Why Bother Exercising?

In our earnest attempts to maintain physical fitness and overall wellness, we occasionally overdo it.  Strengthening the muscles and the cardiovascular system, fine tuning athletic skills for a particular sport, trying to lose weight, or only having fun, humans have forgotten the concept of moderation.  So have couch potatoes, but that’s another story.  Well-orchestrated workouts yield benefits beyond six-pack abs and improved self-image.  They can boost immunity, practically eliminate Type 2 diabetes, improve mental health, and even prevent depression (Colberg, 2012) (Jazaieri, 2012) (Callaghan, 2004) (Venjatraman, 1997).

Both aerobic and anaerobic exercises are good for the heart. Aerobic improves the oxygen system and increases cardiac volume; anaerobic works to improve cardiac muscle strength. Not everyone benefits equally from exercise, though. Genes, diet, and testosterone have significant impact on exercise outcomes, especially in resistance training that anticipates muscle hypertrophy (Brutsaert, 2006). In aerobic exercise, glycogen is broken down to get glucose, which reacts with oxygen to produce carbon dioxide and water while producing energy. If there are no carbohydrates available for this process, fat is used, in which case the process slows down and performance declines. This gradual switch to fat as fuel results in “hitting the wall.” Where glycogen is burned without oxygen, there is anaerobic exercise, an inefficient process that makes the athlete “hit the wall” sooner. Short bursts of intense exertion are characteristic of this type of exercise.

Hey, That Hurt!

In either of these ventures, muscle needs to recover. And tomorrow morning you’ll discover muscle in places you didn’t know existed. Recovery time should be built into an exercise regimen, for this is the time the body adapts to the stress it just endured, and it reaps the benefits of the training. This is where energy stores are replenished and damage control gets to work. Then, there’s the fluid loss that needs to be addressed.  Overtraining without recovery can cause malaise, depressed affect, and increased risk of injury (Vetter, 2010) (Szovak, 2012).

Active recovery, or short-term, is that which occurs in the hours right after a workout, a time to perform low-intensity cool-down activities. This could continue into the next day.  Energy stores need to be rebuilt now to maximize protein synthesis, to prevent muscle breakdown and to increase muscle size. This is the time for the branched-chain amino acids (BCAA), leucine, isoleucine, and valine, three essential amino acids that share a common membrane transport system and account for almost thirty-five percent of the amino acids in muscle proteins.  Since muscle mass in a human is about forty percent of body weight, the reserve of BCAA’s is sizeable. Not only are BCAA’s helpful in recovery, but also they have a place in decreasing muscle soreness if used before a strenuous workout ( Shimomura, 2006). Leucine alone, consumed during steady exercise, was found to improve muscle protein synthesis during recovery (Pasiakos, 2011) (Blomstrand, 2006). Differing from short-term, long-term recovery is built into seasonal exercise programs and includes cross training, modified workouts, and changes in intensity or time.

Recovery?  How? 

During recovery it’s important to restock the stores of nutrients that were sacrificed to performance. You have to repair and recondition muscle. After endurance exercise, like running or cycling, glycogen is the most important factor in determining recovery time, and for this carbohydrates are required. One gram of carbohydrate per kilogram of body mass per hour is needed for recovery. That’s 68 grams for a 150-pound person. Adding protein at this time, at a ratio of 1 to 4, protein to carbs, results in a synergistic increase in insulin secretion that can possibly accelerate glycogen re-synthesis (Betts, 2010) (Beelen, 2010). It’s long been established that consuming carbohydrates and protein during the early phases of recovery plays an important part in subsequent performance.  Start eating within fifteen minutes to two hours after the game. Look for a quarter gram of protein per pound of body weight right away. More than one gram per pound could tax the kidneys.

Electrolyte replacement is vital to overall health as well as to athletic performance.  In this matter, one size does not fit all.  Instead, the factors that contribute to electrolyte and fluid disturbance need to be considered. The weather, prior hydration status, diet, genetics and physiology play a role in determining needs. Don’t rely on thirst to tell you when to drink.  Losing two percent of body weight to sweat begins dehydration; four percent will probably hospitalize you. It’s prudent to weight yourself beforehand, and to drink 24 ounces per pound of weight lost afterward. During the workout, try to get 20 – 40 ounces of fluid an hour. One cup every fifteen minutes is a start. You don’t want to use an electrolyte that contains sugar because that’ll affect the body’s ability to absorb electrolytes. Sodium is the first electrolyte lost to heavy sweating, so it needs replacement right away to prevent dehydration (Shirreffs, 2011) because it helps to retain water. Another benefit of sugarless electrolytes is that they stimulate thirst, so you will drink during a workout.  Prehydrating with an electrolyte at a rate of about one ounce( of diluted product if concentrated) for each ten pounds of body weight, starting a few hours before an event, will enhance fluid absorption during the game.

Anything Else?

Yep. Stretching after an event can assist recovery and help you cool down. Rest never hurts, and occasionally really helps. Getting a rub down improves blood flow; ice is nice.  Then there’s the alternating hot and cold shower. The theory behind this is that repeated constriction and dilation of blood vessels helps to push toxins out. You’ll see plenty of debate about this. Saving the best for last, we have sleep. You heal during sleep. You produce growth hormones.  Loss of sleep diminishes peak power during exercise, partly because it lowers maximum heart rate. It harms coordination and may adversely affect body temperature. When else can you dream about certain victory?

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