Moving around is one of the best-documented means of having a positive impact on overall health. For moms juggling a hectic lifestyle, keeping in mind that research has shown 15 minutes a day spent walking can help reduce the risk of nearly every major disease. Understanding some of the most basic aspects of how your body recovers and grows stronger from exercise can help you stay fit while juggling the many challenges of motherhood!
The Science of Maximizing Workout Impact
Working out is simple enough—understanding how to maximize the benefits of working out can be a bit more difficult. Diet, workout frequency, and even sleep all play integral roles in how our bodies respond to, and recover from, exercise. Nearly regardless of exercise type, the human body undergoes many similar processes which can be addressed through the scope of these three considerations. When muscles are worked they create small tears which need to be repaired. (not unlike how juggling 3 screaming kids seems to tear apart one’s nerves!)
These repairs, when done under optimal circumstances, result in a stronger muscle upon completion. For these anabolic (muscle-building) processes to go off without a hitch the body needs the raw materials to build new muscle and the time to do so. Timing your workouts to accommodate these repairs, as well as taking steps to maximize the benefits of sleep, can help ensure your workouts are giving you the most benefit possible. Let’s consider each of these approaches in a little more depth.
When one undergoes a physical exertion where muscles are involved, there exists the potential from muscle damage to occur. During workouts—this is actually the goal for those seeking to build muscle mass or strength, though not always readily recognized. When muscle tissue is damaged it signals the body that repairs are needed. Unfortunately, sidestepping your kids while trying to relax after a long shift at work doesn’t qualify as sustained exercise. You might create tears in your clothing, but it won’t count as a workout!
The body, being the amazing system that it is, recognizes that these damages came in light of a degree of activity higher than normal activity. That’s to say; the body recognizes that it needs to get stronger! There is a lot of complicated biochemical processes involved with the repair of muscle. We’re not going to dive too deep into all of them, but just know it’s generally a balance of time, nutrition, and sleeping (not kids!). Eating well, giving your body enough time to repair itself before working out the same muscles, and ensuring that repair time is maximized (better sleep) will benefit your workouts greatly.
Science varies with regards to the most appropriate intervals needed between training sessions. The types of training, the muscle groups targeted, and the duration of training all play a factor in consideration. For reference, one study among older men found that 5 day intervals between sessions of high intensity interval training (HIIT) were ideal to produce significant improvements . This might seem irrelevant to the lifestyle of the working mom but it helps illustrate how powerful quick bursts of exercise can be. Rather than finding the motivation to stop at the gym after a 12 hour shift, before getting home to deal with screaming kids, you might be able to benefit from 15 minutes of focused high-intensity exercise. Think of it like running sprints vs. running laps around the track.
When the body undergoes processes of muscle damage it necessitates a higher demand for raw nutritional compounds to make repairs. Amino acids are the primary compounds used to build new tissue and are found, most prevalently, in high-protein foods. You’ve maybe heard of pro-body builders eating raw eggs before or after their workouts. This is due to the high-degree of protein content found in eggs, as well as their easily-digestible forms. Try making quick and easy snacks that your kids will love that you can also use for your own post-workout nutritional needs. Nut-butter spreads, rice and beans, and even some smoothies (if you can pull that one over on your kids!) can all help give you the protein your body needs to repair itself from workouts.
Many serious body builders utilize more specialized solutions today than raw eggs. Almost all workout recovery nutrition focuses heavily on protein and/or amino acids. Ensuring adequate protein consumption during times of higher physical exertion is vital for ensuring new muscle growth. In fact, if adequate proteins aren’t available in the diet the body will begin to break down existing protein structures to get the amino acids it needs. You probably recognize this process as catabolism— the opposite of anabolism. As you might imagine, the breaking down existing muscle tissue to get the ingredients to make new muscle tissue isn’t the ideal way to go about building new muscle! It’s kind of like trying to clean your kids room up to show them how they should be cleaning it.
Getting Enough Sleep
Sleep is when our bodies repair us from the damages of the day, among other things. The focus of attention goes from a survival state to one of calm (hopefully) internal assessment. Imagine yourself sitting in a crowd of 10,000 strangers. At any given time, you’d likely be affording some thought to the possibility of harm. Now imagine sitting in the same area without the crowd—you’d be much more able to relax without considering what was going on around you. The body regards sleep much in the same way. For most moms, sleep is one of the rarest commodities on Earth and they are never alone. Be it work, be it kids; finding enough quiet time to relax is hard enough. Finding 8 hours to sleep is downright impossible. This is why it’s so important to maximize the benefits of what little sleep you are able to get.
When we sleep, our body secretes beneficial hormones like testosterone and growth hormone. Science has shown that when adequate sleep isn’t observed, conditions that favor muscle loss such as sarcopenia and cachexia can arise . There are many different approaches one might take to help support better natural sleep patterns. Natural sleep aids such as melatonin can help promote more regular sleeping patterns, abstaining from digital devices prior to sleep can help support natural sleep cycles, and the comfort of one’s bed can also play a tremendous role.
If you sleep in an uncomfortable bed you’re likely to toss and turn throughout the night which could potentially disturb deeper sleep cycles. Working to address this concern isn’t always the cheapest—usually requiring one to get a new mattress—but can be effective. There are some really decent mattresses available now that aren’t that expensive. Getting your kids down for the night, trying to forget the day, and winding down from heroic doses of caffeine can make sleep an uphill battle for working Moms. You want to control as many aspects of your sleep routine as you can. Having a bedroom that feels cozy and safe, having a mattress that feels like a cloud, and giving your body the time it needs to repair itself can all help maximize your workout benefits.
Exercise is, without a doubt, a powerful means of supporting vibrant health throughout life. Science continues to discover and describe new ways in which simple exercise routines are capable of impacting nearly every aspect of human health (including one’s sanity). To help maximize the benefits of your workouts, especially those intended to grow new muscle; the key considerations outlined here should be given thought. Nutrition, sleeping, and adequate recovery periods are all vital to ensure you’re able to get the most benefit from your hard-earned workout times. After all, going through the effort of stealing away some ‘me’ time should have as much impact as possible!
1. Sculthorpe NF, Herbert P, Grace F. One session of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) every 5 days, improves muscle power but not static balance in lifelong sedentary ageing men: A randomized controlled trial. Medicine (Baltimore). 2017;96(6):e6040.
2. Dattilo M, Antunes HK, Medeiros A, et al. Sleep and muscle recovery: endocrinological and molecular basis for a new and promising hypothesis. Med Hypotheses. 2011;77(2):220-2.