Everyone knows that working out is the best way to get stronger, build endurance, improve your posture, and boost your mental health, among myriad other benefits. As you reach for your fitness goals, though, it’s easy to focus only on the active part of building muscle. But the other half of training is rest, which is arguably the most important thing you can do for yourself between those intense training sessions. Both sleep and time away from the gym are necessary to recover from workouts and build the strength you need to consistently train hard. We talked to an expert to get the lowdown on the importance of rest and recovery in any workout regimen.

Workouts cause microscopic damage to the muscle fibers, and we need periods of rest to allow time for our bodies to repair this damage and prepare our muscles to work even harder the next time around. Albert Salopek, LAc, ATC, CMT, an athletic trainer and licensed acupuncturist who works with athletes, emphasizes just how important rest and recovery are. “You can’t train hard, day after day, if your body is not recovered,” he cautions. “During a workout, your muscles begin to break down… During rest is when the body starts to repair and rebuild the broken-down structures and refill your glycogen stores,” Salopek explains. Without sleep and down time worked into your training schedule, Salopek cautions, “your muscle tissue will be constantly broken down, which will lead not only to fatigue but will most likely end with an injury.”

Properly fueling your body after your workout goes hand-in-hand with rest. During a workout, your body depletes the glycogen (simple carbs) stores to power you through your workout. “You have a 30-minute window, post-exercise, when the body is most optimally able to restore that used-up glycogen. It is also important to provide the body with the necessary tools to start the rebuilding of broken-down muscle tissue with protein.”

Overtraining happens when you slog to the gym day after day with no rest days, or don’t get enough sleep or proper nutrition over time. Slipping up occasionally is fine, but when you fall into chronic overtraining, you’ll start losing the benefits of working out. According to Salopek, signs of chronic overtraining include “persistent muscle soreness, elevated resting heart rate, increased incidence of injury, irritability, depression, loss of motivation, insomnia, decreased appetite, and weight loss.”

“If you improve the recovery process, you will [benefit more] from your training,” says Salopek. “You can’t just grab your shoes and get moving. Training is more like a fine-tuned recipe. As long as your recipe is on point, your progress and accomplishments will follow.” To get the most out of your workouts and to feel energized and optimistic as you go about your life, make sure that you fuel properly after your workouts, get a full night’s sleep every night, and take two days off from working out a week. Work in a full week or two of rest every few months to make sure you’re giving your body what it needs to recover.

How do you like to recover from workouts? Let us know @BritandCo!

(Photo via Getty)