How to Reduce Pain and Speed Recovery After Exercise

Ariel Richards

Ariel Richards

WF Certified Coach

As you may know, we here at WildFit disagree with using exercise as a way to get healthy. In fact, we think that this is actually a way to become less healthy, as attempting to train a body that is not well hydrated or nourished can actually lead to a greater likelihood of exhaustion, inflammation and injury. However, if you have been following the WildFit enhancements for a while you are likely feeling less pain and more energy, and are ready to take your health to the next level. At this point, adding more intentional movement to your daily life is a great way to improve your health and longevity. 

There is really nothing like the positive mood, confidence boost and overall euphoria that we feel after a good workout. You have probably heard that it’s due to the endorphins coursing through your body- but do you know why they’re there? Exercise is perceived as stress by your body. It assumes you are fighting off or fleeing from a predator. To give you the strength to do this, these happy hormones kick in to ease the discomfort of exercise and block the feeling of pain. We also need to give some credit to Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, a protein that protects your brain and repairs it during exercise, which is why we often feel great ease and clarity afterwards. 

Some more great news is that the release of endorphins has an addictive effect, and more exercise is needed to achieve the same level of euphoria over time. So this means that if you have never exercised before or not for a long time, your happiness gains will be the highest if you start now!

Unfortunately, after the happy brain chemicals wear off, what you are left with is usually very sore muscles! As you gradually increase your fitness level by starting a new exercise routine or increasing the duration or intensity of your workout, this discomfort is nearly inevitable. It’s believed that this is because when muscles are required to work harder than they’re used to or in a different way, microscopic damage is created in the muscle fibres. This results in that sore, stiff, ache you experience, and the subsequent fear of climbing stairs, lifting groceries or sitting down on the toilet.

If you are new to exercise this may affect your enthusiasm to continue. I’m here to tell you that the soreness will decrease as your muscles get used to the new physical demands being placed upon them. It’s an adaptation process that creates greater stamina and strength as the muscles build and recover. Recovering from a workout is as important as the hard effort itself. In addition to ice packs, massaging the sore muscles, and taking warm baths, you can also make certain enhancements to your diet and lifestyle to reduce pain and speed your recovery after exercise. 

Get Enough Sleep

Inadequate sleep can interfere with recovery after lifting weights or endurance training,  inhibiting the ability to build maximum muscle strength. Your body produces its own muscle-building hormones while you sleep, including human growth hormone (HGH). During NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep, blood flow to your muscles increases, and tissue growth and repair occurs. During REM sleep, the muscles relax, which can help relieve tension and reduce symptoms of certain types of chronic pain. Many of the critical restorative functions in the body, like tissue repair and muscle growth, occur during sleep. A consistent sleep schedule of seven to nine hours a night will help the muscle healing process.

Stay Hydrated

Water plays a significant role in the process of recovery, from helping digest vital nutrients to repairing muscles damaged during exercise. Remember that our muscles are actually 75% water! Protein synthesis (building proteins from the amino acids) requires that muscles are well hydrated. If you are dehydrated following a workout, the protein synthesis will be slowed and subsequently delays your recovery. When you are dehydrated, your blood volume is decreased which means that the heart has to work harder to pump the blood to all of the parts of your body that need its vital oxygen and nutrients. This fatigue not only hinders post workout recovery but feeling fatigued and lethargic reduces motivation for your next big workout.

Fuel Up Properly 

Many people exercise on an empty stomach in an effort to burn fat as fuel, but your body needs to be well rested, hydrated and well nourished for this to help you and not hurt you. The rule of thumb is if you’re sweating at a light to moderate intensity for less than 90 minutes, your body should have a fairly easy time transforming fat into energy. This means a great workout without fueling up beforehand. 

However if you’re doing a high-intensity workout, your performance and recovery will suffer from skipping a carb rich snack. Fasting before these workouts puts more stress on your body, causing the release of cortisol, which leads your body to break down muscle to use protein for fuel. It is not possible to mobilize fat stores and burn enough fat to provide a steady state of fuel for this kind of exercise. Choose something quick and simple like an Alkagizer Mild, a Golden Milk Smoothie, or a few Cookie Dough Bites before those higher intensity workouts. This builds up glycogen (stored sugar) for improved performance and increases the hormone insulin which stimulates your muscles to absorb more amino acids from protein.

Replenish Afterwards

After your workout, there are a couple strategic ways to eat for faster recovery. The first is to have a complete meal within 30 minutes to an hour of finishing your workout. The next is to have a protein rich meal for dinner. You need to provide your body with protein and replenish glycogen for absorbing protein, antioxidants for cellular repair, and healthy fat for soothing inflammation and rebuilding hormones. Try incorporating these specific foods for best results:

Beets contain betalains which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that increase blood flow and vasodilation. Wider blood vessels mean more oxygen-rich blood reaches muscles sooner for faster repair. Diced beets can be added to salads, and roasted beets can make an excellent side dish.

Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, or cabbage lower levels of inflammation and provide important vitamins and minerals for recovery. These calcium-rich vegetables could also be beneficial for healing muscles and connective tissues. Try adding them to omelets, stir-fry’s, soups or simply steamed.

Sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, Swiss chard, and avocado are excellent sources of vitamin E. This nutrient protects cells from free radicals generated during a workout that may cause soreness in the muscles. 

Berries and cherries contain both anthocyanins and flavonols which help reduce inflammation and speed muscle repair after a workout.  They are also full of Vitamin C which helps your body make collagen, a protein necessary for maintaining the integrity of your bones, muscles, skin and tendons.

Cinnamon improves insulin sensitivity and blood sugar tolerance, diverting carbohydrates to be stored as glycogen, which helps to enhance protein synthesis and muscle repair. Sprinkle it on basically anything!

Turmeric & Ginger both have powerful anti inflammatory properties and pain killing compounds
that have been found to accelerate muscle recovery and reduce muscle soreness. Add these rhizomes fresh and diced to stir fries, your Alkagizer or pour hot water over them to make tea.

Fish, walnuts, flaxseeds and chia seeds, all contain omega 3 fatty acids, which have anti inflammatory properties to speed muscle recovery and reduce muscle pain.

Pastured eggs, high quality chicken, red meat and fish, organic edamame, as well as soaked and sprouted lentils are protein sources which contain the branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) responsible for muscle growth and recovery after a workout. Try this month’s recipe for a plant-based recovery meal.

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Ariel Richards

Ariel Richards

Ariel Richards is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Wellness Coach and Energy Worker living in Canada.
She is passionate about nutrition, its impact on happiness, and effect on the mind. Eating meals rich in whole and nutritious foods and practicing mindfulness has renewed her life with feelings of health, vibrancy and energy. With a specific focus on conquering chronic illness and living with mindfulness, her life experience will inspire you.
She's all about natural food and lifestyle solutions for real people living everyday lives.

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