As athletes and exercise enthusiasts, we tend to put most of our energy and focus into what goes on in the gym. In reality, though, achieving our fitness goals has a lot to what we do when we’re not working out. The minute we walk out of the gym, we enter a state of recovery, but that doesn’t mean we should instantly revert to laziness or stagnancy. To get the most out of our workouts, we have to make sure we’re leveraging our efforts in the gym, the kitchen and beyond. Here are a few of our post workout recovery tips to help you make the most of the recovery period.
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- Ease Soreness —The technical term for post-exercise soreness is delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and, while it may be unpleasant, it’s necessary to help you advance to the next level. When you lift weights in the gym, you’re effectively creating teeny-tiny tears in the muscles, which helps them grow. But you want to make sure you don’t let soreness take over your recovery days so you miss out on active recovery opportunities as well as pure relaxation.
- Soak in the tub with bath additives that help promote relief. For example, CBD bath bombs can help you relax and prevent discomfort.
- Give yourself a gentle massage with a recovery cream that provides relief on contact. You can also use a foam roller to work out the stiffness.
- Use a heating pad or warm compress to help get the blood flowing and provide some comforting relief.
- Hydrate — We focus so much on chugging the H2O while we work out, we often forget that it’s necessary after we walk out of the gym, too. Make sure you’re getting enough water during recovery periods to help ensure that the muscles, tendons and joints get the vitamins, minerals and nutrients they need to thrive. Being dehydrated can slow muscle recovery and quell your energy levels.
- Stretch — Did you know that you’re supposed to stretch after you exercise, too? Indeed, the pre-workout stretch is crucial to helping you feel limber and prevent injuries, but doing so after the fact can help, too. Taking a few gentle stretches — perhaps in the form of a 10- or 15-minute restorative yoga session — can help ease the pain and tension that may come after a strenuous session.
- Get Your Nutrients — Most of us know that a healthy diet is crucial to the post-gym strategy, but you want to make sure you’re doing it right. What you eat after a workout helps your body rebuild its glycogen stores — which, in turn, helps rebuild and strengthen muscle fibers — while increasing the growth of new muscles. Here’s what you need to eat after you work out:
- Protein. As you probably already know, eating enough protein is crucial to supplying your body with everything it needs to repair those damaged muscles. One thing to note? The experts say you don’t have to cram all the protein into a tiny window post-workout.
- Carbs. If you’re trying to cut weight, it can be tempting to ditch the carbs, but you need them for energy and to stay full. They help restore your body’s stash of glycogen, which acts as fuel when you’re working out. Just make sure you’re consuming healthy carbs that won’t cause dramatic spikes, like sweet potatoes, quinoa, fruits, oats, whole grain pasta and other wholesome carbohydrate foods.
- Fat. With the rise of popular diets like the keto diet, we all know that fat is not the villain it once was. In recovery, healthy fats can help with a variety of metabolic and hormonal functions necessary to help us grow muscle.
- Rest — Of course, regular exercise is essential to your health and wellness, so you don’t want to compromise your routine too much. With that being said, make sure you’re on a schedule that allows for some rest. Simply put, your body isn’t going to grow bigger or stronger unless you give it the time to recover. Not only should you make sure to pepper your week with full-blown rest days, but you should also make sure you’re getting the right amount of sleep each night in order to help your body recover. Athletes need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night to help facilitate the muscle-building hormones necessary for recovery.
- Cut Stuff Out — Encouraging faster recovery isn’t just about the things you do do, but also about the things you don’t do. Be sure to avoid any foods, drinks and substances that might slow your recovery. Anything that’s prone to causing inflammation or that might cause dehydration or insomnia should be off-limits. For example, you’ll definitely want to put alcohol, coffee and other stimulants on the no-fly list while you’re recovering.
- Go for the Cold — Athletes have been soaking in ice-cold H2O for ages to help facilitate recovery. But does it work? While more studies are still needed, there is some evidence to suggest that taking a plunge in cold water — otherwise known as cold water immersion therapy — can help boost strength gains and rebuild muscles faster. If you’re feeling sore, you may also find that you can benefit from a cold compress, such as an ice pack, to get some relief. Just make sure to never use ice or a cold pack on an injury or acute pain, as this can worsen things.
- Practice Active Recovery — As tempting as it may be, don’t spend your off-days doing nothing. While rest is crucial to recovery, getting in some light movement can help muscles rebuild because it boosts the flow of blood. However, you need to be careful about overworking your joints, which is why it’s best to practice more gentle forms of exercise on your recovery days, such as some restorative yoga, a leisurely bike ride or a relaxed hike.
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In exercise, recovery means more than simply letting your body rest. Sure, that’s a part of it. But there’s more to the story. You want to make sure you’re giving your body the tools it needs to thrive while it’s on and off the job, and that means thinking about diet, active recovery and conscious healing.