There’s nothing quite like the feeling of crushing a good workout: you’re sweating, you can feel that your muscles have been pushed to the limit, and you just know that you’re going to be riding that endorphin high all day long.
But the work doesn’t stop there; recovery time plays a huge role in whether you see progress or not, and by not making sure you’re doing it properly … you may be limiting your results.
Here I’m diving into 6 of the best ways to recover after intense workouts, so you can make sure your recovery game is on point!
Tips For Recovering From An Intense Workout
1. Don’t forget to stretch.
After an intense workout, you might be tempted to skip the cooldown period, but you really shouldn’t: stretching those overworked muscles post-workout will help improve their flexibility and reduce stiffness, which can help to minimize the aches, pains, and soreness that tend to arrive the day after (they love to hit ya when you’re rolling out of bed, am I right?!). It’ll also help to increase your range of motion, which is great news for maximizing your performance the next time you get into a big workout.
For an effective post-workout recovery session, hold each stretch for at least 15-30 seconds, remembering to breathe normally throughout. The stretch shouldn’t be painful, so don’t push too far past the point of comfort to avoid accidental injury.
You might even consider doing some mobility work or yoga as part of your cooldown routine, which packs a double-punch of helping you stretch out your stiff muscles and improving your range of motion to benefit your training sessions down the road.
2. Eat smart for recovery.
After an intense workout, your body is craving two things: healthy carbohydrates and proteins.
A big workout will deplete your body’s stores of glycogen, which is how your body stores your carbohydrates for energy. You’re going to use all that glycogen up in order to fuel your workout, so you’ll need a “refill” soon after.
You’ll also need a good amount of protein to help your muscles recover, which is always important if you’re looking to get stronger and make gains. When you work out, your stressed-out muscles take some minor damage in the form of microtears and getting enough protein soon after your training session will help you rebuild those muscle fibers.
The optimal window of time to get your post-workout snack is pretty small, with studies suggesting that the best time to eat is within two hours for the best results. [*] Focus on getting whole foods for the best nutrition, rather than processed bars and post-workout snacks that are marketed for your post-workout recovery but could contain artificial ingredients or sweeteners.
3. Consider a massage.
Your body can get pretty beat up during a big workout, which is why it’s a good idea to consider adding some form of massage to your recovery. In fact, massage is such an effective recovery technique after a workout that several studies have shown that it’s one of the best ways to reduce soreness, muscle damage, and fatigue! [*]
This can be as simple as targeting your sore areas with a foam roller or as intense as recruiting a physical therapist or massage therapist, depending on just how much damage your body takes from a workout.
It’s no surprise that a big workout is going to dehydrate you: all that work is probably going to get you sweating, and when you sweat, you lose both water and electrolytes.
Make sure that you’re getting plenty of water after you finish your workout to quench your body’s thirst. And be wary of those sports drinks: they’re marketed as the perfect electrolyte-replenisher after a workout, but a lot of the time all the sugar and additives mean that they’re really not worth your while.
You definitely do need to replace your electrolytes like sodium and potassium though, since those can also be lost through your sweat. You can go for nutrient-dense options like fruits, vegetables, and even coconut water to replenish your system instead.
5. Get some good sleep.
The work doesn’t stop when you leave the gym and eat your post-workout meal. Getting enough sleep after your workout is actually a crucial part of getting fit: it’s during this time period that your body can really start to repair.
When you sleep, your body releases a ton of hormones that are important for your recovery including human growth hormone. [*] If you downplay the importance of sleep after a big workout, you might find that not only will you not feel as rested, but you may also be depriving yourself of the hormones that your muscles actually need to heal and grow.
Make an effort to start winding down earlier if you know that you aren’t getting enough sleep, especially on the days that you know that you had a major workout.
6. Don’t forget your rest days.
It might be tempting to stay on-the-go every single day, but after an especially grueling workout, your body might actually just need a day or two to rest so that you can fully recover.
This doesn’t mean that you have to be confined to the couch on your rest days, though – you can still do some low-impact activity like walking, yoga, or mobility work. This will help your stressed-out muscles recover without compromising your daily activity.
You put in the most obvious blood, sweat, and tears during your workout, but what you do after you hit the gym can play a big role in determining how your body grows and responds to all that stress and muscle damage. Don’t forget the importance of having a proper routine for rest and recovery – your progress may very well depend on it!