Recovery after Heavy Lifting

Powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, and a high-intensity fitness program like CrossFit can be very taxing on the entire body. Most people do not realize that physical stress, (not just mental stress) can also trigger cortisol and adrenal fatigue. Excess cortisol increases fat storage. Not only do the muscles need to recover, but the entire body needs to heal from the stress induced by heavy lifting. This is why taking rest days to heal with gentle movement and stretching are so imperative. Some of the most amazing athletes know that they need to rest and recover in order to get stronger and perform at their best. While resting is key, there are some things you can do to speed up healing and recovery!

Here are five surefire tips to speed muscle recovery and decrease the stress associated with heavy lifting:

1. Magnesium.

Magnesium plays an important role in the production of energy. Being deficient in magnesium can have a negative impact on sports performance. Due to depleted minerals in our soil, most of us are deficient, even with perfect diets. Magnesium is a calming mineral, and can turn the body from being in a stress-like state or sympathetic state into a parasympathetic or relaxed state. According to this study, magnesium supplementation reduced the stress response in the body for the athletes. There are different many different forms of magnesium, but to help with muscle recovery and overall relaxation after a tough workout, topical magnesium massages and magnesium chloride bath soaks are both great solutions! Soak for 20 minutes after a workout for best results.

2. Include collagen in your diet.

All that heavy lifting can be taxing on your joints and cartilage! Although collagen peptides do not fully support initial muscle healing (you need to include nutrient-dense sources of protein, such as pasture-raised meats and wild seafood which contain all essential amino acids), collagen is great for the joints, and helps with stiffness and pain associated with heavy lifting. Collagen contains high amounts of glycine and proline, which are both anti-inflammatory and great for joints. The protein peptides also help with sleep. Sleep is when we release growth hormone and do the most healing. Try adding collagen to your morning coffee or tea, or even as part of your recovery drink.

3. Prioritize your sleep!

In our ‘rush rush’ culture, sleep is often not a priority. Sleep is perhaps one of the most important means to recovery. When we are asleep, the body can heal and renew. Most of us are not getting enough sleep. For athletes, not getting enough sleep makes for slower healing time, increased stress, and decreased recovery. According to this research, adopting appropriate sleep hygiene and healthy sleeping habits are important for optimal athletic performance. Sleep needs to become our number one health priority, rather than our last.

A few things that can help ease into a good night’s sleep?

  • Stay off of all screens 2 hours before bedtime, or wear bluelight blocking glasses if you are on a screen. Bluelight interferes with melatonin and can create broken sleep.
  • Have a routine that includes reading, gentle stretching, a warm bath, or something you find relaxing. Keep that same routine and bedtime every night.
  • Listen to Delta brainwave binaural beats before bed. You can find many different binaural beat videos on Youtube. Search for a sleep-inducing or delta wave ones. Be sure to use an earpiece as the beats are emitted directly into the ear, helping to change our brainwave patterns into Delta waves (aka ‘sleeping’ brain waves).
  • Have your partner give you a magnesium massage.

4. Take yoga.

There is no better way to stretch out those fatigued muscles and improve recovery than by taking a yoga class. Yoga enhances strength, stamina, and flexibility. It increases the length of the muscles, and can help work out areas of tightness. Heated yoga classes can really help with getting a deep stretch, as the muscle is warmer and more pliable.

According to 

“Yoga is the best medicine for preventing injuries and aiding muscle recovery and repair. When the muscles and surrounding tissues are lengthened and relaxed during yoga asana (Sanskrit word for postures) it creates more room for blood to flow.”

Yoga also forces you to take time to ‘be’ without overthinking. This can help significantly with emotional stress, which is also taxing on the body and can take the body away from healing mode. Even one yoga class a week can really help athletes with recovery and performance!

5. Eat a sweet potato instead of an apple!

Glycogen depletion can cause fatigue for athletes. Low glycogen can be a limiting factor in both performance and recovery. It’s important to get glycogen directly to the muscle during recovery. Adequate carbohydrate during the recovery period is important in this metabolic process. However, the type of carbohydrate consumed actually makes a big difference! Fruit sources of carbs contain fructose, and fructose does not help with restoring glycogen nearly as much as glucose does. These researchers studied muscle recovery with glucose vs fructose. They found that glucose restores muscle glycogen 40% faster than fructose! They believe fructose is absorbed slower in the intestines, blood glucose is significantly higher with glucose vs fructose and therefore higher plasma insulin results in increased glucose uptake. Finally, fructose gives rise to more liver glycogen than glucose. This lowers muscle glycogen directly available for muscle glycogen synthesis.

Fructose is found in fruit like apples, pears, peaches, oranges, etc. The better thing to reach for when recovering is starchy vegetables like tubers, sweet potatoes, potatoes, yams, beets, carrots, and squash. These are all great ‘real food’ ways to get glycogen stores up. Although many people avoid grains, some athletes find that white rice right after a workout works great for them as well.

Remember not to overtrain, and to listen to your body. If you are female and it’s your cycle time, take a couple of rest days. This is important for hormonal health. Overtraining is counterproductive, and increases cortisol, thus increasing fat stores. You can have the best looking body, yet still be metabolically broken inside. Heavy lifting is counterproductive if you are not giving your body the tools it needs to heal and repair.

Kathryn Kos is a mama of two boys, a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP), and a freelance writer/editor. She has written for Paleo Magazine, Mark’s Daily Apple, and Elephant Journal. She has a passion for the paleo lifestyle (not just nutrition, but also sleep, sunlight, play, movement, and grounding), as well as infant and child nutrition. Kathryn loves packing Steve’s Paleo snacks in her kiddos school lunches! You can read more of her work at Primal Bliss Nutrition


Leave a Comment