Hey Angels & Alphas!
Every experienced trainer or physical therapist will tell you the same thing – in the gym, real progress happens only after you’ve finished your workout.
We’re talking about the time away from the gym – when you let your muscles rest, recover, and grow.
Post-workout recovery is a straight-forward concept, but I believe it’s somewhat overlooked nowadays.
All the latest trends in fitness point to a mindset of burning yourself out to achieve results. Especially with summer right around the corner, a lot of people are going as far as working out twice a day so they can push their bodies to the limit and get that desired “summer body”.
I say it’s time to relax and face the facts! (Hey, that rhymes.)
You’ve probably heard a lot about how important the recovery process is, but for most people, that’s not enough of a motivation to take actionable steps toward improving it.
But the fact is this – it doesn’t matter if you’re a gym-goer, a marathon runner, a dancer, or a professional athlete. During intense physical activity, you’re going to break down your muscle tissues, deplete your energy stores, and sweat out a lot of fluids!
I’d define your optimal recovery as the most effective and productive way for you to counter those effects. If you’re not giving your muscles enough water, nutrients, and time to rest, you’re going on the path toward overtraining.
Repairing your muscles, replenishing your energy, and restoring your body back to its normal state isn’t something you should have to think twice about.
Yet somehow, overtraining is encouraged by some of the most popular fitness gurus out there! That just goes to show how little some of these “experts” know about what’s right for you and what’s not. We’ve talked about how dangerous overtraining is before, but I can’t stress this enough…
If you’re not recovering correctly, you won’t achieve the results you want!
That’s not what I want for you.
For you, I’ve compiled this list of the three major components of the recovery process.
I created this as your personal post-workout checklist!
Anytime you’re feeling too sore, over-trained, stressed, tired, or unmotivated, you can come back to this post.
By doing this, you’ll instantly recognize which part of your workout rehabilitation is lacking, and you’ll know exactly what to do to fix it.
Then, you can focus your attention there and be back on track to your body goal in no time!
Without further ado, let’s look at the 3 essential components of optimal post-workout recovery.
Number #1 – Rest
Here’s your rest checklist! You can use to make sure you’re giving your muscles the adequate amount of rest they need to nourish, rebuild, and grow.
1. Prioritize sleep.
I don’t believe we need to spend too-too much time talking about sleep, but just know this; Lack of sleep increases your chance of injury, diminishes your performance, and ruins your chances of optimal recovery. Getting enough sleep has been proven to positively impact your motivation, focus, memory, muscle performance, accuracy, reaction time, and so much more. After all, while we sleep, our pituitary gland releases natural growth hormone! And growth hormone is a vital component of every major body function. However, I feel like I should point out that the quality of your sleep is more important than the quantity.
The best way to improve the quality of your sleep would be to develop a bedtime routine. This includes going to sleep at the same time every night, and waking up at the same time every morning, as well as avoiding TV/phone screens before bed and using sleeping masks whenever possible. That being said, aim for a minimum of 6 hours of high-quality, undisturbed sleep every night!
2. Give your major muscle groups adequate recovery time between workouts.
Working out the same muscle group at a high intensity two days in a row is a huge no-no. Your regimen should be structured in a way that, regardless of which major muscle group you’re working, you’re giving yourself at least 36 hours of rest before hitting it hard again.
This is the same reason you see regular gym-goers train upper body one day, then lower body the next. Useful exercise splits give all major muscle groups 24-48 hours of recovery down between training sessions.
Taking this time will allow your muscle tissues to heal, and your body’s natural hormone levels to be fully restored and ready for your next workout.
3. Take days off – don’t work out every day.
Even if you’re giving all your muscle groups 36 hours of rest, working out every day isn’t productive. Stress, pressure, and muscle fatigue accumulate over time.
To guarantee your physical and mental well-being, pick a day of the week and dedicate it to full mind and body relaxation. Your rest days are your best days.
4. Don’t use caffeine to power through workouts.
If you’re feeling tired or sluggish, don’t just chug a coffee and head for the gym.
I agree there’s a difference between only feeling tired and not being able to perform physically…
But if it’s your body that’s exhausted (and not just your current emotional state), listen to it. As much as people want coffee to be the solution to their lack of energy, it isn’t. Rest is.
5. Active rest.
We can’t talk about recovery without mentioning active rest!
Active recovery is essentially the idea that you should perform light to moderate (25-50%) physical activity even on your days off.
The goal here is to stimulate your blood flow and supply your muscles and connective tissues with healthy nutrients.
Your aim isn’t to further damage the tissues. It’s to substantially aid the natural healing process.
Number #2 – Nutrition
Here’s your nutrition checklist! Use this to make sure your dietary habits are in line with the purpose of giving your muscles the nutrients they need to re-build themselves.
1. Have a post-workout meal, but don’t overeat.
Calories are energy!
They’re literally fuel for the body, and if you want it to grow and adapt to the stress of working out, you’re going to need food rich in macro and micronutrients. Especially after a workout, when your glycogen stores are depleted.
That’s why a post-workout meal is always a good idea. Consuming a healthy snack after crushing a gym session not only feels rewarding, but it’s also super productive.
You’re restoring your glycogen stores and giving your body the energy it needs to kick-start the muscle rebuilding process!
When it comes to choosing the right snack, keep it as light and nutrient-rich as possible. Liquid “foods” are most often preferred over heavy meals. One reason for that is bloating. The other reason is that foods high in fat or fiber slow down your nutrient absorption.
That’s why protein shakes easily became the most popular post-workout “meal”.
Speaking of protein…
2. Prioritize protein and BCAAs.
If you want to ensure you have an effective recovery process and that you’re getting the most out of your workout, and at the same time, you want to drink something sweet and delicious, BCAAs are your thing. We need these essential amino acids (found in protein) to help our body repair and rebuild our muscle tissues on a daily basis.
For years and years, experts have been talking about the importance of protein for muscle growth. That’s because amino acids account for two vital muscle recovery processes; maximizing protein synthesis and minimizing protein degradation.
Women need approx. 0.7-0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight for muscle building and men usually go as high as 1 gram per pound of body weight.
So if you’re looking for a great way to reduce muscle soreness, promote muscle building, and get back in the gym faster, don’t forget to follow-up your workout with BCAAs or a protein-rich meal!
3. Stay well-hydrated.
I’m only going to lightly touch on this topic because it’s pretty self-explanatory.
Drinking water helps you replace lost electrolytes in the body and speeds up muscle recovery. Not to mention, being sore and dehydrated at the same time is definitely not a fun experience.
The only thing you have to keep in mind here is that you should balance your water intake – don’t consume vast amounts before or after your workout.
Instead, aim for a balanced water intake throughout the day to make sure you’re well-hydrated without risking bloating.
Number #3 – Recovery-aiding Essentials & Anti-Inflammatory Habits
If you’ve got your resting and nutrition habits in line, these methods will serve as the icing on your post-workout recovery cake!
When you stretch and become more flexible, your muscular strength and endurance improve, but so does your ability to properly recover after each workout.
When you stretch, you release tension off your muscles and achieve a feeling of relaxation.
When your muscles aren’t tight and strained, they naturally recover (and perform) better.
Create a 5-10 minute post-workout stretching routine, and you’ll start feeling less sore and fatigued after you exercise – trust me.
2. Foam rolling
Foam rollers have skyrocketed in popularity in the last few years. Their ability to relieve tension and reduce muscle stress has made them a favorite among fitness and rehabilitation experts.
Most people value them for their pain-alleviating qualities, but the benefits of foam rolling extend way past physical recovery.
Foam rolling helps you stretch and hydrate the fascia, a thin layer of connective tissue that lies under the skin and covers every muscle in your body.
By doing this, you improve the circulation of blood throughout your entire body. This helps you flush toxins, oxygenate your blood, and “lubricate” your joints.
With the right foam rolling technique, you’ll not only recover faster, but you’ll also feel amazing too! Foam rolling helps me unwind and relax after a hard workout, and if that’s not vital to recovery, I don’t know what is!
3. Cold showers
Check out this study – it concludes that taking a cold shower or an ice bath after an intense training session will help you decrease lactic acid, essentially reducing muscle soreness and speeding up your recovery.
When you’re in a hot sauna, your body releases what are called heat shock proteins. Studies have pointed out that these proteins directly improve protein synthesis and slow down muscle breakdown.
Even though this heat is technically a harmful stimulus for the body, this slowing down of muscle degradation increases your chances to grow and recover your muscles effectively after training.
If you’ve gone through an injury recently and can’t train, saunas are a great way to reduce muscle loss.
And plus, who doesn’t enjoy a relaxing sauna after a long day (or a really fatiguing workout?)
5. Epsom salt baths
Epsom salts were first extracted from seawater in 1618, in the British town of Epsom. They’re also known as Magnesium sulphate. Ever since fitness pros started adding them to their warm bath water, they’ve been linked to stress relief, improved circulation, better moods, and reduced swelling and soreness.
They’re absorbed through the skin, and they make for almost an instant muscle pain reliever. These minerals are more popular among women because female athletes have a higher physiological demand for magnesium.
If you love taking long hot baths and you want to improve your muscle recovery, do a little digging, and you’ll simply fall in love with them.
A word about self-myofascial release!
Even though self-myofascial release is most often related to foam rolling, I decided to take a moment to talk about it separately.
It’s not that much of a way to generally improve recovery as it is a way to target specific pain points or problematic movements related to past injuries.
It’s a form of manual therapy. It’s used by both fitness gurus and rehabilitation specialists to enhance myofascial (relates to the fascia we talked about earlier) mobility.
I do believe its effect on muscle soreness is rather minimal, but as I said, it’s an excellent way for those who have trouble with specific movements to enhance their range of motion, relieve pain, and ease a particular movement.
If you have a past injury and you have trouble recovering after working out, your problem might not be poor recovery.
It might be that you’ve just accumulated stress in a part of your body related to harmful exercise movement patterns.
Self-myofascial release can help you release that stress.
To wrap it all up…
No matter how many tips and strategies I give you to reduce muscle soreness, alleviate pain, and speed up your recovery, there are always going to be the two main components dictating how fast you’re able to bounce back after an intense workout.
These two main components are adequate rest and nutrition.
When these two are aligned, you’ll most likely have no trouble recovering after even the most taxing training sessions. But just in case, I decided to give you some actionable alternatives you can start using right away.
All of this – rest, sleep, nutrition, hydration, stretching, foam rolling, and every other possible post-workout recovery strategy…
It all matters only if you decide to make this one simple realization;
You should take your post-workout recovery as seriously as you do your training.