We all feel the strain in our muscles the day after a major workout. Understanding our physiology during exercise is key to ensuring healthy muscle recovery post-workout. So, what is actually happening to our muscles during exercise and recovery?
Exercise is not only crucial for maintaining overall health and well-being but also plays a fundamental role in the development and maintenance of our muscles.
Whether you’re an athlete striving for peak performance or someone simply looking to stay active, understanding what happens to your muscles during exercise and recovery is key to maximizing the benefits of your workouts.
Muscles and metabolism
Exercise affects our bodies’ natural equilibrium, known as homeostasis, in several different ways. Many of these changes we can feel ourselves during a workout. For example, our breathing and heart rate both spike up during particularly taxing exercises.
The circulatory system needs to compensate for the increase in metabolic activity in our muscles. It needs to transport more oxygen and nutrients and quickly dispose of the carbon dioxide waste product, which it does by increasing our heart and breathing rate.
Exercise requires large amounts of energy, which the body provides to the muscles that need it most. Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the principal metabolite that provides energy for all our biology and allows our muscles to contract .
It is produced by the mitochondria, microscopic powerhouses of the cell that convert glucose and oxygen into ATP through aerobic respiration.
Mitochondria are mostly concentrated in muscle cells, producing the ATP to power muscle contractions. Since ATP cannot be effectively stored in cells, it needs to be continually created according to supply and demand.
During exercise, respiration goes into hyperdrive to provide enough energy for our muscles’ demands. If not enough oxygen is available, the body produces ATP from glycogen through an anaerobic process, with another byproduct being lactic acid.
This leads to the distinct feeling of soreness that can occur during particularly grueling exercise sessions. Digestion is also slowed as energy is directed to our muscles.
How does different types of exercise affect the body?
Exercise, especially strength-based training, forces our muscle fibers to contract and stretch repeatedly. This causes tiny tears in the fabric of the muscle, the size of which depends on the intensity of the exercise.
This causes the feeling of muscle soreness you might be familiar with the day after exercise. While these tears are normal and essential to the process of building muscle, over-training can lead to larger tears and injuries like muscle strains.
The type, duration, and intensity of your chosen exercise can also influence its effect on your body. For example, endurance training like running or cycling makes your muscles stronger and less likely to wear out.
It also has a range of holistic health benefits; it can enlarge your heart for better blood flow, increase lung capacity, and improve metabolism and coordination. However, it is not the best exercise choice if you want to grow your muscles for aesthetic purposes.
This is where strength training comes in, which increases muscle size through repetitive resistance exercises. You can do this using weights, resistance bands, or simply against your own body weight. This forces your muscles to contract as hard as possible, increasing the contractile filaments within the muscle and making them appear larger.
Some forms of exercise like swimming involve a combination of the two types, as it improves endurance and involves resistance against the water .
How long muscles recover after workout?
As exercise stops and we enter the cool-down period, our bodies gradually return to homeostasis, and normal operation is resumed. Recovery time depends on the intensity, type, and duration of exercise as well as your underlying physical fitness.
Rest is as important as training itself, as this is where muscles are rebuilt and grow back bigger. Muscle recovery also gives your body a chance to repair all the damage caused by exercise and clear lactic acid from your system.
During recovery, satellite cells repair the microscopic tears sustained during exercise. They replicate, mature and fuse to the damaged muscle fibres, forming a new muscle protein strand that increases the size and strength of the muscle to ensure it can keep up with future demand.
Exercise, therefore, exposes your muscles to a form of stress known as eustress, which may be painful in the short term but will lead to greater long-term gains. The rest period is when the body rebuilds muscle so that it is bigger and stronger than before.
How can I speed up my muscle recovery?
While muscle recovery is a natural process that the body does by itself over time, there are some helpful tricks to speed up the process so you can get back to training:
- Get more sleep: Sleep gives the heart a chance to rest, cells to grow, and muscles to repair. Therefore, your body will require a longer life following exercise.
- Eating well: Eating a balanced diet is essential to health and longevity; it is also particularly important during muscle recovery. Protein can help rebuild muscle fibers, while carbohydrates restore depleted glycogen levels.
- Drinks: Exercise, especially during hot weather or in sweaty gyms, causes the body to lose a considerable amount of water through our breath and sweat. Dehydration can impair your muscles’ ability to repair themselves, so replenish with water and perhaps tart cherry juice, which has been linked to reduced muscle inflammation after workouts.
- Supplements: The health supplement scene has grown exponentially, with more people turning to taking supplements to boost muscle recovery. One such supplement is Timeline, which contains Mitopure’s purified urolithin A. The gut produces this powerful postbiotic after eating polyphenols contained in certain foods, especially pomegranate. Timeline cuts out this middle step and provides 500 mg of urolithin A, which boosts mitochondrial health and has been shown to improve muscle endurance in human clinical trials.
From the initial contractions fueled by intricate energy systems to the intricate processes of repair and growth during recovery, our muscles undergo complex changes in response to physical activity.
By understanding these processes and implementing strategies such as proper warm-up, post-workout nutrition, and adequate rest, we can optimize our exercise routines and promote long-term muscle health and performance.
Whether your goal is to build strength, improve endurance, or simply maintain an active lifestyle, prioritizing the well-being of your muscles is essential.
Exercise is not just about physical exertion—it’s a holistic journey towards a healthier, stronger, and more resilient self.
The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.