Ever stepped out of bed and winced as your feet hit the floor? Sometimes this comes from the expected, like back-to-back spin classes, while other times you grapple with its origin. Was cleaning out the garage the culprit?
Whether your gym membership is at the front of your wallet or in some drawer gathering dust, rest assured, muscle soreness and tightness affects us all. It can be caused by vigorous exercise, stretching, or even being stuck in an uncomfortable chair for too long. Symptoms usually disappear after a few days, but they can linger for months if you severely tear a muscle.
Anyone acutely aware of their soreness at this moment?
Although muscles may ache for days or even weeks, your body can heal itself. Help your body recover more quickly by paying attention to its signals and understanding how it rebuilds your tired muscles. Your body is always talking to you, and it isn’t necessarily requesting one more spin class…
Understanding How Muscles Repair Themselves
The chemical mechanisms behind building muscles are complex and are still being researched. When you tear a muscle, the initial response is inflammation. It may be warm to the touch (how cool is that?) and feel tender. After this short phase, muscle cells start proliferating and building new fibres.
Muscles require both rest and protein to reconstruct during the second phase. Each provides a critical chemical component. You may not look at sleeping as a vital part of getting fit, but sleep does release growth hormones.
Eat That Protein
Many people crave protein after a hard workout. Gyms capitalize on this by stocking protein shakes, which appear especially delicious when drenched in sweat with a beet red face. Consuming protein can help repair torn muscles. If you want some protein but prefer not to eat meat, vegetarian protein options are plentiful and include:
Sleeping 7+ Hours
The injury acronym RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) starts with rest because sleep is essential to recovery. Rest may feel like you’re being given free reign to binge-watch The Crown, but staying off your feet alone may not be enough. Although growth hormones are released throughout the day, a small study showed that the nighttime release of the hormone might not occur if you’re sleep deprived.
Sleeping less than seven hours per night may deprive your body of this necessary ingredient for rebuilding muscles. Another study on rats showed that rest enabled muscle recovery. Sleep-deprived rats had fewer markers of muscle repair. It’s not that your body won’t heal if you don’t sleep enough, but it may take longer than it would if you did get adequate sleep.
Sleep may also help you avoid injuring yourself again. Teen athletes who slept enough were 68% less likely to be injured than their sleep-deprived counterparts.
Although both eating protein and sleeping more affect your muscle health, going grocery shopping may be simpler than dealing with insomnia or crazy work schedules. Even if sleep seems elusive, you can take some steps to improve the quality of your zzz’s.
- Set a bedtime. Going to sleep and waking at the same time trains your body to fall asleep faster and wake feeling more refreshed. (No shame in an early bedtime!)
- Sleep comfortably. Check mattress reviews to see if you’re sleeping on the right one for your sleeping position and preferred temperature. Replace your mattress if you can’t remember when you last replaced your mattress.
- Manage stress. Take time to relax and mentally prepare yourself for a restful night with meditation apps, stretching or a dedicated “no phone” time.
You may take your muscles for granted, but they need you to give them power and to give them rest. Who knew that a cup of yoghurt and a good mattress were what was missing from your fitness routine?
Amy Highland is a sleep expert at SleepHelp.org. She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book, and cats.