Interesting Facts About Muscle Recovery

Shot of sporty young woman drinking water while doing pilates exercises on the gym.

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Feel the burn? Yes, this needs to happen to stimulate muscle growth. What happens is you are initiating a microtrauma (minor damage) to the muscles. This prompts your body to build up this muscle to meet the demands of the exercise.

Muscle recovery, unfortunately, comes with muscle pain. The muscle pain that is associated with the recovery is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). 

There are many remedies that are mentioned in gym culture, such as ice baths, foam rollers, or other techniques to get around the pain of DOMS.

There is a science behind this. Like most things, there is no quick fix. Here are the facts behind optimizing muscle recovery: 

What Is Muscle Recovery?

This is a physical strain to the muscles, which causes minor damage that your muscles have to respond to by contracting and responding to the heavy resistance.

This damage is what causes the signature soreness that follows a great workout. This can also make it difficult for some to continue a workout, especially if it is something newer to you. Your recovery capacity can determine if you are able to keep it up to continue building strength versus plateauing or regressing, for example.

Intense cardio and resistance training do cause damage to the skeletal muscle. It then can reduce your body’s ability to bring glucose (its fuel) to the muscle cells, which will decrease your ability to push into further exertion. 

These then slightly damaged muscles have a shortage of the chemical transmitter of energy known as ATP, as well as a build-up of lactic acid. 

Don’t worry; your body knows what to do, and it’s necessary to build up strength and endurance. Your muscle cells will activate the chemical transporters that flush lactic acid out. This is the first phase of muscle recovery.

Then what happens is an increase in glucose and ATP are produced, which fuels the process of muscle recovery. 

The good news is the more you exercise, the better your cell capacity is to do the above chemical processes. The increase in exercise produces a chemical called Monocarboxylate. This chemical helps carry the lactic acid away from the muscle cells and opens up the cell pathways for the ATP to generate and repair the muscles. 

Soreness and muscle pain is not a great feeling in the moment, but it is the price you pay to build up muscle. The more you do it, the more efficient your body becomes at this process. 

Is Rest the Answer?

Getting enough rest seems like an obvious choice for muscle recovery. Certainly, a day off of exercise to rest is a good idea after an intense exercise regime. However, there is much more we can do to help.

Sleep is a crucial component of muscle recovery. The 2 phases of sleep stimulate the physiological processes of muscle recovery.

REM (Rapid Eye Movement) Sleep:

This comes in cycles of 90-120 minutes at various times throughout the night. It happens more at the end of our sleep cycle. This provides energy to the brain, making us alert and prepared for waking hours. 

Non-REM Sleep:

This is the period of deep sleep when our bodies slow down. The physiological processes like blood pressure, breathing, and heart rate slow down.

This is also the time when blood flow increases and provides nutrients and hormones to our muscles that facilitate muscle repair and recovery. Growth hormone is also released in deep sleep. This hormone repairs and allows the muscle cells to grow. 

Adequate REM and non-REM sleep need to both happen.  We cannot get one without the other. And non-REM sleep is crucial for muscle recovery. 

How Long Do Muscles Need To Rest?

This general rule used to be 24 hours between workouts for a specific muscle group. 

Ex.) If you worked the upper body one day, then do the lower body the next. 

It is not this easy; there are many key factors to consider:

Are you a novice or experienced in this current training regime?

It takes 24-48 hours for muscle cells to repair themselves and begin protein synthesis. So, the more intense the workout, the longer the rest should be within the time frame of 1-2 days. 

Other Factors To Consider:

Your post-workout protein intake vs. sleep, age, stress levels, and diet. 

With muscle recovery in training, a lot of this is trial and error. The good thing is as you build muscle, muscle recovery becomes more efficient. 


When you work out, you deplete glycogen, which is the fuel for your muscles. You also deplete protein to make muscle. These need to be replenished to facilitate the muscle recovery process. Eating the right things really helps with this process.

The three main foods you need to ingest are carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. 

The right proteins provide you with amino acids that are the building blocks of muscle synthesis. Lean meats, fish, and veggies supply these, including some essential amino acids that the body cannot supply on its own.

Carbohydrates will replenish glycogen. This chemical is needed to do the work when your body is under physical exertion.

Fats are good when balanced and minimal. Studies show fats help us produce glycogen. 

Stay tuned for future blogs from our Winnipeg physiotherapy clinic on more muscle recovery tips.

“Take care of your body, and it will take care of you!” – F4L

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