To start off, a surprising fact: Training will not improve your muscle condition unless two other key conditions are met. Muscle growth depends on three key things: growth stimulation (i.e. training), nutrition and rest. Each of these must be done sufficiently if you want your muscle condition to improve through training. Remember: muscle growth happens during rest.
The job of nutrition is to start the recovery process and to reverse the so-called catabolic (tissue breakdown) state which follows a heavy workout. The body is always in either a catabolic or anabolic (tissue-building) state. There is no in-between. If you keep your body in a catabolic state your ability to improve your muscle size and condition through training will decrease or even end up in muscle loss. The catabolic state is best prevented though post-workout nutrition that includes both protein and carbohydrates in a fast-absorbing form. Fat should not be included in post-training nutrition because it slows down all nutrient absorption. Milk products can be used if no faster absorbing protein is available, but they should in this case be preferably fat-free. Your body also needs proper pre-workout nutrition, remembering of course that you don’t want to be working out on a full stomach.
In your recovery drink, the job of the carbohydrates is to replenish your depleted energy reserves and to raise the level of insulin in the body, which in turn causes the body to absorb the protein in the recovery drink. Insulin “transports” the protein to the muscles. Muscles are made of protein. If the body is not fed enough protein after physical stress, it will take it from its own muscles – always bad news for the bodybuilder.
After a hard workout, the body’s immunity remains lower for a while, so it is worth taking a vitamin C supplement before or after training. Vitamin C is also important for good muscle condition, and has been found to reduce post-training muscular pain. The more you train, the more minerals, micronutrients and vitamins the body uses, so you need to make sure that you are getting enough essential vitamins and minerals.
There is no benefit whatsoever to be gained from training to excess. Doing so puts the body in danger of over training burnout. Classic symptoms of over training include, for example, high resting pulse, insomnia and weight loss. It is actually fairly easy to wind up in an over trained state, simply by working out hard and forgetting to get enough food and rest. Recovery from over training requires plenty of rest, nutrition and a complete time-out from training for a while.
If you are not doing any other sports or physical exercise, you can hit the gym five times a week without putting yourself at risk of over training, as long as you are getting enough sleep and proper nutrition. If, on the other hand, you do other sports, you need to keep your workouts to three days maximum per week, because the risk of over training will be high. If you don’t stick to these fundamental rules, your workouts will be wasted and you could actually end up damaging your body. The misguided “the more I punish myself the fitter I’ll get” mind-set can be a long, long way from the truth. The old saying “moderation in all things” is true, too, in bodybuilding.