What you do after you return home from the gym matters just as much as what you did before you left. That’s because the post-workout recovery period is the time when your body builds up lean muscle mass. If you shortchange yourself, you could wind up gaining weight and lowering your performance level.
Ensure your workouts deliver the results you want. Follow this checklist for what to do after you exercise to encourage maximum rest and restoration.
- Have a snack. After you exercise, your body needs to replace its glycogen stores so your muscles can grow. Many studies confirm that eating within an hour of working out helps this process along, so plan for a healthy snack that includes proteins, carbohydrates, and a little healthy fat.
- Spread out your protein. Protein is digested more efficiently if you consume small amounts throughout the day. Start with breakfast foods like eggs and quinoa, and finish up with a light evening snack like a glass of skim milk.
- Replace potassium. Perspiring tends to deplete your potassium stores. Catch up on this important material by eating foods like bananas and potatoes.
- Consume more Vitamin D. Many adults have Vitamin D deficiencies that can slow down recovery. You can increase your levels with dairy products and Vitamin D enriched products like cereal and bread, as well as a little daily sun exposure.
- Drink water. Hydration is another essential. Extreme athletes may need sports drinks with electrolytes, but plain water is ideal for most adults.
- Limit alcohol. On the other hand, liquor can impede your recovery by dehydrating you further. Wait a few hours before imbibing, and limit alcohol to one or two servings a day.
- Cool down. Your recovery starts before you leave the gym. End your workout with slower and gentler movements that help your body to transition.
- Stretch out. Include some stretches in your cool down period, and continue working on your flexibility in between workouts. Limbering up your muscles reduces soreness.
- Engage in active rest. Individual needs vary, but many adults need at least one day of full rest, and some additional active rest that can include less intense activities. Try going for a walk or doing restorative yoga.
- Proceed gradually. Trying to do too much too soon can cause injuries and make it more difficult to recover fully. Stay safe by increasing your workout intensity no more than 10% each week.
- Sleep well. Recovery and healing occur while you’re dreaming. Go to bed and get up on a consistent schedule. Aim for at least 7 hours of sleep each night.
- Manage stress. Chronic stress can cause inflammation and many health issues. Find relaxation practices that work for you, like meditation or deep breathing.
- Roll and knead. You may have heard of myofascial release that reduces muscle soreness and promotes healing by pressing down on connective tissues surrounding your muscles. It’s one of the principles behind foam rolling and massage.
- Adjust your temperature. Heat or cold may refresh tired muscles, depending on your personal preferences. Experiment with applying head pads or ice packs. Take a contrast shower alternating cold and hot water.
- Wear compression garments. A wardrobe change may help too. Compression garments have been shown to reduce recovery time and enhance athletic performance.
- Talk with your doctor. Over-the-counter pain relievers and natural substances like ginger and turmeric may help with occasional and mild post-workout discomfort. Consult your doctor if you have more serious symptoms that you need to discuss.
Adequate rest and recovery make your workouts more effective. Plan ahead so you can give your body the nutrients and care it needs to grow strong and healthy.