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American Football Series: Part 5 – Muscle Recovery

American Football Series: Part 5 –  Muscle Recovery

The musculoskeletal system plays a mechanical role in the body. It’s a fundamental system required for football players to engage in training and destroy rivals on game day. Muscle is essential when it comes to performance, power and strength. Strength is a valuable quality used to some degree among all positions beyond just the defense. Muscle strength can be built specific to a player’s position ranging from speed, force and explosive movements. In all, regardless of position, muscle is put to the test every time an athlete steps on the field. Therefore, athletes should begin thinking about ways to support muscle recovery the moment they steps on the field.

Why Muscle Recovery Matters

Intense or prolonged physical activity can cause normal micro-damage within muscle fibers. The degree of micro-damage depends on how rigorous the activity is, as well as the level of exertion. Consequently, muscles need to recover through adequate time and nutrition. The amount of time muscles need to recover ultimately depends on the athlete, type of physical activity, duration and intensity. Muscle recovery can be a 24-hour process and can last up to 72-hours. However, some athletes may require more time to recover than others. Therefore, athletes should consider the extent of which muscles were exerted and start thinking about a recovery plan.

Muscle Recovery With Nutrition

All three macronutrients play a role in muscle recovery in some regard. Dietary fat provides the building blocks for hormone synthesis. Carbohydrates help to replenish glycogen stores and can be used as an energy source to help spare protein. Protein helps to support muscle recovery and rebuilding when taken over time with regular resistance training. The key nutrient that plays a monumental role in muscle recovery is protein. Protein helps to make up muscle and as we learned – muscle proteins can breakdown from physical activity. Athletes can increase protein to support muscle recovery. When adequate protein is consumed, the synthesis can increase the breakdown.

Protein and Muscle Recovery

Proteins are made up of amino acids. The amino acids can be categorized as either non-essential or essential. Non-essential amino acids can be produced in the body, but essential amino acids cannot. Therefore, essential amino acids must be consumed through diet. There are nine essential amino acids, and three are considered branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). The BCAAs include leucine, isoleucine and valine and make up about one third of skeletal muscle. There are a number of amino acids that are highly involved in muscle protein synthesis, the process in which muscles recover and rebuild. However, leucine is arguably the most important of these amino acids, because it helps to stimulate muscle protein synthesis or ‘switch on’ muscle recovery.

Dietary Sources of Protein

When it comes to muscle recovery – all of the essential amino acids play a part. Therefore, it’s important to consume a diet with adequate amounts of varied protein sources. Proteins that contain all the essential amino acids are termed complete proteins. Complete proteins can come from animal-based sources such as chicken, turkey, beef, fish, pork, dairy, and eggs. Soy is unique as it is the only plant-based proteins considered complete. Most plant-based proteins are considered incomplete, meaning they are low or lacking in one or more the essential amino acids. Incomplete protein include foods like beans, peas, lentils, nuts, and seeds. Athletes can build complete proteins with incomplete proteins by consuming a wide-variety of plant proteins throughout the day.

When to Add Protein

Consume protein regularly throughout the day among meals and snacks. Recommend meals and snacks include 20 to 40 grams of protein from whole foods first. Protein can also be added following activity, a time when muscles are especially receptive to protein. Protein can be added through so many different foods, but if needs are unmet through food alone, then whey protein supplements can be a convenient quality option. Whey is a fast digesting* protein that can be used first thing in the morning, after activity or whenever one needs added protein. Another occasion athletes often forget is before bed. Remember, muscle recovery is an ongoing process that happens day and night. This means muscles are still recovering even while you sleep. Select a snack that includes a combination of protein plus carbohydrates. Casein is a slow-digesting milk protein that can take several hours to digest – making it a great option for overnight recovery. Casein can be found in foods such as milk, yogurt, and cottage cheese. Find opportunities through the day to add in protein to help support muscle recovery.

*when compared to casein

Muscle Recovery and Sleep

Sleep is restorative and an essential time for the body to recover. Inadequate sleep can lead to a decrease in performance, impact the body’s ability to build maximum muscle strength, and affect muscle recovery time. It’s important to secure quality sleep each night and allow the body to cycle through all five stages at least four to five times each night. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that healthy adults sleep about seven to nine hours each night. Competitive athletes may require additional hours to help support muscle recovery. However, more sleep does not necessarily mean increased muscle recovery. Keep moderation and balance in mind when it comes to sleep.

Muscle Recovery

It’s important athletes look at the bigger picture of muscle recovery and adapt healthful lifestyle practices that help support recovery. That means proper nutrition, hydration, stress management, rest and sleep. Muscles recover when athletes rest. Overtraining can have consequences, such as mental and physical burnout, fatigue and potentially injury. It’s important to manage stressors and keep a healthy balance between life, work, and fitness goals. Muscle recovery requires optimal nutrition including a balance of protein, carbohydrates, dietary fat, and hydration. Create a plan that best works for your performance goals. To better understand your personal needs, you should consult with a sports nutrition registered dietitian. Check out part six next on ‘do football players eat carbs.’