Even if you work out every day, 95% of your time is spent outside the gym.
If you want to make the fastest gains possible, you need to optimize what you do after each workout. Otherwise your hard work will essentially be “wasted”.
In this article, you’ll learn 6 post-workout keys to maximize muscle growth.
#1: Eat Carbs to Replenish Glycogen
Studies show that up 80% of the ATP your body produces during a resistance training session comes from glycolysis.
What this means, in plain English, is that most of your energy during a weightlifting workout comes from the breakdown of glucose. Glucose (also known as blood sugar) is a just simple sugar molecule. It’s what every carb you eat eventually gets broken down into.
Now, carbs that aren’t immediately used for energy get stored in your muscles as glycogen. During a workout, glycogen gets converted back to glucose to supply your muscles with energy.
After a workout, the amount of glycogen in your body is significantly decreased. If you want to have the energy you need to get stronger and perform at a high level for your next workout, you need to eat enough carbs to replenish your glycogen.
(And, as we know, you need to get stronger if you want to efficiently build muscle.)
What this means for you is that you should be sure to eat a big serving of carbs after every workout. Now, it doesn’t need to be done IMMEDIATELY after you leave the gym. Studies show no difference between consuming carbs immediately post-workout versus waiting 2 hours. However, I wouldn’t advise waiting much longer than that, especially if you have another workout tomorrow.
Note: Another reason to make sure you eat enough carbs is because low carb diets have been shown to decrease testosterone levels (when combined with intense training).
#2: Stay Out of the Gym
If you’re anything like me, you want to train every single day. There’s nothing like lifting heavy ass weights and getting a good pump going.
But it’s important to realize that keeping yourself out of the gym can actually lead to faster gains.
On a basic level, understand that your body is actually in a catabolic state while you’re training. The anabolic response to weight lifting starts immediately AFTER you leave the gym and lasts approximately 36 hours (as shown in several studies).
During this time, your rates of muscle protein synthesis are raised in whichever muscles you trained. In case you aren’t aware, muscle protein synthesis is the process by which your body builds new muscle mass. Therefore, it’s important to rest these muscles for at least 36 hours after you work out.
If you perform another workout that targets the same muscles before that timeframe has ended, you will effectively be stunting your muscle growth.
This is one big reason I believe performing full-body workouts every other day is the fastest way to build muscle without steroids.
#3: Get Enough Sleep
In the video above I break down 6 ways to boost testosterone naturally…
Now, the amount of time you sleep is one of the biggest predictors of your testosterone levels.
In fact, studies show that restricting sleep to 5 hours per night for just one week can lower testosterone by 10-15%. And, not only does it limit your testosterone production, but sleep restriction has also been shown to cause a similar reduction in Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1).
Now, both testosterone and IGF-1 play a large role in the process of muscle protein synthesis. If these hormones are comprised, then it doesn’t matter what you do at the gym, your ability to build muscle will be severely limited.
The point is: if you want to maximize your gains, getting enough sleep is a must.
There’s no magic number here, but I recommend getting 8 hours per night if you want to be ABSOLUTELY certain that your hormone levels are fully optimized.
Now, getting sufficient sleep doesn’t just boost your hormone levels, it also gives you more energy in general. Think about it this way: when you’re well rested, how much easier is it to stay focused and crush your workouts versus when you only slept 4 or 5 hours last night?
#4: Foam Roll Tight Muscles
A few years ago, nobody knew what the hell a foam roller was. Hell, there are still times people come to my apartment and ask about the “torture device” in the corner of my room.
In case you don’t know, foam rollers are essentially small cylinders used to “massage” yourself.
Now, there are 2 main benefits to foam rolling: enhanced recovery and improved performance.
Just like getting a massage, foam rolling has been proven to reduce muscle soreness caused by lifting weights.
Now, there are also some key performance benefits that you get with foam rolling. You see, studies show that foam rolling can lead to a significant increase in your range of motion.
For example, if you’re someone who has trouble squatting to depth, and you foam roll your quads, hamstrings, and glutes, then you may be able to increase the range of motion around your hips and knees. And this will ultimately allow you to hit a deeper squat.
For this reason, I recommend foam rolling any “tight” muscles in your body.
For most guys, this means your quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, lower back, lats, and neck muscles. This doesn’t have to be done directly after a workout. In fact, I suggest doing it once per night, because these changes will often take several weeks of consistent foam rolling to take place.
[This is my recommended foam roller]
#5: Chill the F*ck Out
As we went over in #3, getting enough sleep is a crucial component of recovery and muscle growth. But even when you aren’t asleep, you still need to chill the f*ck out.
One on hand, stress causes a drop in testosterone levels. You see, when you’re stressed out, your body naturally releases a hormone called cortisol. And this, in turn, decreases your testosterone. Now, studies show this drop is only temporary, but if you’re always stressed out then it’s essentially a permanent drop.
So take a minute and answer these questions: what situations are constantly causing you stress? What times of day do you tend to be the most anxious?
Next, figure out how you can alleviate this stress, whether this means meditation (click here to see my article on meditation) or just better time management.
On the other hand, stress and anxiety also cause you to become fidgety and restless. This can impair your ability to go to sleep. And, if you’re a scrawny guy who struggles to gain weight, this can burn a lot of calories and make it even harder for you to pack on mass.
Regardless of your situation, taking time to determine your main source of stress – and then dealing with it – will vastly improve your recovery (and your overall quality of life).
#6: Eat Some Protein…. BEFORE You Work Out
You’ve probably been wondering: “When the hell is he going to tell me to drink a post-workout protein shake?”
Here’s the thing: the “30 minute anabolic window” myth has been disproven time and time again.
As we explored above, your rates of muscle protein synthesis are raised for a full 36 hours following a workout, not just 30 minutes.
Furthermore, studies show that what you eat BEFORE your workout has a bigger impact on your rates of muscle protein synthesis. One study compared the effects of consuming a mixture of amino acids and carbohydrates directly before versus directly after working out. It found that drinking the mixture before exercise produced a greater (and more sustainable) rise in muscle protein synthesis.
In other words, consuming some protein and carbs BEFORE a workout leads to a greater anabolic response than doing so afterwards.
…And this only makes sense. Every meal you eat takes several hours to digest. This means that the meal you ate before you hit the gym is supplying your body with nutrients during – and immediately after – your workout session.
For this reason, I recommend consuming a meal that contains both carbs and proteins 1-2 hours before your workout. If you prefer to train on an empty stomach, then obviously have a smaller meal (like a protein shake, for example).
How to Optimize Post-Workout Recovery
Before I close out, let’s quickly review the main points of this article.
If you want to optimize your post-workout recovery and maximize muscle growth, be sure to follow these tips:
- Include a lot of carbs in your post-workout meal to replenish muscle glycogen
- Always leave at least one full day of rest in between training the same muscle group
- Sleep a full 8 hours per night to optimize your testosterone and energy levels
- Foam roll any tight muscles once per day to reduce soreness and increase ROM
- Manage your stress levels through meditation or better time management
- Consume a small to medium size meal of carbs and proteins 1-2 hours pre-workout
Follow all of these steps and you’ll optimize your body’s natural anabolic response to each and every training session you complete.
Thanks for this, David!
I was definitely in the ‘need to work out everyday’ mode for a bit, but realized it was just to help deal with work/career stress instead of doing me any real good health-wise. Taking appropriate rest was real important (and the meditation bit). Definitely seeing better results after instituting more rest into my weekly schedule.
Yeah man, it’s important to realize that stress adds up – and that working out is essentially additional stress on your body. If you don’t balance this stress with rest and mindfulness, there will be negative side effects.
Great article! I honestly didn’t know about the carbs being so important. It’s been hard for me to keep up with the carbs in SEA because rice and noodles just seem unhealthy. Been trying to eat a lot of bananas, potatoes. I was loving in Latin America the massive plantains and yucca root. It seemed like those were the best two carbs for muscle gains.
Also, on a side note, I stumbled upon your site a few days ago. I really appreciate your advice on writing e-books. I’ve got my first one in the works. If you don’t mind I have a couple quick questions. What is the average length of your books? Do you pay an editor? I’m a writer by trade, and editors usually kind of piss me off haha.
The videos are great too! You had me inspired and laughing in a few parts.
Thanks dude, glad you’re liking the content!
My books are usually around 20-30,000 words. And yes, I usually pay an editor (also, grammarly is a cool app that’s basically a spelling/grammar checker on steroids).
Hi David! Thanks for an awesome article! I have a question for you regarding rest days. I’ve been going through the calisthenic program, working out on mondays, wednesdays and fridays. Do you think mu muscle growth will be stunted if I start swimming on tuesdays, thursdays and saturdays???
Yes, most likely. Swimming burns a lot of calories, so you will need to eat more in order to maintain a slight caloric surplus and give your body the energy it needs to build new muscle.
Also not to forget adding yoga into your workout routine helps immensely. I finally decide to jump into yoga from reading your article. Thanks David.
Good addition James. It’s a great combination of meditation and stretching.
So should I not do shoulders if I did chest the day before? Do I need to give my chest 36 hrs to repair?
Yeah it’s not ideal since chest and shoulder pressing movements both hit the front delts, upper chest, and triceps.
Super read again david. Question for you regarding carbs. I eat breakfast at around 7:15am. Bowl of oats in milk,Banana and protein shake. I eat 2 boiled eggs at 9am. I then hit the gym at 11am. i take my pre-workout shake+another scoop of protein powder roughly half hour b4 my workout. while im getting ready in the changing rooms i normally eat about 2 multigrain ricecakes which has 10g of carbs. I eat another 2 rice cakes post workout aswell with my post shake.I normally finish my workout at 12:30 then eat chicken.rice.brocalli at 1pm.Is the rice cakes ok for quick carbs and if so is 2 pre&post enough?? Thanks again for everything
Hey Stephen, you’re worrying about too many details here. Rice cakes are fine if you enjoy them. Eat as many as gives you good energy for your workout (without feeling bloated). It’s more important that your overall calories are on point, in terms of building muscle or burning fat.
am so skinny ectomorph , is it possible to gain muscle with pair of 6kg dumbbells and a pull up bar , I used to eat 2eggs , 2glass of milk, 4meals per day
now am 147lb and 6feet tall I wanna be 173lb , and i cant hit the gym with my busy schedule, and I used to workout 45min in my home, give me some more tips to gain muscle quickly,
Hey Raj, check out this quick video I made for ectomorphs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1r0b2OvSV3k
Thanks for the tips. I drink lots of water for a better recovery. Exercising while dehydrated may cause muscle damage and reduce the body’s ability to repair itself. Drink and drink (water not a cup of beer :)))
Great tips. Eat potassium rich food, reduce stress for better recovery
I just droped 110 pounds fron getting the sleave operation lost srength and mucsle mass,Im 61 yrs old I want to get my mucsle and srength backcoyuld you help me.
Great article on recovery! Glad to see others out there putting out great content to help guys get into shape. Keep up the good content.
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