There’s nothing better than a good workout to make you feel alive, energized, and content. But what you do after your workout can be just as important as the workout itself, particularly if you’ve been pushing yourself harder than normal and have been overtraining. You need to give your body time to recover, and this involves more than just a quick nap. Women’s need for recovery after exercise runs much deeper than that.
The Warning Signs of Overtraining
It’s normal to be a bit stiff or physically tired after a good work out, but if you’ve overdone it and are in need of some recovery time, there are warning signs to watch out for.
How are your muscles and joints? If your legs are tender, you’re experiencing muscle and joint pain, and you seem to ache all over, you could be experiencing the symptoms of overtraining.
Feeling wiped out, tired, and generally have a lack of energy? If so, it might be time to take it easy. You might even notice you no longer have the same level of endurance you used to, and suddenly have a slower run time or need to run a shorter distance.
More worrisome is the fact that you could suddenly have a weaker immune system, if you’ve overdone it. If so, you’ll find you’re more prone to illnesses, colds, and bugs that you would normally be able to fight off, or might not even notice.
And don’t make the mistake of thinking it’ll be easy to rest up, either. Insomnia is a common sign that you’ve been doing too much lately. You can also suffer headaches, find it impossible to relax, be fidgety, twitchy, and can find yourself with dehydration and/or an insatiable thirst.
It’s important to note that overtraining isn’t something that happens after a single workout. Overtraining occurs when you’ve trained to the point of fatigue multiple times, without including lower intensity days or allowing yourself enough time to recover. Therefore, it can take weeks or even months for overtraining to occur.
Fatigue, Overtraining and Your Muscles
Normally, when people think of fatigue, they think of feeling tired. In reality, it’s much more than that. Fatigue can involve dehydration of up to 3% (dangerously close to requiring medical attention), an increase in body temperature, low glucose levels, and decreased central nervous function.
This means women’s need for recovery after exercise is about more than just feeling better. It can make the difference between being healthy and coming dangerously close to death and serious illness.
If you’ve ever been stiff or tender after a workout (and who hasn’t?), you know that overtraining and fatigue can affect your muscle tissue as well. And these symptoms don’t necessarily show up right away, either. Many times, we don’t realize we’ve overdone it until the next day.
Intense, short-term exercise can significantly deplete the amount of muscle glycogen in your body, which is the fuel your muscles use for energy. So, you could have potentially ‘starved’ your muscles. Here is where post-workout nutrition is key.
Lactic acid can be a problem. It will build up in your muscles, until your body can no longer metabolize it properly. It doesn’t, however, cause the muscle soreness that we thought it did. After much testing and research, experts learned that muscles process lactic acid in a matter of minutes.
Researchers believe the muscle soreness we often experience the morning after an intense work out is the result of damage such as microscopic tears in muscle fiber membranes and protein filaments. They feel this damage, along with increased blood flow, causes the sarcoplasmic reticulum found inside muscle cells to leak calcium into the surrounding muscle, causing swelling and pain.
Free radicals can also wreak havoc on our muscles. These unstable atoms are short one electron, and in an attempt to achieve stability, will take electrons from otherwise healthy cells. This spreads the chaos and the negative effects of the process.
Originating in the adrenal gland, the hormone cortisol is responsible for helping your body deal with stresses such as exercise by breaking down protein. But when it does that, it sends the amino acids to your liver to be used for energy, instead of letting muscle cells absorb and use them for protein synthesis. This makes it impossible for your body to replenish its muscle protein levels, which can then decrease your muscle mass if you don’t lower your stress.
Food, the Secret to Your Recovery
Women’s need to recover after exercise involves more than just sleep or relaxation. Food can have a significant impact on your body’s recovery, but you need to be careful: Food and daily rituals can have a positive or negative effect on the process, depending on which ones you have.
Because overtraining has caused a lot of damage, and therefore inflammation, swelling and pain, you’ll need to ensure your diet has a higher amount of antiinflammatory, carb, and protein-rich foods.
Not sure which foods these are? Here are seven of the best:
Kelp — While not generally a staple in North American diets, kelp varieties such as kombu contain a complex carbohydrate known as fucoidan. This fantastic anti-inflammatory food promotes collagen synthesis, but it’s also believed to help prevent liver and lung cancer, making it a great anti-oxidant and anti-tumour food.
These kelp varieties also contain high amounts of fiber, so you’ll feel full more quickly, while helping you lose weight and slow fat absorption.
Salmon — Salmon’s anti-inflammatory properties come from the high levels of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) found within it. These omega-3s have been proven time and again to help will all sorts of illnesses and diseases including heart and autoimmune diseases, psychological problems, and cancers, as well as help soothe inflammation. Wild Alaskan salmon is best, but you can get omega-3s from supplements. If you do choose salmon, however, make sure it’s in your diet, at least twice a week.
Tumeric — Think of this Asian spice like a natural version of Motrin or hydrocortisone. It’s high level of cucumin gives it the same degree of anti-inflammatory properties as these over the counter medications, with none of the dangerous side effects. This compound has also been known to improve dementia and autoimmune issues. If you really want to spice things up and get even more benefits from the spices you’re enjoying, toss in another anti-inflammatory spice: ginger.
Green Tea — This popular drink has long been known to help fight off heart disease and cancer, but it’s an effective anti-inflammatory, too. It can be enjoyed almost any time, and is easy to get and enjoy. You’ll find it almost anywhere.
Blueberries — These are generally popular for their antioxidant properties, but blueberries are a great anti-inflammatory, too. The phytonutrients found in these berries are important for protecting against cancer and dementia, and besides, they taste wonderful on their own or with other berries and treats.
Broccoli — Also high in phytonutrients such as sulforaphane, broccoli is rich in inflammatory and cancer fighting agents that rid the body of carcinogenic compounds. Pair it with the natural detoxifier cauliflower, and you’ll have a whole host of healthy benefits.
Sweet Potato — High in dietary fiber, beta-carotene, complex carbohydrates, manganese, vitamin B6 and C, sweet potatoes are one of the most powerful, but often-overlooked foods. It’s an important antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. In other words, they help your body heal and stay healthy.
The list of secrets involved in women’s need to recover after exercise includes just as many “don’ts” as it does “do’s”. In fact, some foods and lifestyle habits can actually have a negative effect on your recovery. And you’d be surprised what can do the most damage. Even the most innocent food items or the simplest of habits can trigger an inflammatory reaction in the body.
Full-fat dairy products, such as cheese, ice cream, and cream cheese, and meats (such as red meat, hot dogs, pork, and bacon) can all work against you and inhibit your body’s ability to recover. Trans fatty acids, like those found in processed foods, packaged items, and margarine can also have significant negative effects on your body. Other culprits to avoid include deep fried foods and items containing sugar and white flour, such as pastries, cookies, and cake.
What about your lifestyle and the many habits in your daily routine? If you smoke, drink a large amount of alcohol, or live a highly stressful life, you could be deliberately sabotaging your body’s recovery. And let’s face it; these habits aren’t healthy for you at the best of times, so it’s better to cut them out of your life anyway. The sooner, the better.
Inflammation Isn’t All Bad
An inflammatory reaction isn’t actually a bad thing. It’s your body’s natural way of fighting off infection and repairing muscle and tissue damage. But like all good things, too much is like not enough — problems start when you regularly experience inflammation.
Your best defense is to eat anti-inflammatory rich foods regularly, exercise wisely, manage your stress levels in a healthy way, and stay hydrated. As a result, you’ll prevent painful inflammation, keep your body in top form, and be ready when your body needs the extra boost.