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Muscle Recovery: Nutrients and Heat Therapy

How to speed up muscle recovery

Perhaps you’ve spent hours in the gym trying to build muscle. Perhaps you’ve spent hours trying to increase your fitness level. Either way, training takes a lot of energy. The part where your muscles will improve is when they rest from training. The sooner your muscle can recover, the more training sessions you can have. This will lead to better gains in a shorter amount of time. Read on to learn how you can maximize the muscle recovery process.

How to speed up muscle recovery

There are 3 basic elements that your muscles need to recover. They are nutrients, blood flow and time. By optimizing these three elements, you can maximize the recovery process. Here are the best ways to do so.

Consume the right nutrients

First of all, your muscles need to right amounts of fat, carbohydrates, and proteins to recover. This is why it is so hard (although not impossible) to burn fat and build muscle at the same time. Muscles take calories to adapt. They also take calories to maintain themselves. In fact, your muscle tissue is so calorie-hungry that your body will start to break it down as soon as it senses that it’s no longer needed.


Protein is needed because it breaks down into amino acids. These amino acids are reformed into physical tissues like skin, hair, and muscle. Protein is the major building block that is needed for muscle to grow in size and performance. If you aren’t eating enough protein, your muscles won’t have the raw materials that they need to grow.

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Good food sources of protein include fish, eggs, chicken, red meat, dairy, nuts and seeds. Supplementation can also serve as a great way to increase protein intake.


Carbohydrates are just as important as protein. Your body uses carbohydrates as its primary fuel source. You break carbohydrates down into sugars. Sugar is converted into glucose by the body. The term ‘glucose’ can often be used interchangeably with the term ‘blood sugar’. Glucose is stored in muscles in the form of glycogen. Glycogen can be seen as ‘muscle sugar’.

There are three ways that muscle size increases. The first one is through increased muscle fiber density. While exercise cannot increase the amount of muscle fiber that you have, it can increase its thickness. The second is the water mass. For example, creatine is a supplement that is famous for its performance-enhancing effects. One of the ways that it does this is by increasing the amount of water that muscles can hold. You may know this as ‘water weight’. Exercise may increase a muscle’s ability to hold onto water stores within the muscle fiber. The third way that muscles increase in size is through increased glycogen storage. Glycogen is one of the muscle’s primary energy sources. Muscles adapt to certain exercises by increasing glycogen stores.

Cardiovascular (or aerobic) exercises use oxygen and fat to fuel muscles as their source of energy. non-aerobic exercises use glycogen, the sugar stores in muscle, as their primary source of energy. This is one of the reasons why weight lifters have bigger muscles than long-distance runners, even though they both train a lot.

Consuming a carbohydrate-based food or supplement after training will help the body to replenish its glycogen stores. Once your glycogen stores are filled, your body can focus exclusively on rebuilding muscle fiber.

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Fats are also important. This nutrient is calorie-dense. One gram of protein offers 4 calories. A gram of carbohydrates also offers 4 calories. One gram of fats, one the other hand, contains 9 calories.  Your body takes longer to break down fat and turn it into energy compared to carbohydrates.

This is where fat is so beneficial. Fat gives your body sustained energy. This is important for your muscle growth because drops in internal energy levels can hamper the muscle recovery process. By adding fat to your meals, your body will have access to a longer form of energy.

Because of the fact that your body takes longer to turn fat into energy, fat can help to stabilize your blood sugar levels. Fat, along with protein, prevents the sharp spikes in blood sugar that usually precedes an equally sharp drop. You may know this as a sugar crash.

Added bonus: fat teaches your body to use fat as a source of energy. When most of our diets consist of carbohydrates, our bodies adapt by using them as fuel exclusively. Your body will store the excess energy as fat. Blood sugar drops when the energy from carbohydrates runs out. When that happens, your body will crave more carbohydrates to get its energy levels back. Fat helps to minimize this effect of carbs.

Use heat therapy to speed up muscle recovery

After nutrients, one of the other things that your muscles need to recover is blood flow. Blood is your muscles’ only supply of these nutrients. It is also the only way that it can expel unwanted by-products like lactic acid and carbon dioxide.

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The benefits of heat for muscle recovery

Heat causes blood vessels to expand. This allows for more blood to flow through them. The increased blood flow from heat therapy will ease muscle tension and relax stiff muscles.

The benefits of colder temperatures

Colder temperatures do the opposite. They have a constricting effect on blood vessels. This is actually also beneficial to muscle growth. Cold therapy will help to ease swelling and inflammation.

Alternate between hot and cold for the best results

Heat causes the body to pump blood to the extremities and closer to the skin so that heat can dissipate. Your body will do this in an effort to cool down. Cold causes your body to draw blood closer to its core to keep internal organs warm. By alternating between the two temperatures, you allow lots of blood to flow to and from the muscle. Because of this, a massive flow of nutrient-rich blood can reach the muscle. At the same time, muscles can empty out their waste products.

Therefore, a great way to do this is to sit in the steam room for a few minutes before rinsing off with a cold shower. Do this for three to four repetitions. This is enough to completely immerse the muscle with new blood. Steam rooms have many muscle recovery benefits of their own.

Take care not to sit in the steam room or the cold shower for too long. Don’t do it too many times in a row, either. This may cause the body to spend more energy on the heating up or cooling down process. If you spend too much energy on excessive temperature control, that energy which could have been used on the recovery process.

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About the author

Saguren Redyrs

Saguren is a personal trainer from South Africa and the editor of the health and fitness website SA Spotters. He has written extensively on how living a balanced lifestyle contributes to disease prevention, the benefits of exercise, nutrition, and how to incorporate health into everyday life.

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