If you’re like me, recovery is the most neglected part of your workout routine. It’s always tempting to skip a stretch or avoid the water bottle, but neglecting post-workout recovery will hinder future workouts and limit your ability to achieve results. The American Council on Exercise says recovery is the most important component of an exercise program! Without it, you will feel sore, fatigued, or downright miserable during your next workout session.
The Importance of Post-Workout Recovery
Proper recovery helps restore energy and enhance athletic performance in three ways:
#1 Recovery Replenishes Creatine Phosphate and Glycogen Stores
Creatine phosphate and glycogen are two of your body’s primary energy sources. When depleted, you will feel sluggish and uncoordinated. Here’s how they work: creatine phosphate is used within the first 10 seconds of high-intensity exercise to create ATP, the body’s source of cellular energy. Likewise, glycogen, which is a stored form of glucose, is used during steady-state exercise to create ATP.
#2 Recovery Rids the Body of Damaging By-Products
Exercise leads to a buildup of metabolic by-products that can hinder future workouts, including lactate and protons. Without recovery measures, these by-products can accumulate and limit muscular contractions and energy replenishment, resulting in poor performance.
#3 Recovery Restores and Protects Muscle Tissue
High-intensity exercise can place stress on your muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Without proper recovery, this stress can cause weakness, soreness, and even pain.
Post-Workout Recovery 101
Now that you understand why recovery is important, let’s review guidelines for optimal recovery:
It’s no secret your body needs water to function. Dehydration can lead to exhaustion and reduced performance, so drink up before and after your workout! How much should you drink? Before your workout, drink 8 ounces of water. During your workout, drink 7-10 ounces every 20 minutes you’re exercising. After your workout, drink an additional 8 ounces. Weigh yourself before and after your workout, then consume 16-24 ounces of water for every pound lost during your session.
Keep an eye on your urine, too. Pale yellow urine that resembles lemonade indicates good hydration. If your urine is a darker tint of yellow, you’re dehydrated.
If you’re working out for longer than 60 minutes, consider a sports drink to replenish electrolytes. I recommend AMPED Hydrate, which you just mix with water.
Or, here’s an easy recipe homemade recipe:
- 16 oz. Water
- 1/8 Cup Sugar
- 1/8 tsp. Salt
- 1/4 Cup of 100% Fruit Juice of Your Choice
Stir, sip, and savor!
In conjunction with hydration, good nutrition is the key to achieving the best results from your workout. During recovery, protein and carbohydrates are the main nutrients your body craves.
Protein is used in the repair, maintenance, and growth of muscles and other connective tissues. Within one hour of your workout, you should consume approximately 20-30 grams of protein. It’s also important to spread your protein intake throughout the day. Physically active adults require approximately 0.4-0.6 grams of protein per pound of body weight. If you’re seeking muscle growth, an intake of 0.6-0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight is more appropriate. Some good sources of protein include nuts, beans, organic dairy, lean meats, and fish. I find using protein powder like IsaPro after a workout to be the easiest and simplest way to replenish protein levels.
Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, the body’s preferred energy source. Within 30 minutes of vigorous exercise, it’s important to replenish carbohydrate stores by consuming approximately .75 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight. Some healthy carbohydrate sources include fruits, vegetables, rice, quinoa, oatmeal, and whole-grain breads and pasta. Like your protein consumption, carbohydrate intake should be spread throughout the day, and carbohydrates should comprise 45%-65% of your total calorie intake. Sedentary adults should stay at the lower end of this ratio, while active individuals should consume a higher ratio of carbohydrate-rich calories.
Yes, that was a lot of numbers. Let’s make it simple. For optimal recovery, consume a post-workout meal that contains a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. For example, 1 cup of whole grain cereal, 1 small banana, and ½ cup of milk. Then, throughout the day consume a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and low-fat, organic dairy. This will ensure that your fueling your body with the proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals it needs for awesome athletic performance.
Stretching after a workout aids in relaxation, flexibility, and may aid in the prevention of soreness. The research is mixed on soreness, but we know flexibility does help prevent injury. So take 3-5 minutes to stretch after each workout. Perform at least one static stretch for each major muscle group, holding stretches for 15-30 seconds. Take deep breaths, relax, and listen to your body. Let it tell you which areas need some love. Trust me, your body will talk!
Rest is vital to replenishing energy stores and promoting the repair, maintenance, and growth of muscle tissue. To ensure proper recovery, make sure to sleep 7-8 hours each night and take at least one day off from training each week.
Advanced Post-Workout Recovery Techniques
Self-induced myofascial release using a foam roller has become a common practice amongst athletes. The theory is fascia, a tightly-wound network of collagen that surrounds bones and muscle tissues, become restricted via inflammation, poor postural alignment, and trauma. This inhibits movement and posture. Myofascial release may aid in restoring flexibility and improving postural alignment. The National Academy of Sports Medicine offers these tips for foam rolling:
- Use a foam rollerbefore stretching
- Slowly roll on the foam roller until a tender spot is located. Relax and hold the foam roller in the affected area for 30-90 seconds
- Check with your physician before foam rolling, as this practice may be dangerous to certain individuals, including those diagnosed with organ failure, bleeding disorders, and certain skin conditions
Who doesn’t love a massage? Massage is not only relaxing, it can also help speed recovery! Research shows that massage decreases muscular tension, stiffness, fatigue, and swelling, while increasing flexibility and athletic performance. It may be time to book an appointment!
Acupuncture is now widely-used to aid in post-workout recovery, especially for those suffering from injuries and delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Research has shown acupuncture to have a significant effect on pain perception and range-of-motion. Some studies have also demonstrated acupuncture may increase exercise capacity while decreasing resting heart rate. Many individuals swear by acupuncture’s restorative properties.
Post-Workout Recovery Made Simple
Good recovery practices are key to better workouts, better performance, and better results. Implementing a post-workout recovery program doesn’t have to be time-consuming or complicated. Let’s break everything we’ve discussed above down into simple, actionable steps:
- Drink lots of water – before, during, and after exercise
- Eat a healthy snack within 30-60 minutes of exercise. Try to keep the carb-to-protein ratio balanced at 3:1
- Stretch after your workout, holding each stretch for 15-30 seconds
- Sleep 7-8 hours per night
- Refrain from exercise at least one day per week to rest
- Explore more advanced recovery techniques such as foam rolling, massage, and acupuncture
Most of all, listen to your body. When you’re recovering properly, your body will tell you. Your workouts will be more enjoyable and you won’t experience fatigue and extreme soreness afterwards. Take care of your body, let it recover, and it will take care of you.This post contains advertisements and/or affiliate links. For more information, see our disclosure here.