sport with my friends.
The downside to all this activity is I suffer a muscle and joint pain every day. I’ve decided to do some research on what proven techniques there are for reducing the impact on one’s body and to maximize recovery.
The way I’m going to do this is through reading and referencing 10 online articles that appear on the first page of Google search results on the topic. I will include links below to the individual articles. The numbers in front of the statement indicate which sources agree. If you have any additional sources you know about please let me know and I will add them to my list.
This is just to see what the most popular internet articles regarding this question have to say, comparing the similarities and challenging their claims based on scientific research. The number before each statement represents a source that is listed at the bottom of the article.
(1) Take a week off every 8-12 weeks of intense exercise.
(5) Take a week off.
(6) Take a day off of exercise every week.
(2) Take a recovery week every 3-5 weeks where you exercise at 50% effort.
(5) Take a recovery week where you exercise at 60-65% effort.
(6) Take an active recovery session once a week.
(7) Take an active recovery session after an intense workout day.
(2) Take 24-72 hours of rest between intense training sessions targeting the same muscle groups.
(3)(4)(10) Take time to rest.
Everyone seems to agree that you need to take time off from your exercise routine every now and then but they can’t seem to decide how long that period should be. The best advice I’ve found is to let your performance be your guide. If your performance is declining, you need more rest.
Enough quality sleep:
(1) Invest in a good mattress and pillow.
(1) Make your environment ideal for sleep.
(2) Get 8 hours of quality sleep.
(4)(8) Get 7-8 hours of sleep a night.
(6)(9) Get 7-9 hours of sleep a night.
(2) Take a 30-minute power nap in the afternoons.
(10) Take a 20-minute power nap during the day.
(5) Take a 15-20 minute nap during the day.
(6) Take afternoon naps.
(3)(10) Sleep a little longer.
There isn’t consensus on exactly how much sleep an athlete needs but everyone seems to agree that you need at least 7 hours of good quality sleep. Some suggest power naps might be good and they have been shown to include additional benefits beyond muscle recovery. I say if you feel you need a nap during the day go for it. Figure out what amount of time works for you. I don’t do naps because they mess up my hair and 30-minute naps inevitably turn into 2-hour naps.
Drink less alcohol:
(1) The more energy your body spends on processing alcohol the less it uses on muscle recovery.
(6) Overconsumption of alcohol significantly suppresses muscle protein synthesis.
(10) One or two drinks after working out could reduce the body’s ability to recover.
Alcohol has its pros and cons but almost everyone can agree that too much is a bad thing. Don’t get wasted if you fancy yourself an athlete is what I’m saying.
Drink a lot of water:
(1) Drink at least 2 litres of water a day, and even more after vigorous exercise.
(2) Drink at least 3.7 litres (men) or 2.7 litres (woman) of water a day.
(4) Drink at least 1.6l (woman) water per day or 2.5 litres (recommended) after vigorous exercise.
(6) Drink at least 8 glasses of water per day (2l)
(4) Add some sodium to water for exercise sessions longer than an hour.
(3)(5)(10) Drink enough water to replenish fluids.
(8) Drink a couple litres of water or more on days you exercise.
Everyone agrees that water is an important thing you need to drink, but no one seems to know how much is enough. Turns out science doesn’t really know either. Drink when you’re thirsty seems to be the best guideline.
(1) It may help reduce lactic acid build-up and speed up recovery, but it may also limit recovery.
(3)(4) Gentle stretching after a workout.
(7) Stretching after a workout increases the range of motion and circulation.
(7) Hold stretches for at least 15 seconds but less than 2 minutes.
(8) Stretch every day, especially on off days.
(9) Maximizing muscle mobility increases the effectiveness of exercises.
(9) Moderate stretching will reduce cholesterol and significantly reverses hardening of the arteries.
While it is true that stretching certainly makes you more flexible, no solid proof exists that it does anything for recovery. In fact, stretching actually reduces blood flow and studies recommend not stretching after training but warming down with mild exercises. Bottom line: if you want to be more flexible then you should stretch, just not right after your workout.
(1)(3)(5)(10) Get into a bath filled with ice water. Lots of athletes do it.
(5) Submerge your body for 10 minutes at a time.
(6) Cryotherapy is used as a muscle soreness treatment.
(4) Take a hot bath drizzled with Epsom salt once a week and after a gruelling sport.
(4) Epsom salts contain magnesium sulphate which is good for recovery.
(6) Thermotherapy using hot baths reduces sore muscles and speeds up recovery.
(8) An ice pack on a sore muscle for 20 minutes helps recovery.
Hot and cold:
(1) Try a hot shower for 1 minute followed directly by a 30-second cold shower. Rinse and repeat for an unknown amount of time.
(3) Try a hot shower for 2 minutes followed directly by a 30-second cold shower. Rinse and repeat 4 times with a minute of moderate temperatures in between.
Turns out there’s not much proof that any temperature based therapies actually reduce muscle pain or help with recovery. Do them if you like doing them but they’re probably just a waste of time and water.
(1)(3)(6)(8)(10) Get a sports therapy massage once a week.
(2)(3)(4)(5)(6)(7)(8)(10) Massage yourself using a baseball or foam roller.
(5) Lacrosse ball, massaging tools and voodoo bands help recovery.
There is no solid evidence that foam rollers actually speed up recovery but it has been shown to reduce pain levels if done correctly after workouts. Problem is no one knows what constitutes doing foam rolling ‘correctly’. Bottom line: it might work but don’t until there’s more evidence don’t rush out and buy one.
(1)(2)(3)(4)(5)(8)(9) Get enough protein into your body, especially right after exercise.
(1)(2)(4) Get enough calories to stay awake.
(2)(3)(5)(9) Get enough complex carbohydrates.
(8) A 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein is ideal.
(8)(10) High protein breakfasts help reduce food cravings.
(1)(5) Avoid strict diets.
(5) Have a balanced diet that gives you all the micronutrients you need.
(6) You need 1.2g-1.6g of protein per kg weight every day, spread out throughout the day.
(6) Eat lots of fruits and vegetables dampening the oxidative stress that comes with exercise.
(9) Consider adding sources of potassium like bananas or potatoes into your diet.
(6) Eat dairy as a bedtime snack, like greek yoghurt and cottage cheese.
(10) Eat a protein-rich snack before bed.
(9) Eat a high-quality lean protein and complex carbohydrate meal two hours before your training sessions.
(10) Eat a protein snack before working out.
Turns out that athletes only need a small amount of protein more than your average person. The time at which you eat your protein doesn’t make a difference really. Consuming more protein than you need has no positive effects. 1.2g-1.7g of protein per kg of body weight is the maximum amount of protein athletes need, compared to the 0.8g/kg your average person needs. That means you don’t need to go out and buy whey protein. You’re probably getting enough protein in already. Eating more complex carbohydrates is important though, and so is getting a varied diet. Bottom line: eat a wide variety of healthy foods and you will be fine.
Talk to your body:
(1)(3) Use positive self-talk to ask your body politely to recover faster.
Not surprisingly, there isn’t proof that this works.
(3) Meditate for some “mental recovery”.
Studies have shown that meditation may be useful for pain management, but studies are few. If you’re into meditation then do it. It does seem to be of some benefit, just don’t count on it.
Listen to your body:
(1)(3) Drink water when you’re thirsty, eat when you’re hungry, rest when you’re tired etc.
This is good if not a bit too obvious advice.
(3) Too much exercise without enough recover is bad for you.
(9) Work out hard enough to push your boundaries but not so hard that you destroy yourself entirely.
(1) Have 1-hour workouts every 3 days.
Most agree that a moderate amount of exercise is ideal for people. The best way to go about it is to push yourself so you feel challenged but not so much that you feel defeated. Use your performance: if you’re getting better then you’re probably doing enough. If you’re doing worse, you’re probably doing too much. Err on the side of caution. Rather take it easy and progress slowly than over exert and risk injury.
(5)(9) It helps muscles recover faster.
BCAAs are already in meat and eggs. If you’re getting enough protein you’re most likely getting enough BCAAs. You really don’t need to supplement it.
(5) Take multivitamins to make sure you aren’t missing any essential nutrition you may lack in your diet.
It has been found in almost all studies that multivitamins don’t have any positive impact on people’s health. To be fair in the article this was recommended it was presented as an “insurance plan,” but it’s sort of like insuring your car against meteor strikes. Unnecessary.
Have enough vitamin D:
(6) Not having enough reduces recovery.
Unless you live in a cave or are on a strict vegan diet you don’t need to worry about having too little vitamin D.
(8) Use sparingly when bouts of soreness kick in.
While aspirin does reduce pain, it actually makes recovering from exercise more difficult. I do not recommend using aspirin unless it’s only to manage unbearable pain, but in those cases you probably need medical attention and something stronger than aspirin…
Use muscle creams:
(8) Topical creams soothe muscle pain and help in recovery.
There has never been a good study to prove that muscle creams are anything but placebos.
Drink chocolate milk:
(8)(10) Drinking chocolate milk is an effective recovery aid between exhausting bouts.
Chocolate milk seems to be just as good as other commercial recovery drinks. Do with that what you please.
Drink cherry juice:
(8)(10) Cherry juice and supplements may help reduce swelling and aid recovery.
A study showed that study participants reported less muscle soreness compared to a placebo group when they drank cherry juice. The sample size was small so I wouldn’t consider this hard evidence. If you like cherry juice feel free to enjoy it. It’s full of other useful stuff.
(9) Chronic stress makes recovery take longer.
Most studies indicate that stress impairs efforts to be physically active. I have had trouble finding scientific consensus that chronic stress has a negative effect on muscle recovery specifically, it does bring with it a whole host of other problems and is best avoided.
Listen to slow-tempo songs:
(10) It reduces blood pressure and pulse rate quickly after exercise.
Slow tempo music does affect heart rate, but a lower heart rate doesn’t mean faster recovery since it’s taking blood longer to reach the affected areas. It is pretty relaxing though.
Overall it seems that the best thing to do is to live a healthy lifestyle. Eat healthy food, sleep enough, and don’t break yourself when you work out, and you’ll recover just as ice-bathing protein shake drinking pill poppers.
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- Kawamoto, Jon-Erik (n.d.), The 6 best ways to recover from your workout, Men’s Fitness, accessed 20 March 2018, <https://www.mensfitness.com/training/the-6-best-ways-to-recover-from-your-workout>
- Quinn, Elizabeth 2017, 10 Tips to speed recovery after exercise, Verywell Fit, accessed 20 March 2018, <https://www.verywellfit.com/ways-to-speed-recovery-after-exercise-3120085>
- Ibraheem, Hanna 2018, The best way to recover after intense exercise, Get The Gloss, accessed 20 March 2018, <https://www.getthegloss.com/article/the-best-ways-to-recover-after-intense-exercise>
- Bevilacque, Anthony (n.d.), 10 best ways to recover after a tough workout, Muscle & Fitness, accessed 20 March 2018, <https://www.muscleandfitness.com/workouts/workout-tips/10-best-ways-recover-after-tough-workout>
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