You may think that the secret to getting stronger is simply to train harder, but in fact, rest is just as important, if not more important. Intense training conditions your muscles to constantly adapt to more strain, but it’s your rest days that actually result in strength gains. As you probably know, working out causes microscopic tears in muscle tissue. Taking a rest day allows your body to repair this damage, and in the process, rebuild your muscles into larger, stronger versions of themselves. That way, the next time you step in the gym, they are better prepared to handle the increased weight or increased number of sets and reps.
Now, if you’re a hardcore gym rat, the idea of a rest day may be horrifying. Trust us though, overtraining will do much more damage than a day off.
Overtraining occurs when your body has been repeatedly stressed by training (weights or cardio) to the point that rest is no longer adequate for recovery. Signs of overtraining include: mood swings, insomnia, depression, loss of desire to train and perpetual exhaustion. When your body reaches this state, you will likely hit a performance plateau, you are more susceptible to injury and you will store less glycogen, which is why you look “flat”.
The treatment for overtraining? You guessed it, rest! The proper amount of rest varies from person to person depending on genetics, lifestyle and environmental factors. Obviously, the intensity of your training also plays in. If you didn’t go all out, but you’re still sore, consider spending your rest day doing a recovery activity like yoga, or low impact cardio like swimming or cycling. Staying active will increase blood flow to your muscles, which helps facilitate repair and growth. If you’re completely wiped out, on the other hand, don’t feel guilty about kicking up your heels and doing absolutely nothing.
The best advice is to listen to your body.
There are also some universal ways you can help your body recover. The most obvious is to get more, good quality, R.E.M. sleep. This will increase growth hormone levels and reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) levels. Next, eat your fruits and veggies! Try to throw in as many colors as you can, ensuring a healthy dose of antioxidant-rich, micronutrient-rich and vitamin-rich foods, in addition to your normal macros. Don’t skimp on the fats either. Healthy fats support cell growth, optimize the absorption of nutrients and vitamins and are a great source of energy.
Finally, use high-quality supplementation to prevent protein (muscle) breakdown. When your body is running low on fuel (like when you’re in the middle of a rigorous workout), it looks for any energy source it can find. While we all wish it would turn to fat stores, unfortunately it usually starts to break down muscle mass. Supplements like Best BCAA Shredded™ and Whey HD™ provide the amino acids your body needs to not only prevent muscle breakdown, but also to build and maintain the hard-earned muscle you already have.