You survived a tough workout. Now what? As much as you might feel like collapsing on the couch and not moving for hours, or splurging on a slice of chocolate cake to reward yourself, there are more important things that need to be done. The post-workout period is a time when your muscles, worn out from exercise, are breaking down. They need the right nutrients – and your body needs the right treatment – to recover properly. Here are 10 things you can do to make the most of this critical window.
1. Eat protein
Ideally, you’ll eat within 60 minutes of your workout. Choosing high-quality protein will aid in muscle repair, promoting strength building while your body rests until the next workout. Chicken, egg whites and tuna are all great protein post-workout meals. An even easier option is to drink a protein shake immediately after exercise. Whey protein, which is easily absorbed, is a good pick.
2. Eat carbohydrates
Along with protein, a complex carbohydrate (such as oatmeal or rice), along with simple carbs (from fruit, for example), helps with repairing muscles and boosting energy after a vigorous workout. Simply put, carbs will re-energize your body as they slowly turn into calories—so you have plenty of time to burn them before they turn into fat.
When we exercise, a lot of fluid is lost through sweating. Hydrating post workout is an easy way to aid recovery and to support all body functions. If you’re not a fan of plain water, try something with a little flavor, like coconut water. It's packed with potassium, magnesium and calcium, which helps maintain proper fluid balance in the body, while being free of the e dyes and artificial ingredients you’ll find in many sports drinks.
One of the easiest things you can to do to promote optimal recovery after exercise is rest. Resting allows the body to repair muscle tissue at a natural pace. If time permits, take a 10- to 15-minute cat nap post workout. If it doesn’t, try to carve in some quiet time to just relax.
Gentle stretching after a tough workout not only helps with muscle recovery, it’s a great way to increase flexibility, as your muscles are already warm. Be sure to breathe through the stretches, taking notice of any aches and pains, and let your body cool down and your mind relax.
6. Get a massage
It sounds like a luxury, but getting a massage helps with post-workout recovery for a number of reasons. A massage can improve your circulation, reduce lactic acid buildup in the muscles, relieve sore muscles and decrease swelling. If paying for a massage isn’t in your budget, consider self-massaging with a foam roller.
7. Take glutamine
Glutamine is an amino acid found naturally in your muscles. During exercise, glutamine levels are depleted significantly, which interferes with healthy recovery and strength building. Take a glutamine supplement after your workout to help support optimal levels. You'll find it in capsule form or a powder that can be scooped into your post-workout shake, smoothie or drink for a quick boost.*
8. Take BCAAs
BCAA (branched-chain amino acids) are the building blocks of protein, which are necessary for the growth and repair of muscle and tissues. Taking a BCAA supplement after your workout can help aid in muscle recovery and muscle building.*
9. Don’t skimp on sleep
Research continues to show the importance of getting a good night’s sleep, which, for most adults, is at least 7 to 8 hours every night. If you exercise regularly, sleep is especially important, as it’s the time when your body naturally produces growth hormone (GH), which is essential for tissue repair and growth.
10. Take a cool shower or bath
After sweating through a workout, a cool shower feels great—and it also helps reduce soreness and inflammation in the muscles. Don’t want to shiver through your shower? Try reducing the water temperature to cool for a minute or so just before jumping out.
Trainer tip: If this feels overwhelming, cut the list in half by making a protein shake with coconut water, protein, glutamine, BCAAs and carbs such as oats. Mix everything together in a blender (along with ice) the night before, and then simply grab from the fridge before hitting the gym.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.