Evidence Shows Using Amino Acids for Surgery Recovery Leads to Improved Outcomes

Injury and surgery place a similar type of stress on the body, and essential amino acid therapy can help mitigate this stress and accelerate muscle recovery. An essential amino acid supplement with abundant leucine can slow the net loss of muscle protein.

Surgery can be a life-saving necessity, but it places significant strain on the human body. Developing a proactive plan for navigating the post-surgery healing process can help surgical patients avoid—or at least mitigate the effects of—pitfalls such as protein-energy malnutrition, the loss of lean body mass, and systemic inflammation. High-quality scientific research indicates that essential amino acids can offset the physical stress caused by surgery and accelerate the recovery process. To understand the benefits of amino acids for surgery recovery, you must first have an understanding of the role amino acids play in the body.

Dietary supplements of essential amino acids are the most important aspect of nutritional therapy for recovery from injury or surgery.

It’s no secret that amino acids make vital contributions to your overall health and well-being, particularly when it comes to the growth and repair of muscle tissue.

There are two general types of amino acids: essential amino acids and nonessential amino acids. Both are necessary, but because your body can produce nonessential amino acids, you do not need to monitor your intake in the same way you must do for essential amino acids that must be obtained either from the food you eat or from supplements.

Researchers have found that a subgroup of essential amino acids called branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) increase the body’s ability to  synthesize protein, regulate the rate of muscle tissue breakdown, repair muscle tissue, and transport fuel into muscle cells.

The Toll Surgery Takes on the Body

Think of surgery as a controlled injury. If you are hurt in a car crash, for example, you can go from perfectly healthy to seriously injured in a matter of seconds. The same is often true in the case of surgery.

When going in for elective surgery, you typically feel fine as the anesthesia is administered, but when you wake up, you feel roughly as if a truck ran over you. And even if an underlying pathological condition necessitates surgery, the stress of the surgery itself increases the challenge of rehabilitation.

Although the exact nature of the stress on the body may differ, the body’s response to either the controlled injury of surgery or an uncontrolled injury involves the same fundamental elements. The path to recovery can be nearly identical whether you are healing from an injury or from surgery.

Why People Lose Muscle Mass and Function During Recovery

Whether you are severely injured or recuperating from surgery, one thing’s for sure—you are going to lose muscle mass and function. It’s inevitable. Recovery requires some degree of inactivity, and inactivity means the muscles aren’t maximizing their movement and performance capabilities. This makes a decline in muscle mass and function inescapable. What you can control, however, is the degree of decline. It does not have to be substantial (more on that in a moment).

The detrimental effects of inactivity on muscle mass and function are well established. If you’ve ever had a broken limb put in a cast, you’ve seen the effects firsthand. When it’s time to remove the cast, you’re greeted with the startling withered look of a limb unused. Even if you have been working out the rest of your body, the limb that has remained inactive will show visible signs of decline. An event such as heart surgery that physically limits activity has the same effect as casting a broken limb but on the whole-body level.

The muscle loss triggered by inactivity is amplified by your body’s overall physiological response to injury, which we call the catabolic state. A catabolic state occurs in response to severe injury or illness and is characterized by whole-body protein loss, mainly due to increased breakdown of muscle proteins. The catabolic state can last anywhere from a week to several months.

Anyone who is interested in muscle building for functional or aesthetic reasons knows that failure to consume an adequate supply of nutrients—in particular, protein—slows the body’s rate of muscle protein synthesis, resulting in the loss of a certain amount of muscle. When your body enters the catabolic state, the loss of muscle mass and strength occurs at a much faster rate than it occurs in the absence of key nutrients.

The Physiological Processes Behind Muscle Loss

The simplest way to encapsulate the processes that result in muscle loss is to state that when the rate of muscle protein breakdown exceeds the rate of muscle protein synthesis, we lose muscle mass. Our bodies just can’t make enough new muscle protein to offset the rapid rate of muscle breakdown.

When our bodies enter a catabolic state, the rate of muscle protein breakdown shoots way up. It is not unusual for the rate of protein breakdown to increase by more than threefold!

A large increase in the rate of protein breakdown releases a flood of amino acids into the muscle cells. This increased availability of amino acids stimulates the rate of muscle protein synthesis. Unfortunately, the increased synthesis is not enough to balance the increase in breakdown. The net result is a large increase in the loss of muscle protein.

How Hormones and Inflammation Drive the Catabolic State

The catabolic state following surgery, injury, or illness stems from a variety of underlying factors.

First, a flood of stress hormones, most prominently epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol, activate the sympathetic nervous system. You have likely heard this referred to as the fight-or-flight response.

Next, inflammation kicks in. There are two types of inflammation, and their impact on the body is quite distinct. Local, acute inflammation arises at the site of injury or surgery. This type of inflammation can be quite beneficial in the early phase of wound healing. When local inflammation lingers too long, however, it can begin to inhibit tissue repair.

Systemic inflammation, also called long-term, chronic inflammation, has no identifiable benefits. In fact, this type of inflammation can escalate the catabolic state in the whole body, increasing the severity of associated muscle loss.

To better understand the impact systemic inflammation can have on the body, let’s examine that process in the context of a severe burn injury to the leg. A local response at the site of tissue injury would result in a decline in muscle protein synthesis and a loss of muscle mass and strength to the injured leg. A systemic response, however, disrupts muscle protein metabolism in the unburned leg to nearly the same extent as it does in the leg that sustained the severe burn injury.

Furthermore, the consequences of a catabolic state extend beyond muscle loss. Your appetite decreases, making it more difficult to consume the nutrients required to fuel muscle protein synthesis. Metabolic changes transpire, too, such as reduced sensitivity to the action of the hormone insulin. Insulin resistance may persist for months after other symptoms of the catabolic state have resolved.

Using Amino Acid Therapy to Help Your Body Heal

Loss of muscle mass and strength after injury or surgery delays recovery and an individual’s return to normal activity. In severe cases, or in elderly individuals with little reserve, muscle loss can be a direct contributor to mortality.

In all cases of injury and surgery, the speed and extent of recovery to normal functional capacity is determined in large part by how much muscle has been lost. Injury or surgery causes muscle loss at a rate so fast that consequences can be evident in a matter of days. If you can decrease the amount of muscle you lose, you can accelerate the time it takes you to recover. A balanced essential amino acid supplement can help tremendously with both those goals.

How Essential Amino Acids Decrease Muscle Loss

In order to decrease muscle mass losses during the recovery period, you must counteract the changes to your body’s protein metabolism processes.

After an injury (including the controlled injury of surgery), an alteration in muscle protein metabolism transpires, limiting the normal stimulatory effect of dietary protein on muscle protein synthesis. The lack of responsiveness of muscle protein synthesis to the normal stimulatory effect of dietary protein is called severe anabolic resistance.

The Crucial Role Played by mTOR

Anabolic resistance in the catabolic state occurs because of a molecular factor called mTOR inside the muscle cell. Under normal conditions, mTOR activates muscle protein synthesis, however, anabolic resistance in the catabolic state decreases mTOR activity. In order for muscle protein synthesis to return to optimal levels, mTOR activity must be escalated. Once this occurs, other intracellular molecules involved in initiating protein synthesis respond by escalating their activity levels as well.

So, how do we get mTOR up and running? By supplementing with a complete blend of free essential amino acids formulated with a relatively high proportion of leucine.

Perhaps you’re wondering: why not get leucine from the diet? One of the biggest therapeutic challenges presented by the catabolic state that arises after surgical procedures, injuries, or severe illnesses is reduced appetite. Loss of appetite makes it difficult to take in the dietary protein needed to offset increased muscle protein breakdown and help prevent muscle decline. For many, taking a well-formulated amino acid supplement is a desirable alternative to attempting to eat a sufficient amount of leucine-rich dietary protein.

Then there’s the fact that free leucine activates mTOR more efficiently than leucine contained in intact protein. This is because free leucine does not require digestion and is therefore absorbed more rapidly. Free leucine reaches a higher peak concentration in blood more rapidly than when leucine is consumed as part of an intact dietary protein that must be digested before the constituent amino acids can be absorbed. During the catabolic state, therefore, consuming a mixture of free essential amino acids with abundant leucine slows the net loss of muscle protein more effectively than either intact protein in a meal or meal replacement beverages do.

Once mTOR is activated by leucine, an increased availability of a full balance of all the essential amino acids is necessary to stimulate protein synthesis. Single amino acid therapy with leucine, or a combination of the three BCAAs, just won’t do it. Thus, although leucine is the key to overcoming anabolic resistance, consumption of leucine alone is not sufficient to stimulate muscle protein synthesis.

Dietary supplements of essential amino acids are the most important aspect of nutritional therapy for recovery from injury or surgery.

In addition to providing precursors for making new muscle protein, if enough essential amino acids are consumed, concentrations will rise high enough to inhibit muscle protein breakdown and stimulate protein synthesis.

In this way, essential amino acid nutritional therapy during the recovery period following surgery can help you return to full function by protecting against muscle loss. Taking an essential amino acid supplement can:

  • Activate mTOR
  • Provide amino acid precursors needed to make new muscle
  • Inhibit the breakdown of muscle
  • Improve the net balance between muscle protein synthesis and breakdown

A stimulation of muscle protein synthesis and inhibition of muscle protein breakdown is the metabolic basis for restoring muscle mass and strength.

Key Scientific Evidence on Using Amino Acids for Surgery Recovery

Much of the work done on how best to preserve lean body mass in the wake of major surgery has been focused on protein breakdown and amino acid oxidation. The manipulation of hormones involved in the development of the catabolic state, as well as the stimulation of insulin and insulin-growth factors, has also been a major priority.

Decreasing the release of so-called catabolic hormones as well as insulin resistance in post-surgery patients has been shown to both lower rates of whole body protein breakdown as well as to minimize decreases to muscle protein synthesis. A key element of this, researchers have found, is providing the correct balance of nutrients.

According to findings published in Anesthesiology, delivering an infusion of amino acids to patients can actually reverse the catabolic state. Previous studies demonstrated that amino acid infusions can decrease whole body protein breakdown and increase protein synthesis, resulting in a positive protein balance.

A research team led by scientists from the Department of Anesthesia at the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal enrolled patients scheduled to undergo colon resection, a surgical procedure that involves a hospital stay. On the second postoperative day, all patients received a solution of 10% amino acids. Levels of whole body leucine and glucose were measured, and blood samples were taken to analyze levels of hormones including cortisol, glucagon, and insulin.

The scientists found that the infusion of amino acids resulted in a positive protein balance as well as other beneficial metabolic effects. Their findings showed that the amino acids suppressed protein breakdown by over 25%, and that 12-16% of amino acids made available from proteolysis were redirected toward protein synthesis. “The infusion of amino acids in the current study caused an average increase in protein balance of 36.7 μmol · kg−1· h−1,” the authors wrote. They concluded that even the short-term use of amino acids after surgery can inhibit protein breakdown while stimulating protein synthesis.

A separate study carried out by a team based in Oregon and published in the June 28, 2018 issue of the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery focused specifically on how amino acids impact post-surgical muscle volume loss.

The double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial enrolled adult patients undergoing total knee arthroplasty (TKA), also known as total knee replacement surgery. The authors’ goal was to determine whether supplementing with amino acids during the perioperative period—which includes time spent in the hospital prior to as well as after surgery—can mitigate muscle atrophy.

Study participants ingested either 20 grams of essential amino acids (EAAs) or a placebo twice daily for 7 days prior to their procedures and for 6 weeks following them. Magnetic resonance imaging was used to measure quadricep and hamstring muscle volume at the time of enrollment and at the study’s conclusion. Data on functional mobility and strength came from patient-reported outcomes.

Compared with the placebo group, participants who took EAAs experienced significantly smaller losses of mean quadriceps muscle volume in the leg on which the operation was performed as well as their other leg. A greater muscle-volume-sparing effect was seen for the hamstrings of individuals who took EAAs than for those in the control group as well. The authors concluded that EAA supplementation is a safe way to reduce the loss of muscle volume for patients undergoing TKA.

Strategies for Preserving Muscle Strength and Function During Recovery

Even if you’re able to use amino acids to alleviate or avoid the the short-term catabolic state that follows physical trauma, your body will enter a depleted state marked by significant muscle loss. This will be evident in overall body weight loss—how many times have you heard that the only good thing about someone’s injury or surgery was that they lost weight?

As recovery continues, the lost weight will be gradually regained. However, without diligent adherence to an exercise and nutrition program, the lost muscle weight will be regained as fat. To return to your daily activities in the best possible health, it is crucial to replace the lost weight with new muscle, not fat. In this article, I go deeper into how amino acids can fuel good weight after a serious illness, injury, or surgery.

For our purposes here, I’ll provide an overview of best practices related to exercise and nutritional strategies to rebuild muscle during recovery.

Be Sure to Prioritize Exercise

At the outset of recovery, your capacity for exercise will be limited. Even so, it is essential to engage in both aerobic and resistance exercise as soon as possible.

Depending on the specifics of your situation, it may be advisable—or even mandatory—for you to engage in a structured physical therapy program. Whether or not that is the case, at some point in your functional recovery process, it will be vital to devise your own approach to reintroducing physical activity.

Aerobic exercise can take any form—walking, elliptical, cycling, swimming, and so on—as long as the option you choose elevates your heart rate to 120 beats per minute or above. As you regain your fitness, your speed and the amount of distance you cover will increase.

Some moderate stretching may also be needed to regain range of motion. As strength returns, work up to the recommended guideline of 150 minutes a week of aerobic exercise. However, because most of your cardio output recovery will be walking as opposed to more strenuous aerobic activity, it’s advisable to increase to 5 hours per week of aerobic exercise in addition to resistance sessions.

Resistance exercise is the most important type of exercise for rebuilding muscle. Machines are optimal for resistance workouts, particularly at the outset. The loss of muscle function in the catabolic state impairs coordination, and the possibility of injury is greater with free weights. Machines provide specificity in terms of the muscles involved in any exercise, and this may be of particular importance when addressing specific areas affected by injury or surgery.

The weight lifted should be progressively increased as strength returns. Most individuals will find that they regain lost strength in a shorter period of time than that required to originally gain that strength. The amount of resistance used should be adjusted accordingly. A general guideline is to increase the resistance by 10% per week, but progress may be more rapid in the first few weeks of recovery.

Make a Post-Surgery Nutrition Plan

Nutrition plays a crucial role in recovery. Eating a balanced diet featuring ample high-quality protein is essential. However, that alone will not ensure you regain more muscle than fat.

The single most important aspect of nutritional therapy during the recovery period will be essential amino acid supplementation.

Essential amino acids are the active components of dietary proteins. Balanced essential amino acid supplements stimulate muscle protein synthesis to a greater extent than any naturally occurring protein food source.

Essential amino acid supplements work synergistically with exercise to provide a greater stimulus than either produces on its own. To maximize the beneficial effects of each element, you should take essential amino acids 30 minutes before an exercise session as well as immediately following the session.

When consuming essential amino acids without accompanying physical activity, the greatest effect will be when taken between meals. That said, there is no wrong time to take an essential amino acid supplement. If you miss the optimal dosing window, simply take your EAA supplement at your earliest opportunity.

For more information on a balanced amino acid supplement created for recovery after injury or surgery, check out our Amino Company blends.

What Is Post-Workout Inflammation? Plus, 8 Expert-Approved Ways to Recover Faster

There’s a way to make post-workout inflammation work for the greater good of your muscles and body, and there is, unfortunately, also a way to stoke the flames of inflammation to the degree that they’re burning away all the gains you’ve worked out for. Learn how to manage inflammation after strenuous exercise and increase your fitness gains.

If you’re interested in health and wellness, you’ve likely come across the topic of inflammation, which has been widely covered. The vast majority of that coverage, however, has focused on the damage inflammation can do to the body. But that’s not the whole story. Certain kinds of inflammation can be highly beneficial, including what’s known as post-workout inflammation.

As Shawn Talbott, PhD, a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine, put it, “You need enough inflammation to trigger a physiological response that makes your body fitter and stronger and helps it recover after a workout, but not so much inflammation that it slows the body’s natural repair process.”

The reason many work out is to see and feel results, which can make even muscle aches and pains feel gratifying. We often see muscle pain as evidence that, say, the 50 weighted squats we completed the day before are going to make our muscles bigger and stronger. And that’s true, to a point. Post-workout inflammation can work for the greater good of our muscles and bodies, but when inflammation becomes too elevated, its flames can begin to burn away all the gains you’ve been working for.

The Inflammatory Response Explained

The inflammatory response is the immune system’s reaction to tissue damage. When we work out we naturally and inadvertently cause microscopic trauma to muscle fibers, connective tissues, bones, and joints. After workouts, the inflammatory response kicks in, sending a flood of chemicals and hormones throughout the body to repair the damage done to affected tissues; fill in the divots strength training creates in weak areas of bones with new, stronger bone; and build stronger muscle fibers. According to Joanne Donoghue, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist at the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic medicine, this type of inflammation is crucial to overall immune system function and has potent healing effects.

You might see and feel this inflammation in the form of swelling, heat, stiffness, muscle pain, or joint aches. Alternately, this inflammatory response may be so mild that you might not experience any perceptible physical symptoms.

Post-workout inflammation typically sets in between 2 and 48 hours after exercise. In an ideal world, this transpires during your recovery time between workouts, allowing pro-inflammatory molecules called cytokines to work uninterrupted as they rejuvenate soft tissue cells in muscles, ligaments, and tendons so that they are stronger for subsequent workouts of a similar nature.

Understanding how inflammation works will help you learn how to recover more quickly after intense bouts of physical activity. Post-workout inflammation follows the same trajectory as any other inflammatory response, whether it’s an acute, short-term flare in response to a sprained ankle or chronic, low-level inflammation resulting from an ongoing condition such as Crohn’s disease.

Let’s break the inflammatory response down in phases.

  • Phase 1: Blood rushes to the affected area or areas, inducing the familiar symptoms of inflammation, such as redness and swelling.
  • Phase 2: White blood cells called neutrophils sweep away the remains of damaged cells.
  • Phase 3: Macrophages, another type of white blood cell, flood the site of injury, clear up the remaining debris, and activate tissue rebuilding.

Inflammation Phase One

When your immune system detects an injury or threat, it responds by delivering a rapid infusion of blood and expanding blood vessels leading to the affected area or areas and sealing those leading away from it.

Inflammation Phase Two

Next, the immune system directs pro-inflammatory cytokines and a specialized type of white blood cell called neutrophils to the injured area. They sail through the wide-open blood vessels leading to the area, then pile up when they encounter the sealed-off vessels leading away.

This creates an environment in which a concentrated supply of cytokines and neutrophils can rapidly flush out damaged or infected cells.

Inflammation Phase Three

Finally, the immune system sends in macrophages, another type of white blood cell, to complete the clean-up process and begin repairing the damage caused by the injury or infection.

When the area appears to be stabilized, meaning the trauma has been reduced and any infections resolved, the immune system reopens the blood vessels leading away, allowing the extra blood cells that have accumulated to evacuate and bringing swelling and redness down.

There’s a way to make post-workout inflammation work for the greater good of your muscles and body, and there is, unfortunately, also a way to stoke the flames of inflammation to the degree that they’re burning away all the gains you’ve worked out for. Learn how to manage inflammation after strenuous exercise and increase your fitness gains.

Differentiating Between Healthy and Unhealthy Inflammation

As you can see, the intended purpose of inflammation is to heal. However, when inflammation levels rise too high or remain elevated for too long, this can result in damage to healthy muscle and tissue cells that present as chronic aches and pains.

When it comes to post-workout inflammation, issues often arise when individuals neglect to leave adequate time for the healing process to transpire between sessions. If you put too much strain on your joints and don’t take time off to let your body repair the tendons and ligaments, you may develop arthritis.

The goal should not be to avoid inflammation altogether, but rather to ensure it remains at healthy, healing levels.

The Healing Benefits of Inflammation

Post-workout inflammation is important to muscle recovery and growth because it helps accelerate the healing process and keeps us from working out already depleted muscles and joints before they are ready to once again perform at top function.

Inflammation can also help to accelerate fitness gains due to satellite cell proliferation, which is crucial to the building of stronger and better adapted muscle fibers.

Furthermore, inflammation builds up a resistance to future injury due to an occurrence called the “repeated bout effect.” Essentially, inflammation after strenuous exercise increases neutrophil activity for the next round of exercise, thereby shielding muscle fibers from redundant and extreme damage.

In the same way that regular workouts expand your muscles’ strength capacity, they also improve your body’s ability to regulate inflammation levels to contain them within the healthy range. This translates to the capacity to work out longer and harder with decreased muscle breakdown, and subsequently, decreased recovery time.

Scientists have found, too, that routine physical activity can lower systemic inflammation. A 2016 study showed that a combination of endurance and resistance training reduced markers of inflammation, which the authors believe could have exciting implications for the treatment of diseases caused by inflammation.

When Inflammation Goes Wrong

Post-workout inflammation, if not appropriately managed, does have downsides—slow recovery, increased risk of injuries from overuse, and constrained fitness gains due to secondary muscle damage between workouts, of which delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a primary cause.

DOMS is that peculiar type of muscle pain that begins the day after a hard workout, and becomes even more severe the day after that. Exercise scientists attribute DOMS in part due to free radicals that are produced as byproducts of neutrophil activity. The degree of muscle damage that has triggered DOMS can greatly impact the quality of your workouts and training, and place undue stress on your joints, increasing your risk of future injuries.

Muscles aren’t the only part of the body affected by post-workout inflammation. The joints also experience microtrauma during exercise and must be restored and fortified during the healing process instigated by post-workout inflammation. However, if joint tissues aren’t fully revived during the recovery process, unrelenting chronic inflammation can take over and slowly whittle away joint stability, resulting in long-term joint pain and even acute joint injuries.

Those who enjoy physical exertion and pushing their limits face particularly high risks for inflammation-related injuries. Take Alia Malley’s experience. She committed to a serious yoga practice after discovering a style and instructor she loved, and assumed that the harder she worked, the greater the rewards would be. After several months of attending vinyasa classes practically every other day, Malley developed knee pain extreme enough to compel her to schedule an appointment with her doctor, who diagnosed her with partially-torn ACLs in both knees. By the time she sought medical care, the condition had progressed to the point at which it would take a combination of surgery and physical therapy to restore function to her knees. “I was ignoring the warning signs—soreness and swelling,” Malley told Fitness Magazine. “I kept pushing myself until I got hurt because I thought I could handle it.”

The challenge with addressing joint, tendon, and muscle inflammation, according to Tom Hackett, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colorado and lead physician for the U.S. men’s and women’s snowboarding and raft teams, is that you can’t see the inflammation that affects your fascia or muscle tissue. This makes it more likely to be ignored until a problem like tendinitis, arthritis, or even fibromyalgia develops.

To avoid this, Dr. Hackett advises tuning into which muscles and joints are most vulnerable. This will depend on your own physiology as well as the activity you’re engaged in. Tennis, for example, puts a significant amount of strain on the shoulders and elbows while runners often develop knee and ankle issues. Any time you experience pain or swelling in a muscle, joint, or tendon, that’s a sign you need to let it rest. If you’re dealing with chronic issues in the same area, it can be helpful to consult with a doctor, trainer, or physical therapist for guidance on how best to rest and restore the problem area.

Your doctor may also want to check inflammatory markers such as the ratio of arachidonic acid to eciposapentaenoic acid, which can help them ascertain whether your global anti-inflammatory response has been compromised. If this occurs, inflammation can begin to spread throughout your body, setting off a cascade of adverse events such as increased belly and body fat, decreased immune function, and higher levels of fatigue and depression.

How to Manage Post-Workout Inflammation

Your muscles, joints, bones, and connective tissues need adequate rest between workouts to fully recover so that they can rebuild stronger and more durable. You can subdue inflammation and trim down the time it takes for your body to regenerate with the following eight tips for managing post-workout inflammation.

There’s a way to make post-workout inflammation work for the greater good of your muscles and body, and there is, unfortunately, also a way to stoke the flames of inflammation to the degree that they’re burning away all the gains you’ve worked out for. Learn how to manage inflammation after strenuous exercise and increase your fitness gains.

1. Alternate Workouts

You most likely know that the consensus among experts is that you should allow your muscles a full 48 hours to recover before working them in the same way. That doesn’t mean you need to abstain from all physical activity during that time, though.

Adding one or two alternate workouts to your preferred form of exercise is a great way to maximize your strength and fitness gains. That might mean experimenting with cardio and resistance-training workouts between your strength-training sessions. You can lift heavy on Monday, go for a run or bike ride on Tuesday, run through a set of body-weight exercises on Wednesday, and circle back to strength training on Thursday.

2. Develop a Post-Workout Stretching Routine

It can be tempting to allow yourself to just collapse after a tough workout, but this takes a toll on your muscles.

After you’ve exerted them, your muscles excrete a protein called creatine kinase, which your kidneys must filter from your blood. Sitting still allows this substance to accumulate, which can delay recovery time.

When you move your muscles by engaging in a light cool down and stretching routine, you increase blood flow, which helps flush creatine kinase from your body more quickly. This, in turn, facilitates a speedier cellular repair process.

3. Exercise in the Morning

Researchers have found that certain hormones that mitigate post-workout inflammation, including testosterone and cortisol, are at their highest levels in the morning. Take advantage by timing your workouts to take place early in the day so you can make rapid recoveries from even the most strenuous training sessions.

4. Sleep Well

Though you’re not consciously aware it’s transpiring, your body carries out many functions, including healing ones, while you’re asleep. Be sure to get a minimum of 8 hours of quality sleep nightly to help your body move through the inflammation and repair process as rapidly as possible.

5. Feed Your Muscles

Your post-exercise meals can significantly impact the time it takes your body to recover. The more intense the workout, the more strategic you’ll need to be about the timing and nutrient profile of your food choices. Typically, experts advise ingesting a combination of protein and carbs within 20 minutes of the conclusion of an intense workout.

Foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids also show promise as a means of fueling major recovery gains due to their ability to lower inflammation levels. Though fish oil supplements can seem like the easiest way to load up on these potent nutrients, not all formulations are made from high-quality ingredients or contain sufficient quantities of omega-3 fatty acids to produce results. Because of this, it can be a better option to meet your body’s needs through strategic food choices. Tuna, salmon, and herring all contain high levels of an omega-3 fatty acid called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

6. Get a Massage

Recent studies indicate that massage can be key to quicker recoveries after high-intensity workouts.

A particular massage technique known as myofascial release manipulates connective tissues to reduce inflammation. Fans say that it reduces soreness and improves performance in subsequent workouts.

If you can’t find a massage therapist near you who practices myofascial release, or want to try it on your own first, self-massage with a foam roller can produce similar results, though it can be challenging to apply to certain areas of the body.

7. Address Your Stress

Stress can intensify the inflammation that occurs after workouts. Any time your brain perceives anxiety or danger, inflammation levels rise. This can be beneficial in the short term, since the release of cortisol and other chemicals keep you extra alert. When it becomes chronic, however, inflammation can be quite damaging, as previously discussed.

Scientists have identified a number of ways to lower stress levels, including spending time in nature, practicing meditation, and eating more probiotic foods.

8. Give Your Body a Boost with Amino Acids

Taking amino acids is a proven technique for maximizing your workout gains and minimizing the time needed to recover between training sessions.

Research consistently shows that a well-formulated blend of essential amino acids can accelerate muscle growth during recovery by boosting muscle protein synthesis. If you’d like to learn more about the science behind how amino acids support muscle recovery, check out this article.

Amino Acids and Muscle Recovery After Exercise

Amino acids and muscle recovery go hand in hand. You need all 20 amino acids that make up the proteins in your body for optimal muscle recovery. Without amino acid support, your body eats away at its own muscle tissue for energy. We’ve got the scoop.

If you’re a fitness enthusiast, you probably tend to focus much more on the doing—sprinting, lifting, contracting—than on the process of recovery. However, if you don’t allow your muscles to recover, you can’t perform, compete, or train at your best. For just as our brains process information and create and consolidate memories as we sleep, so, too, do our muscles resynthesize, recalibrate, and grow when we rest. But did you know that you can also accelerate muscle growth during recovery by boosting muscle protein synthesis with amino acid nutrition? If you’re interested in increasing both muscle mass and exercise performance, come with us as we explore the fundamental relationship between amino acids and muscle recovery.

What Happens to Muscle During (and After) Exercise?

Every time you engage in exercise your muscles aren’t used to, some muscle damage occurs. And whether you’re an endurance athlete or into strength training, this unfamiliar stress leads to microscopic tears in the muscles. You’ve probably noticed the discomfort this causes a day or two after a high-intensity workout. Known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), this post-exercise pain is the result of the tension muscles experience during eccentric (lengthening) exercises.

Believe it or not, these microscopic tears and the muscle protein breakdown they lead to have to happen if muscle strength and mass are to increase. When muscle fibers are damaged, satellite cells rush in to fuse the damaged fibers together, and this creates newer, stronger, and larger muscle fibers.

Think of satellite cells as stem cells for your muscles. Not only are these precursors to skeletal muscle cells made of protein—and therefore amino acids, the building blocks of protein—but they’re also essential for muscle repair after a workout. Moreover, they stimulate the production of more durable muscle, and this leads to better muscle function.

Amino Acids and Muscle Recovery

According to a 1995 study, muscle protein synthesis (the process of building muscle) is elevated by 50% 4 hours after high-intensity resistance training and by 109% 24 hours post workout. So for the next 24 to 48 hours after intensive exercise, your body needs plenty of protein-rich foods and the amino acids they contain to supply your muscles with the nutrients they need to grow in size and strength.

In other words, amino acids and muscle recovery go hand in hand. In fact, you need all 20 amino acids that make up the proteins in your body for optimal muscle recovery. Eleven of these amino acids are produced in the body, but nine are essential amino acids (EAAs), which means they must be consumed in the diet because they’re not produced in the body.

Increasing protein intake after a workout with the use of a balanced EAA supplement or even protein supplements, such as protein shakes or whey protein—which contain all the EAAs—is an effective way to activate muscle protein synthesis and aid in muscle recovery.

Increasing consumption of EAAs also stimulates reutilization of the 11 nonessential amino acids (NEAAs) for protein synthesis, thereby decreasing their oxidation and resultant increase in the byproducts ammonia and urea, which further aids muscle recovery.

What all this means is that providing your muscles with the amino acid nutritional intervention they require helps keep your muscles protected. The reason for this is that protein is used by the body for almost every biological process, and the majority of that protein is locked up in muscle tissue. So if the availability of amino acids to rebuild the protein lost during muscle breakdown is limited, not only does muscle protein synthesis suffer, but your body also has no choice but to use its own muscle to keep the rest of the machine running.

Branched-Chain Amino Acids and Muscle Recovery

Branched-chain amino acid supplementation has become popular among bodybuilders and other workout buffs to help increase athletic performance. On the face of it, this makes sense, as branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs)—leucine, valine, and isoleucine—make up nearly 35% of muscle tissue and are a source of fuel for the muscles.

However, while this may accelerate recovery from muscle soreness, BCAAs are limited in their ability to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. This is because all the EAAs are required for a complete protein to be produced. In fact, a recent study demonstrated that taking BCAAs alone has either no effect or only a minor one on the rate of muscle protein synthesis.

Why is this?

Research has shown that the availability of all the EAAs determines the rate of muscle protein synthesis. So even if you’re consuming a BCAA supplement after your workout, the rate of muscle building is still going to be determined by how many of the other EAAs are present. This is because you can’t make a complete protein out of just three amino acids, so unless you’re also getting enough of the other six EAAs, the effectiveness of BCAAs will be limited.

In addition, an excess of BCAAs has been shown to disrupt levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. In fact, a 2013 study found that BCAA supplementation, when used in isolation, lowers levels of several important neurotransmitters, including catecholamines, which are necessary for enhanced athletic performance. So to get the most out of your exercise routine—and your muscles—you must consume BCAAs as part of a balanced mixture of all the EAAs.

However, even though consuming both protein and amino acid supplements after exercise can provide important benefits, it’s important to realize that they’re merely supplements to your regular diet. If you really want to give your muscles the nutritional support they need, focus on refueling your body after your workouts with foods that are abundant in amino acids.

Consuming between 0.5 and 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight should provide you with the right amount of amino acids to help increase your muscle mass and improve your athletic performance.

Foods high in amino acids