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  • Writer's pictureMat Harvey

Strength Training and Recovery

You don’t get strong in the gym. You get strong while you are in bed – asleep with a full stomach, otherwise known as recovery.

In fact, the time you spend in the gym stresses your body, leaving you weaker when you leave than when you started your session. Only when you eat, rest, and sleep (recover) do you capitalize on all your hard work and grow stronger.

You can only train as hard as you can recover.

Today I want to talk about all things recovery, that being sleep, food, and stress.

Let’s break it down. Assuming diet is on point (we will discuss that later) and assuming you need 7 hours of sleep (over a 24-hour cycle) to maintain a healthy equilibrium. The following scenarios may ring true for you.

For every 1 hour of hard exercise, we need to add another hour of sleep to completely recover from a workout.

  • 0 hours training, 7 hours sleep  = balance

  • 1 hours training, 7 hours sleep = tired, not recovered

  • 1 hours training, 8 hours sleep = balance

  • 2 hours training, 8 hours sleep = tired, not recovered

Now granted this is a gross oversimplification, there are many variables that relate to training and recovery. I’m telling this simple story because, if you haven’t got your sleeping game sorted, you are missing out on gains. Full stop. It doesn’t matter how many protein shakes and how many supersets you’ve completed. Sleeping is your first priority when it comes to strength training.

Think of your body like a credit card with an energy credit and debit system.

An ideal day might look like this:

  • One workout =  -100

  • Stressful meeting at work = -50

  • 3 healthy meals and clean snacks = +70

  • 8 hours of sleep = +80

  • Balance = 0 (recovered)

We begin tomorrow back at a zero balance.

We all know that never happens, maybe this would represent a more realistic day:

  • One workout = -100

  • Stressful meeting at work = -30

  • Late takeaway fast food lunch = -10

  • Good dinner and breakfast = +40

  • Fight with children at bedtime and stress out = – 20

  • 6 hours of sleep = +70

  • Balance = -50 in the red

Now we all have these days, and often they pile on top of each other one after the other, pushing you further and further into energy debt, feeling more and more beaten down. Familiar feeling? The #1 goal of any healthy fitness or physical endeavor is to rebalance your ‘credit card’ as often as possible!

The fitter and healthier you are, the further into the energy debt you can go before you break and enter a state of illness. This is why some people can train 3 hour a day for weeks on end and seem to bounce back some people get crushed from a 45 min workout.

So our first priority is to ensure we recover from exercise.

Fat and sleep

The more stress hormone we have in our body the more our body will store fat. It’s got something to do with our body sensing that we are stressed, possibly about a lack of food to eat, and therefore should be more efficient with its energy (slow down the metabolism) and store as much as it can for later (as fat), when the food runs out. Of course these days the food never runs out and we stress out way too easily, giving our brain the chemical signal to prepare for grim times when in actual fact our stress was a reaction to the bus running late rather than a looming famine situation.

Want to maintain a very lean healthy body? Then eat well, sleep lots, and reduce stress.

What is Food

There is lots of debate over what food to eat. As a nation, we have followed the prescribed food pyramid for the better part of 3 decades. Chronic diseases and obesity is now our number 1 killer. Clearly, something is not right.

This is not the place to go into the details our food crisis and the miss-education of generations of people. Recently there been heated debate about what to eat. I’m gonna keep it simple.

If it was once alive (plant, fungi or animal) and it will go off within a week or so, then we will call it food.

All other items sold under the guise of ‘food’ are not food, they are products that will poison you at a very low level and do a very subpar job of providing your body with nutrition to recover. Simple – don’t put these things inside your body.

I’m just gonna say here, I am not a dietitian nor do I have formal qualifications in nutrition. I do have a degree in science (ability to think critically) and have been experimenting on my body for the last 20 years. Take my blog post as you like :).

How to find food

Buy most of your food from around the edges of the supermarket… better yet go to the farmers’ markets on the weekend. Simple right?

If you are short on time and crave convenience you can hit up one of the many meal preparation companies out there. There are lots good ones to choose from.

Eating for goals

Right now that’s sorted – let’s look at eating food for goals. If you are tempted to start bulking to put on lean mass with a McDonald burger (you know who you are) please reread the paragraph above – “What is Food.”

Maintain weight and get lean

Eat food and drink water. Forget diets. Keep it simple. Eat some natural fat (ie not processed), carbs, and protein and lots of vegetables. If you want to speed up your metabolism, break your meals into smaller portions and eat 5 – 7 small meals throughout the day, never get hungry. Also, eat more at the start of the day and less at the end. Stress is your enemy and will keep your body holding onto fat stubbornly. And finally, no, eating fat will not be stored as fat on your body. Eating sugar will be stored as fat.

Put on lean muscle

This is much harder than people might think. Assuming you are getting big compound lifts in twice or three times a week (depending on your ability to recover) and you are sleeping lots, it comes down to your eating.

Here is the challenge, you have to PR your eating every day… that means eating more than yesterday. If you are a small person this can be really hard. It means eating very often and slightly past the point of full and never, never get hungry.

If all this sounds too hard give this a go:

I personally put on 15 kg over 1.5 years by changing my daily habits as such:

  • 4 main meals a day (lunch at 11 and lunch at 2)

  • 4 – 6 eggs a day, whenever I thought about it

  • 2 liters of milk a day, often mixed with protein powder

  • 1-hour nap in the afternoon after work

I did this with about 1 – 2 hours of hard training 6 days a week (i have been training athletically for the last 20 years so I can recover from this work).

In the end

Workout hard, eat often and well, avoid processed food and sugar and sleep like a baby. I promise you if you sort this out, your mood, relationships, and life will improve. As will your lifts and bodyweight moves.

Until next week!

Mat Calisthenics Coach

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