fight or flight to rest and digest

fight or flight to rest and digest

One of the least glamorous aspects of taking training seriously is the old-man style of an evening ritual.

You might not be looking for an article for the best way to get cosy for bedtime, but today we’re going to explore what evening rituals can do for your training. We’re going to layer that up with how you can improve your evenings to improve your results for strength, size, and performance.

It’s not all slippers and cocoa, but that’s pretty cool too. Read on if you want to get your performance and recovery game up. If it’s good enough for Olympians, it might be good enough for you…

Winding Down

The general concept for the evening routine of a serious lifter is winding down. Training might be time for hype and maximal effort, but the post-training plan needs to be relaxation and recovery.

The idea is to get into non-ruminative time as soon as possible. You want to switch from the sympathetic nervous system to the autonomic as soon as possible. In the usual terms, you want to get from ‘fight or flight’ to ‘rest and digest’.

This isn’t just a physical thing; it’s not just the difference between working out and sitting down. It’s a whole change from the way you think and behave during times of high- vs low-stress. The sooner you get stress levels down, the sooner your recovery starts – and the more effective it will be!

The recovery and growth processes are closely tied together, so better recovery means better gains, and better performance next time you’re training.

Active Relaxation

There are a lot of ways you can improve your recovery with relaxation. Active relaxation refers to a range of practices from yoga to stretching to meditation or mindfulness. The common thread is focus on things like breathing, releasing tension, and generally making relaxation the active priority.

Hence the name.

Whichever you’re going for, pick one method you’ve found works for you and commit to it. It could be anything from guided meditation to stretching with low-tempo music, taking a relaxing walk in some nature, or just taking 10 minutes to focus on breathing and relaxing.

It sounds like some new age hippy stuff, but your behaviour influences your hormonal and psychological environment, which affect your recovery. Never underestimate the importance of controlling your anxiety, and always practice winding down on purpose for better recovery!


You could be eating once, twice, or ten times after a workout. Doesn’t matter to us too much, but what matters is how you structure them.


Post-workout (if you train in the evening) should be high protein, high carb. This is pretty standard, but after that you should continue to focus on protein from food and supplementation. The GI of your post-workout carbs should be high, since they’re combined with protein anyway.

This is a good time to get your post-workout sugars; a protein shake and your favourite carby-sugary snack does wonders here. It’s not something you should do all the time, but if you’re looking for that balance in your diet, put your doughnut here with a shake.

The post-workout meal, alternatively, should be carbs and proteins. Fats would only slow digestion at this point so they can wait; think less chips, more sweet chilli rice (white) and chicken breast.

Evening meals

If you trained earlier in the day, your evening meals are normal. Equally, if you’re eatin after your post-workout meal/shake then you need to have an idea of what it’s for.

The evening meal is traditionally the biggest and this is useful for recovery. Since it’s usually the last meal before a lot of time sleeping/not-eating, it should be low GI and high in protein, fats, and fiber.

The evening meal is typically centred around a quality protein source (fattier foods like salmon are great here) and a sustained carb like beans. There’s a lot to be said for a protein-heavy legume casserole before bed, both because it’s hearty and full of the kinds of nutrients you need for best performance.


The obvious pre-bed option, if you’re not full and you need to improve your nutritional choices, is a slow-digesting shake.

Casein is the most popular for this and its been proven to increase protein accretion more effectively over a 7-hour period. This is great since that’s most of the sleep duration, and it’s a great choice for prebiotic benefits, too.

Alternatively, plant proteins are a step in this direction since they’re slower-absorbing than whey. The 7hr protein accretion stat is also more closely tied to muscular gains than the short-term benefits of a whey protein.

Casein is great and if you combine it with the other advice we’ve discussed, the session-to-session recovery can be seriously improved.


Right, hear us out: herbal teas are great.

Green tea and others are specifically useful for lifters, they help reduce stress, and they’re useful for winding down in response to higher-caffeine drinks. Yes, they contain caffeine, but also very little is pulled through the brewing process.

On the other hand, GABA (y-aminobutyric acid) is one of the best recovery compounds. You’re looking at improved HGH kinetics after exercise, the possibility of better relaxation, and some general antioxidant properties.

Speaking of antioxidants, there are significant benefits to the natural polyphenols from tea. They’re brilliant for health, and that’s on top of the recovery perks we’ve already mentioned!

Drink your tea post-workout and you’re going to start recovery and a gentle, peaceful down-gear towards relaxation. We love it, you should too.

Final Thoughts

It’s not all about getting hyped up. A significant amount of your training recovery is based on what you do when you’re not in the gym, and a good evening routine is a big contributor.

Getting into better habits – even if they’re simple dietary and relaxation regimes – are great for you. The sense of control that this kind of routine brings, as well as the hard, scientific benefits all add up.

Exert some more intentional control over your habits in this way and you’ll see serious change in the long-run. The best results for Olympians come from these kinds of small lifestyle changes, built up over years. Never underestimate the importance of these small, overlooked factors!


About The Author


Professional sport/fitness writer, Weightlifter, high-performance enthusiast. Liam wears many hats, but they’re unified by a love for competition, performance, and engaging writing. You can get in touch (or hurl abuse) over at ApexContent.Org.