Sports lifestyle

Muscle recovery after a workout


Does the human body need recovery time after strenuous activity?  How long does it take for muscles to recover from a workout? 

The human body is an extremely efficient creation that can undoubtedly be compared to a machine. The smallest living structure in the human body is a cell. Cells come together to form a tissue. Tissues come together to form an organ, and organs come together to form organ systems. Our body is composed of these systems as a whole. And just like a machine, our body undergoes wear and tear requires maintenance and too.

After a physically tiring activity, our body requires us to recover from it. And by consciously following some steps for this recovery, muscle recovery after a workout is possible. But what does recovery mean specifically? There are three key areas to this: energy, muscle structure, and fluids. Let’s take a look at them specifically.

Recover energy

After any physical activity, then it may be exercise or competitive sport, the muscles are used extensively. For this purpose, the muscles always keep using their energy. Now, the energy currency of the muscles is ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate). Now, how to recover energy? To do this, one must replenish their energy. Three methods synthesize ATP by using creatine phosphate, by using glycogen, and by aerobic respiration. To recover the muscle energy after a heavy workout session, this glycogen store must be replenished. 

Carbohydrates stores (muscle glycogen) deplete every time you perform physical activity. These stores need to be replenished. The extent of the depletion of these stores is directly proportional to the intensity of the physical activity. Also, the rate at which this energy needs to be replenished is dependent on the time available at hand. The muscle recovery time after exercise is essentially dependent on the time at which the next session will start. Our muscles have the strength to fully replenish the depleted glycogen as early as 24 hours, provided enough carbohydrates are consumed at that time. In most of the cases, there are around 6 to 24 hours at hand for the recovery of energy.

Recovery of energy needs the consumption of food that has a high glycemic index. Potatoes, bread, rice, pasta, etc. are examples of such foods. These foods are rich carbohydrate sources as well as they are digested and absorbed quickly. For rapid recovery of energy, 1.2 gram of carbohydrates is needed for one kilogram of the body per hour.

Recover muscle structure

The breakdown of muscle structure is inevitable after any form of strenuous physical activity. So, what does breaking down of muscle structure exactly mean? Our muscles are made of protein filaments called Actin and Myosin. These filaments form the Actin and Myosin bands that help bring about the contractions and relaxations of the muscles. After heavy training or workout, these proteins break down and need recovery.

As actin and myosin are proteins, replenishing the muscle structure will need the intake of proteins in sufficient quantities. Protein intake in any form after a training session will essentially stimulate the recovery of the muscle structure.

The amount of protein required for this recovery of the muscle structure is 0.3 gram per kilogram of the body weight. It should be consumed within an hour of the training session. For an insight, according to this fact, a man weighing 70 kilograms will be required to consume 21 gram of protein within an hour of his workout session. The speed of absorption of protein into the body is also equally important. Protein generally requires more time for absorption due to the presence of lipids in protein-rich food.

Faster absorption of protein can be achieved by the consumption of milk, egg white, and chicken. Fatty meat, fish, and eggs will also deliver protein but will take more time.

Always check the nutrition label on the food to correctly decide the amount of protein consumed. Most athletes choose to have protein supplements before or after their training session. The two main types of supplements available are whey and casein.

Recover fluids

Recovery of fluids is significant in the process of energy recovery after a heavy workout session. During a workout session, training session, or a sports event, loss of fluid in the form of sweat is inevitable. The amount of fluid that is lost with the process of sweating is enormous. Also, some electrolytes are lost during this process.

As the dehydration due to physical activity increases, it essentially alters the performance of the athlete. There is a gradual decrease in the quality of performance. Also, increasing dehydration hampers the rate of absorption of fluid from the intestines. Due to this, the recovery of fluid also becomes difficult.

Water is essential in the storage of carbohydrates in the muscles. The carbohydrates will help in producing ATP, the energy required by the muscles to function. Thus, if there is dehydration, the storage of carbohydrates in the muscles will not be possible, which will result in the muscles turning non-functional due to the lack of energy. One gram of glycogen requires three gram of water for its storage. Also, 60% of a muscle is composed of water. Therefore, the maintenance of body fluid is also essential to maintain the proper structure of the muscles.

The amount of water needed to replenish is about 1.5 times the amount of water lost during the workout. Fluids like sports drinks, milk, and soups form a better option to water as they don’t get passed out of the body through the urine. Also, maintaining the sodium balance in the body is an essential aspect of this fluid intake.

What about minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants?

Along with protein and fluid intake, a lot of people suggest the consumption of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to boost muscle recovery after working out. While many arguments can be made regarding the issue, let’s take a closer look at these factors.

Regarding minerals, it has been confirmed that certain minerals are lost due to heavy physical activity and strenuous training. It is found that the metabolism of copper, chromium, zinc, iron, iodine, potassium, magnesium, and sodium is affected due to heavy physical activity. A condition called ‘sports anemia’ is generally seen in athletes who undergo heavy training. Normal anaemia, or ‘iron-deficiency anemia’, is a state of constant fatigue due to the lack of sufficient iron. Sports anaemia is like iron deficiency anaemia. It is generally associated with increased destruction of the red blood cells (erythrocytes), decreased absorption of iron, and increased loss of iron through sweating. It has also been observed that the plasma zinc concentrations are specifically altered during physically strenuous exercise. There is also enough evidence that sodium and potassium are depleted during exercise. Hence, to replenish all these lost minerals, the consumption of these minerals is necessary.

Exercise needs enormous amounts of oxygen. This increased use of oxygen will result in a more excellent production of free radicals. These increased free radicals will cause more tissue damage as well as wear and tear. The idea of consuming antioxidants is to replenish these damaged tissues.

However, it has also been observed that some of the minerals and vitamins that are taken as antioxidants don’t work.

Key points to remember

  • Loss of crucial carbohydrate energy sources, glycogen, and muscle breakdown, as well as wear and tear, is inevitable after strenuous exercises.
  • After exercise, there lies an immediate need to replenish these depleted sources and repair the muscles, rebuilding their structure.
  • Ideally, carbohydrates should be consumed within an hour after extreme physical activity. The number of carbohydrates consumed should be 1.2 gram per kilogram. The food should be of high GI for a speedy recovery.
  • Foods with a low GI are preferred when the period between two training sessions is 24 hours or more than that.
  • Protein should be consumed an hour before any strenuous physical activity. After the activity, protein should be consumed as soon as possible.
  • Some athletes prefer protein supplements because naturally ingested protein takes a significant amount of time to be assimilated.
  • Whey protein and casein protein are usually used as protein supplements instead of natural protein.
  • Whey protein is rapidly absorbed and assimilated inside the body.
  • Casein gets relatively later than that of whey protein. However, any protein supplement is always absorbed and assimilated faster than any other source of natural protein.
  • As per observations, people should take whey protein before and after exercise during the daytime and casein at night.
  • Fluids form around 60% of muscles. Also, fluids are essential for the storage of glycogen as the storage of glycogen is entirely dependent on fluids.
  • Somebody should consume 1.5% of the fluid lost in activities.
  • Consume antioxidants after exercise does not prove to be that beneficial.


Some common questions like what is the muscle recovery time after exercise? How to improve muscle recovery after running? Are often asked. Suppose the above mentioned key points are essential for the proper replenishment of energy. If these are remembered while working out, efficient recovery of muscles after working out would be possible.

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