The Ultimate Post Workout Recovery Guide
When it comes to developing and committing to a fitness regimen, you probably spend most of your time focusing on what you're doing at the gym. You decide on an exercise (running, weight-lifting, yoga, Zumba) and a schedule, and then you just do it. Once you've checked your sweat session off your to-do list, you probably feel free to forget about it and go about the rest of your life. What you may not know, however, is that just as important as what you do during your workout is what you do after your workout. These post-workout tips will help you maximize your results while minimizing soreness.
After your workout, it's important that you rehydrate your body. How much? It's estimated that you can sweat out between 1 and 4% of your body weight for every hour of an intense workout. Weight yourself immediately before and after your workout, without drinking anything in between. For every pound you lost, replace it with 16 to 20 ounces of water.
You may wonder if you should drink a sports rehydration drink such as Gatorade or Powerade. These drinks contain electrolytes that can be lost in sweat. Usually, these types of beverages are not necessary for most people who are not exercising at high intensity for long periods of time outdoors.
Use a foam roller.
Using a foam roller after your workout can help your muscles recover from exercise. A foam roller is a tube of foam that basically can be used to give yourself a deep tissue massage. This self-myofascial release works by applying direct pressure to your muscles to loosen them up so that you won't feel so sore and stiff later. You can use a foam roller on all of your large muscle groups like your calves, back, glutes, hamstrings, and quads. There are different types of foam rollers available, including soft, firm, grid, deep tissue, and even vibrating. Each one provides a more intense experience than the last. It may hurt, but it is one of those hurts that feels so good!
Cool down and stretch.
After you finish your workout, it's important to give your body a chance to slow down and cool off. Give yourself at least five minutes of time to do some light cardio to slow your breathing and your heart rate. Make sure you stretch too. This will not only increase your flexibility and range of motion but can also decrease soreness. Hold your stretches for at least 15 seconds to achieve the full benefits.
Some studies have found that sleep is an important component to post-workout recovery. Your body secretes hormones while you sleep, including muscle-building anabolic hormones. Additionally, you don't sleep enough, you'll feel more tired which can make you want to skip your workout or reduce how much time you spend at the gym. Lack of sleep can negatively impact your form during exercise and your body may not respond and adapt as well to the stress of training – both of which can lead to injury.
You may feel that because you worked out you can now eat whatever you want without consequence. After all, you just burned all of those calories, right? Not so fast! You want to refuel your body the right way so that you can ensure a good recovery. When you exercise, your body uses glycogen (the storage form of glucose, from carbohydrates) which is found in your muscles. It's important that you eat something with carbohydrate to replenish those stores. You also want to eat protein since it's needed for muscle building and will help speed your recovery. The right post-workout recovery snack will contain both protein and carbohydrate, plus offer you electrolytes that you sweat out while exercising.
Aim to eat something within 30 to 60 minutes after your workout. Some ideas include:
- A cup of low-fat chocolate milk
- Low-fat Greek yogurt topped with berries
- A hard-boiled egg and slice of whole wheat toast
- 2-3 dates with a tablespoon of peanut butter
- A slice of whole wheat toast with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter and half of a banana
- A small handful of raisins and unsalted nuts
Take a cool shower.
Some athletes will brace themselves for a soak in a tub full of ice, but you don't have to go quite that far! Instead, take a cool – not freezing – shower, which will still work to decrease muscle inflammation and soreness. DOMS, which stands for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, can result in you saying "ow" with every little movement the next day if you don't take care. Just turn your water temperature down a few degrees lower than usual to reap the benefits.
Give yourself a break.
Make sure that you schedule enough recovery time between your workouts. This gives your muscles time to recover and rebuild. Many new gym-goers make the mistake of working the same muscle groups day after day. You should give your muscles 24-72 hours rest. Instead of skipping your workouts multiple times a week, plan to exercise different muscle groups on different days. For example, rotate days where you work upper body and lower body muscle groups. On your rest days, you can still engage in low-key exercise such as going for a walk, taking a relaxing yoga class, and more! If you feel stressed that missing one day at the gym will ruin your progress, you can relax. Rest is an important component to your overall workout recovery and for prevention of injuries.
In your quest for a healthy lifestyle, it's crucial that you not only consider what you do during your workouts but that you also take care after your sweat session. The tips above will help you with your overall recovery, reducing muscle soreness and helping your body see gains. Make sure that you always cool down and make time to stretch at the end of your workout. Drink plenty of water to rehydrate yourself and eat the right fuel afterwards to promote muscle building, replenish glycogen stores, and replace electrolytes. Foam rolling and taking a cool shower can reduce soreness. Finally, give your muscles time to rest and make sure you're getting enough sleep.