Fitness expert Ben Greenfield shares his tips for optimal exercise frequency and recovery.
One of the major causes of burn out or exhaustion-related illness is over exercise. While exercising is beneficial, over exercising can be detrimental to health.
It’s important to know how and for how long to recover. Listening to the body for signs of recovery is key. You can build an intuitive awareness of what your body needs or judge by certain metrics.
Ben Greenfield is a self-described biohacker who has maximized his athletic performance through a science-based approach.
He balances hard workouts with active rest days to avoid overtraining.
Ben Greenfield was recently a guest on my podcast where he shared some tips for how to exercise optimally.
He discussed two types of recovery. Muscular skeletal recovery is judged by soreness or tired muscles. But neuromuscular fatigue is harder to gauge and deals with recovery of the nervous system.
Nervous system recovery is equally important as muscular skeletal recovery, so even when soreness is gone, it doesn’t mean the body is ready for another intense workout.
Exercise frequency has no general guidelines, but is determined by age, lifestyle, health, and genetics. This unique formula for each person is determined by monitoring the body’s signs and signals.
One of the best ways to monitor recovery is with a heart rate variability monitor. When heart rate variability is depressed, it’s a signal to rest.
Active rest means engaging in less strenuous activity. Examples are walking, swimming, gentle yoga and stretching, deep tissue massage, foam rolling exercises, and sauna sessions.
It’s also a good idea to support the body through supplementation with trace minerals, omega fats, DHA, creatine, amino acids, choline, oleic acid, ATP, and calcium. You can use supplements or whole food nutrients like eggs, olives and olive oil, wild caught fish, spirulina, and chlorella, to name a few.
Getting enough calories and carbs is also crucial for athletic recovery. The ketogenic diet, that’s currently popular with athletes, is way too low carb for performance and recovery. The ketogenic diet encourages the body to burn fat for energy instead of sugar/glucose. Most ketogenic diets are geared towards healing diseases such as diabetes, epilepsy, cancer, or autism, or for weight loss, with carbs limited to between 40 and 50 grams per day.
Athletes need an average of 150-200 grams of carbs daily to recover properly and replenish the liver with glycogen.
Greenfield works out intensely three times a week and has three active rest days, with one day spent hiking for three hours in a fasted state.
He determined his personal workout schedule by tracking daily metrics such as weight, diet, resting heart rate, sleep, and heart rate variability.
His favorite trick for speedy recovery is hot and cold contrast therapy. This consists of alternating extremely cold and hot water for 20 seconds and 10 seconds, respectively, about 10 times in the shower. You can also do this in a sauna/hot tub and cold plunge pool.
He also uses compression boots to pump out metabolic waste, ice baths, and vibrational tools (known as percussive therapy) to decrease soreness.
Greenfield also suggests avoiding anti-oxidants such as vitamin C, E, glutathione, dark berries, and cherries to mitigate the inflammatory and free radical response to exercise (known as the hermetic response), but rather letting the body produce its own endogenous antioxidants.
Because Greenfield is not interested in putting on muscle size, he also fasts a few hours post workout, because it raises growth hormone, which burns fat.
For people who are just starting to exercise after recovering from illness, it’s important to take it slow and have realistic expectations about benefits and body changes. It takes 2 to 4 weeks to get stronger and 4 to 6 weeks to start putting on muscle and seeing changes in body composition. Patience, pacing, recovery, and tracking body metrics is the key to optimal benefit from exercise.