In this article:
- Do's & Don'ts of post-workout recovery
- How to optimize hydration
- Macronutrients & your nutrition
- The importance of rest days
- Self-care practices
- Supplements that aid recovery
What exactly should you do when you finish your workout routine and are ready to get on with your day? After all, you just put in a ton of work! In order to yield the best results---whether it be muscle gain, weight loss, or a speedy recovery--- having a proper post-workout routine seals the deal.
Before you even hit the locker room to grab your belongings and leave the gym, you must stretch it out! It is so important to incorporate stretching after a workout. Your muscles and joints just went through a lot of work and stress, and stretching them helps reduce muscle tension and increases flexibility. It also gives your body a moment to cool down and relax before rushing into the next task. For any workout that is 45 minutes or longer, aim for a 10 minute period of stretching afterward.
Rushing into the next task of your day or night after a workout can be hard on your body. Not stretching after exercising will increase tightness in the body and can potentially cause the muscles to pull on the joints, resulting in unnecessary pain. Do yourself a favor and take the extra 5-10 minutes to wind down and stretch.
Rehydrating your body with water after an intense workout is important for a number of reasons. To start, our bodies are about 60% water. As we exercise, our bodies lose water during the course of a workout. Therefore, putting enough water back into your body is vital for every function and nutrient transfer in the body. It lowers your body temperature, improves recovery time, helps maintain the elasticity of the joints and tissues and increases flexibility. Hydrating also normalizes your natural electrolyte balance, which prevents muscle cramps, nausea, and fatigue. If you do not restore electrolytes back into the body and the supply remains low, the muscles can feel weak when the time comes to workout next. Lastly, drinking water prevents your muscle proteins from breaking down, thereby enhancing the nutrient absorption process.
Not only does excessive sugar have a lot of calories, but too much sugar can also contribute to dehydration. The high sugar content can increase the rate of water loss because metabolizing sugar uses water and therefore results in the body needing more water. Sugar provides energy to the body, however, excess sugar is stored as fat.
Eating a meal or a snack within 1 hour from the time you finish a workout helps to maximize the benefits of your gym time. Your body needs to replenish and receive the nutrients that it needs for proper recovery. Leaving too much time between the end of your workout and refueling often means experiencing slumps in energy later in the day or facing extreme muscle fatigue.
Refuel your body with macronutrients (carbs and protein). Complex carbs replenish your energy levels while protein serves to repair the muscles. Getting carbs into your system post-workout restores glycogen back into your body. Glycogen is an important energy store for the body. As we workout, our muscles use glycogen stores as fuel and after a workout, the body has to rebuild glycogen. Carbs are broken down from the foods we eat and converted into glucose. Glucose is the simplest form of a carbohydrate, meaning it has one sugar. The glucose is stored in the liver and the muscles. If the body isn’t getting enough glucose from food, it breaks down glycogen to release the stored glucose. Protein post-workout provides your body with the necessary amino acids it needs for protein synthesis. It ensures the body can properly repair and rebuild the proteins for new muscle tissue.
If you are on a weight loss journey, you may consider skipping a meal or snack, especially after a tough workout that you are proud of. However, it is important that you do not deprive your body of the necessary nutrients it can use to rebuild and repair itself. Furthermore, you can increase your chances of unhealthy cravings and overeating later in the day. The timing of when you eat is important.
Post Workout Meal Ideas:
Giving your body time to heal and recover after a workout is essential for tissue repair and strength building. It takes about a day or two for muscles to recover from an intense workout. Giving your muscles this time to rest can prevent muscle damage, fatigue, and injury. Giving your body a moment to rest can also help reduce muscle soreness, preparing you for a productive and optimized session when you return to the gym.
If you are experiencing a lot of soreness, listen to your body. Resting and relaxing is an important part of your recovery process. During rest periods, the body has a chance to build muscle, specifically during sleep. The body produces the human growth hormone during the non-REM sleep cycle. During this time, blood flows to the muscles and increases tissue growth, prompting the repair process. During REM sleep, the muscles have a chance to relax and release tension. This means that it is important to get enough sleep in order for muscle recovery to occur.
Additionally, resist the temptation to over-train. This is especially important in cases you are training for a competitive event or high-impact activity like long-distance running or martial arts. We might have the desire to push our body to its limits every time we workout but your body will tell you when enough is enough. Pushing beyond your limits can lead to strained muscles and injury.
Sitting in ice baths, while initially uncomfortable, can also be a way of improving circulation and soothing muscle pain, contributing to the overall recovery post-workout.
Your fitness routines do not stop after your last set. Make sure the decisions you make post-workout are in support of all of the work you put in at the gym or outside. It is important to focus on healthy nutrition and recovery habits so that you begin to see the results you desire and maintain them as you progress.
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