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Recovery myths circulate because people don’t take genetics, body type, stamina, nutrition and stress factors into consideration when doling out this blanket-type of advice. One size doesn’t fit all but the standard exercise and diet industry (as well as many natural food proponents) often argue it does. With that being said, let’s take a look at three of the most frequently perpetuated myths.
Recovery Myths Busted: What You Need to Know
1. Muscle soreness (especially DOMS) means gains are on the way.
Muscles experience soreness for lots of reasons but suffering from debilitating or painful DOMS shouldn’t be a frequent occurrence. This myth refers back to what everyone knows: Muscles need to be microscopically torn in order for the tears to be filled in through protein synthesis. As these tears are filled in, mass is permanently increased (1).
Ask anyone you know who trains frequently and at high intensities: They don’t have painful DOMS. Extreme soreness that borders on painful occurs when the muscles have been severely shocked and it should be thought of as a rare occurrence. It could be too many reps were performed or the weight was too high. It could also be the athlete is lacking in nutrition, specifically a vitamin or electrolyte imbalance.
Does it make sense that those muscles you’re building require complete inactivity for days following in order to properly recover? Of course not. Remember, our bodies don’t train for most of our daily lives so their time off is a signal of how our health is performing overall.
Electrolytes (including magnesium, potassium and calcium) are salts that act as carriers for necessary electrical charges. Without them, basic nutrition suffers and vital processes won’t occur as steadily. Electrolytes are water soluble, meaning they are expelled more rapidly when we sweat; this includes training and times of extreme stress. Vastly altering your diet can often leave you fatigued and exhausted. If this feels similar to how you feel when you have experienced muscle soreness, it could be a sign you need to make a change in your training and to improve your daily nutrition.
So, what are some nutritional recovery myths?
2. You need a specific macro count (carbs, protein, fats) in order to see substantial results.
The macro categories are the foundation for proper nutrition and we know that proper nutrition is essential for maintaining and increasing performance, but these larger categories should be looked at more closely. Carbs can be broken down into complex and simple and each individual type of sugar causes our bodies to illicit a different response.
The common answer “sugar is sugar is sugar” is a broad statement that fails to take into account the source of said sugar and what effect it’ll have. Too much of any sugar is bad but too little can also create issues. The same holds true for protein and fats. Too much protein from a poor source is doing you more harm than good, since it still needs to be digested and metabolized. Fats (specifically good fats) are staples in a balanced diet but they’re high in calories and one cannot survive on coconut oil alone.
Ingesting way too many calories in an effort to “bulk” up can pose cardiovascular and metabolic risks because fat doesn’t turn into muscle. You’ll only be adding extra stress to your body by forcing it to grow. Moderation, vitamin supplementation and seeking out good sources of the macro categories will create more positive changes than any strict elimination or drastic increase can.
3. Timing (Your Food) is Everything
A similar myth is how crucial the post workout timeline window actually is. Some argue it’s max 30 minutes, others say an hour but those are based on how much glycogen (a type of sugar, and the main energy source) was used. Like most things, it’s different for everyone. The basic rule should be to is just to eat what’s right for you and your training. If glycogen stores hit their max, our bodies will eventually begin to panic, and they’ll create their own source of energy- the stress hormone cortisol. Replacing lost glycogen means taking in protein and carbs post workout, but what’s vital is knowing in advance what’s going to happen to our insulin levels if they spike too high or dip low.
Post workout nutrition also means remembering to take in electrolytes (Calcium, salts, potassium, magnesium). They act as communicators and information carriers between cells, and decrease with water loss (aka sweat). For this myth, knowledge really is power. It’s healthier and you’ll see more progress if you follow a well-rounded nutrition plan (2). Thinking that not eating all day, training hard, and then trying to make up for it by taking in too many calories post workout only causes unnecessary stress. The systems that our bodies rely upon in order to function properly operate 24 hours a day and grow in relation to overall, long-lasting effort.
It’s important to track what we’re craving and why especially after workouts or times of stress. Part of why we crave specific foods is because we may be lacking in a specific nutrient or we may be addicted to what that food has. For example, potato chips are usually high in salt and if you can’t ever get enough, it could be pointing to a potassium deficiency. Nutrition and cravings are specific to each individual, and while they can take some time to understand, eventually an individual should find them manageable. Drastically increasing or decreasing the macro categories will leave your body shocked and unable to physically adapt in the long term.
Speaking of rest, when do we give our muscles a break?
4. You Should Only Work Certain Muscle Groups on Different Days
The common misconception on this is “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” It’s a great selling point for people who are selling something but it usually doesn’t have a basis in science, nor does it account for the differences in individuals. It’s a form of body shaming and it’s heavily concealed with carefully chosen language and phrases. Hurting yourself for the sake of a diet or workout is the opposite of recovery and it creates a cycle of mental stress, physical damage and impaired recovery.
For the most part, muscles are trained in groups and usually, individual muscles can’t be so severely isolated during training that they’re the only muscle being worked. In short, unless you’re experiencing extreme soreness you can use those muscles the next day, and you can even work them out. Mild soreness should be alleviated within the first 10 to 20 minutes of training, provided you aren’t repeating the action that caused the soreness in the first place (3). Switch it up.
For example, if you squatted and deadlifted yourself into oblivion (AKA some type of congratulatory PR, muscle deficit), something on the flip side of intensely using your legs (such as a light jog) might actually provide some relief by increasing circulation. Intense training that results in being uncomfortable for an extended period of time isn’t sensible, especially in the long term. Scaling up responsibly helps to promote permanent muscle growth and endurance. If you can’t move for 48 hours just about every time you work out, you’re actually damaging your body and doing more harm than good. It’s time to reevaluate what you’re doing and what’s going on nutritionally.
Recovery should include being able to maintain whatever positivity was implemented during the workout or plan, otherwise you’re setting yourself up for a rebound into previous unhealthy habits. If during those 22-23 hours or so you aren’t training you’re unable to work yourself through your day, something’s going wrong. Putting in the additional effort it takes to get to know what works for you might not make you lose seven pounds in seven days but it’s the most efficient way to increase and maintain permanent results. One-on-one guidance enables a healthy dialogue that’s essential for building longer lasting and more substantial results than just going with the flow of (fill in the blank) workout and diet plan.
Our bodies rely on systems (digestive, circulatory, etc.) in order to function and it’s through properly supplementing these systems with adequate nutrition and supplementation that we’re able to increase performance and maximize health.
Healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, GMO free proteins and a variety of fruits and vegetables are what’s required nutritionally in order to maintain and facilitate physical improvements. Good quality supplements, adequate sleep and proper stress management yield myth-free results that actually stick. Motivate yourself by realizing your body rewards you for the positivity you bring to it. Train hard but intelligently and monitor what works and what doesn’t. Being honest about your goals and what it’ll take to realistically get there (and stay there) will help you to establish healthy habits that only improve with time.
1. “Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).” Braun, William., Sforzo., 2011.
2. “Glycemic Index.” The University of Sydney. 2016.
3. “A Meta-analysis to Determine the Dose Response for Strength Development.” Rhea, MR., Alvar BA, Burkett, LN, Ball, SD. July, 2013