Recovery = Results

If you’re in pursuit of muscle gain or body recomposition, logically the more you can exercise without running into setbacks (in the form of injury, illness or muscle fatigue) the better your results will be.

But there’s a fine line between working hard enough to see results and ultimately going too far, into the vortex of overtraining.

There’s a push and pull relationship between two bodily processes, AMPk and mTOR. If you want a muscular, athletic build, you need to promote mTOR and keep AMPk at bay. According to Mike Israetel, PhD, in an interview with John Meadows, activation of AMPk does several, well-established things:

  • Alter fiber type from faster twitch variants to variants that behave more slow-twitch.
  • Catabolize contractile tissue (muscle) to free up extra energy for use in other areas of metabolism.
  • Downregulate the activity of mTOR, preventing anabolic triggers from being activated or curbing anabolism that’s already begun.

If you’re a strength athlete, bodybuilder or powerlifter,  all of those things are counterproductive to your goals. Here’s a to-do list of must do’s for you:

  1. Avoid cardio right after training the same muscle. A trained muscle has a predominance of mTOR activation, and the several hours after training are very important, as mTOR and its anabolic co-conspirators are accelerating the gears of muscle growth. If AMPk is activated during this time, it will likely mute the hypertrophy signals emitted by mTOR, and lessen the total amount of muscle growth that is activated to occur over the next several days. Cardio should instead be done at another time of the day, and kept short, emulating the stops and starts in your sport of choice. i.e. Interval sprints, much the way you’d go full out for 30 seconds on the ice, followed by two minutes of recuperation, for example.
  2. Israetel also says to avoid endurance cardio. Lots of endurance work leads to AMPk activation. Great for endurance athletes, because it enhances their endurance adaptations, but  bad for bodybuilders, powerlifters, and defensive lineman, for example, trying to keep muscle and stay explosive.
  3. Avoid chronic high volume weight training. I’m a huge proponent of training with lots of sets with as heavy a weight as possible for 8-15 reps per set, but if you don’t take deloads and add in low-volume phases once in awhile, your activation of AMPk will begin to predominate. If you’re feeling beaten up in the gym and can’t seem to get a pump no matter what you do, scale back the volume for a couple weeks and recover.
  4. Limit chronic dieting. There’s a reason many gurus advocate for the odd re-feed or cheat day when one is contest dieting. Long-term calorie restriction, coupled with lots of cardio, will upregulate AMPk. A big bowl of rice krispies (or three) might be enough to balance things for some, but if you’re really pushing the envelope with low calories and cardio, a whole day might in order, even on a weekly basis. It’s case dependent. Being a “bad ass” and never straying from your diet may be limiting your goals in the grand scheme of things. Be aware of the symptoms.
  5. Focus on intra and post-workout nutrition. Adding in a shake DURING my workout has done wonders for my recovery. I can train harder and for longer with more sessions per week. Careful what you use to accomplish this though. You don’t want something that requires your stomach to pull blood from your muscles to aid with digestion. A quickly digested protein that’s already broken down into its simplest form (whey hydrolysate or casein hydrolysates ideally, but branched-chain amino acids work too) and an easily digested, high GI carb (gatorade for the poor man, cyclic dextrins for the advanced) enhance recovery and muscle growth. The key here though is to dilute the mixture in at least two litres of water. You’ll get sick to your stomach otherwise. Just ignore the stares when you’re lugging around that big milk jug full of discoloured water. Your results will speak for themselves. Then when you get home, follow it up with a whole food meal of lean protein and quality carbs (I like grass-fed beef or chicken and a bunch of rice).
  6. Utilize recovery techniques. Cold baths, lots of sleep and massage should all be part of your arsenal. Contrast bath therapy is a technique with a growing body of scientific evidence behind its helpful effects. Basically, you alternate between one tub full of cold water and another full of hot water for 10 minutes. A contrast shower will have somewhat similar, albeit diminished, effects. Read about it here

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Mitch Calvert is a Winnipeg-based fitness coach for men and women like his former self. Heavyset in his 20s, he lost 60 pounds and now helps clients find their spark and lose the weight for life.