Early on in your training career, progress (i.e. gains) came easy. Just about every time you hit the gym you were setting new personal bests in terms of either reps completed, or weight lifted.
Then, as you became more experienced, progress started to slow (which is completely natural), and finally you reached the sticking point we all dread -- a plateau.
Naturally, many of us are inclined to push even harder when we hit a plateau adopting the “more is better” mindset.
And, while that may work in some instances, more is definitely not always the answer, especially when it comes to building muscle and gaining strength. There is a point of diminishing returns where simply adding more volume and/or weight isn’t the answer, and it can actually cause you to regress in your training and results.
The answer to breaking the plateau may actually be doing the opposite of what you’re naturally inclined to do.
Intense training stresses both the mind and body, and if you’re already training hard, simply adding more hard training likely isn’t what you need. You see, when you’re training hard, you’re depleting energy and creating microtears in skeletal muscle. The body needs time as well as the proper nutrients (i.e. food) to replenish, recover and grow so that you can break through the plateau.
More training will only dig a deeper hole that your body will have to spend more time recuperating from.
Unfortunately, the rest and recovery part of getting results (no matter what your goal is) isn’t stressed enough. Moreover, it’s not a sexy sell on social media. Just think how many times you’ve seen posts from people using the #crushingrestday #foamrollingchamp #etc…?
We’ll answer for you...never.
You see things like #crushingit #teamnodaysoff etc.
But, the truth is that you must prioritize rest and recovery as much as you do hard training and proper nutrition. Without it, your training and results will always be suboptimal.
All of this is to say that instead of always rushing to add more to your training program (more cardio, more exercises, more sets, etc.), focus on maximizing the sets that you already are doing, and then optimize your recovery so that you can repair and grow stronger and shatter that plateau once and for all!
With that in mind, here are 6 of our favorite strategies to improve muscle recovery to help break through a plateau.
6 Tips for Better Muscle Recovery
#1 Consume Enough Protein
One of the most important things you can do for better muscle recovery is to consume enough protein each day.
As we mentioned above, hard training creates microtears in muscle fibers and the amino acids found in protein are what the body needs to repair the damage.
Without sufficient protein intake, the body doesn’t have the requisite materials to do an efficient job of recovery.
A good rule of thumb to aim for in regards to daily protein intake is 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.
So, for example, if you weigh 125lbs, then you would want to consume 125 grams of protein from high-quality sources, such as:
- Lean beef
- Fish (salmon, mackerel, trout, cod, etc.)
- Shellfish (shrimp, crawfish, oysters, etc.)
- Eggs & egg whites
- Dairy (greek yogurt, milk, cottage cheese, cheese, etc.)
- Protein powder (such as whey protein, egg white protein, or vegan protein powder)
To make sure you’re consuming enough protein each day, make sure to track your daily intake using the 1UP Fitness App. The app allows you to quickly and easily enter the food you eat as well as the quantity, and it will keep track of the calories, carbs, fat, and protein to make sure you stay on point with your goals. If you also need help figuring out the right amount of calories and protein to each based on your age and goals, the 1UP Fitness App will help with that too!
#2 Embrace Carbohydrates
It’s been quite popular in recent years (largely in keto and carnivore circles) to bash carbohydrates and pronounce thempersona non grata. However the arguments of the low-carb zealots don’t really hold water.
Yes, carbohydrates do cause a rise in insulin levels, which you may have been led to believe is bad. But, insulin levels rising isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially when it comes to recovery.
You see, insulin is the primary nutrient transporting hormone in the body that takes nutrients from the bloodstream and drives them into skeletal muscles, which supports the recovery, repair, and growth processes.
Insulin also has anti-catabolic properties, which means it stops muscle protein breakdown, further supporting muscle recovery.
Additionally, the body isn’t prone to store carbohydrates as fat (despite what the keto and carnivore communities say). Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy, especially during intense exercise.
It’s also very “expensive” from an energy standpoint for the body to convert carbohydrates into fat. When you eat carbs, the body first seeks to use it for its immediate energy needs, such as driving cognitive function, keeping your heart beating, etc. After that, any carbohydrates still remaining in the bloodstream will go to refill muscle and liver glycogen -- the body’s storage form of carbohydrates.
Only after immediate energy needs are taken care of and muscle glycogen stores are completely refilled would the body even think of breaking down the carbohydrate molecules and converting them to fatty acids for storage.
Finally, many carbohydrates (fruits, veggies, and whole grains) are micronutrient powerhouses teeming with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, polyphenols, and fiber. These same foods are also known to support not only performance and muscle recovery, but also health.
Simply put, if you’re training hard, carbohydrates can help you train harder, stop muscle breakdown, and recover faster, all of which helps you get more results!
#3 Have a Post-Workout Shake
We’ve already touched on the importance of consuming enough daily protein, but if you’re looking to further optimize your recovery, you can start by consuming some high-quality protein (20-40 grams based on your needs) immediately after a workout.
Hard training is stressful to the body and mind and ramps up the body’s utilization of essential amino acids, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Eating protein after your workout immediately floods the bloodstream with the amino acids it needs to start repairs and fuel the recovery process.
Now, many individuals aren’t that hungry right after training, and waiting too long after training to eat only hinders recovery and growth. This is why many individuals opt for a post-workout shake made with high-quality whey protein powder or vegan protein powder. It’s fast-digesting, easy on the stomach, and tastes delicious Plus, consuming a protein supplement after training has been shown to maximize muscle protein synthesis post-workout which supports better muscle recovery.
During the dog days of summer, it’s pretty easy to remember to drink enough water, all the more so if you’re training hard outside in the heat.
However, if you’re spending a good amount of time inside and/or in more moderate climates, you might not be as in touch with your water intake.
Why is this an issue?
Because hydration has a direct and tangible impact on muscle recovery. Water is used in countless biological processes, including those involved in muscle repair, recovery, and growth.
Not consuming enough fluids slows repair, worsens soreness, and makes you feel more lethargic.
Bottom line -- hydration must be a priority each and every day.
If you’re not sure whether or not you’re consuming enough fluids, consider logging your water intake (as well as your food intake) with the 1UP Fitness App.
If you’re not a fan of drinking plain water, try drinking some sparkling water or slice up some fresh fruit and drop it into your water bottle, which adds flavor without significant calories. Still another option is to add a scoop of His BCAA/EAA or Her BCAA/EAA to your water bottle and sip it throughout the day.
#5 Take 1-2 Active Recovery Days Each Week
Hard training is essential for getting results from your transformation challenge, but so too is giving your body adequate rest and recovery.
Now, if you’re anything like us, you can get a little antsy on those “rest” days and feel compelled to do something aside from just lying on the couch watching TV. This is where “active recovery” days come in.
Active recovery is low-level activity such as walking, hiking, swimming, biking, yoga, or foam rolling that slightly elevates your heart rate, but not so much that it induces more fatigue and undermines the recovery process. Active recovery is meant to help increase circulation and nutrient delivery throughout the body. It is NOT a “workout” in the traditional sense. If you’re gasping for air and panting like a dog, you’re not doing active recovery, you're working out. You should come away from your active recovery session feeling energized, refreshed, and rejuvenated.
#6 Get Enough Sleep
The final component to optimizing muscle recovery, and one that many of us fail to abide by, is getting enough sleep.
Quite simply, the reason many of us don’t recover and/or hit plateaus is that we aren’t sleeping enough, which directly impairs our recovery ability and therefore our ability to create overload in subsequent training sessions (which is the essence of plateaus).
As such, make it a daily priority to get 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night.
That starts with setting a specific time to go to bed each night and sticking to it (preferably the same time each night so you can start to “program” your body to wind down in the evenings...even on the weekends, too!).
Additional tips that may help you to get better quality sleep each night include:
- Limiting caffeine & alcohol intake in the afternoon and evenings
- Reducing exposure (or eliminating) blue light 2 hours before bed, which means turning off (and/or turning on blue light filters) on all your devices -- TV, computer, smartphone, etc.
- Stretching/light yoga
- Taking a warm bath or shower
- Having a cup of herbal tea (e.g. chamomile)
- Making your room cool and dark
You can also use a nighttime relaxation and recovery aid like Beauty Dream PM or Recharge PM which includes natural ingredients to help reduce feelings of stress, promote feelings of calm, and help you achieve the deep, restorative sleep you need to perform to your best each and every day.