As an athlete or fitness enthusiast, recovery is critical to improving performance. Proper recovery after exercise also helps prevent injuries and exercise-induced muscle damage. So, it’s obvious that you’ll want to recover your sore muscles quickly after a workout. Apart from being able to work that muscle group again in a few days, it’ll also help you build strength and outperform yourself as you continue your physical training.
So, what exactly is required for quicker muscle recovery, strength building, and improvements in your exercise regimen? There are several ways you can speed up the process.
Stretching has major benefits for the body after exercises such as running or lifting. It helps to relax sore and tense muscles, reduce spasms, improve range and motion, and helps increase blood circulation and flow.
Each of these things will help sore, tight muscles, stretch back to form and become stronger. Stretching isn’t only beneficial after workouts, but also before. It helps the muscle fibers extend, so tight muscle groups are also going to benefit from a good, lengthy stretching routine after workouts.
Stretching helps keep your body moving as well and prevents injury. This helps speed up the active recovery process, as the body remains limber and it doesn’t allow muscles to tighten up on you.
2. Get adequate sleep
Sleep is crucial for overall health. Your body produces its own muscle-building hormones when it is sleeping/resting (HGH), human growth hormone. During the N3 stage of non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM), the blood that’s flowing to your muscles increases. Tissue growth and regeneration and repair occur at this time.
During rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the muscles in your body relax. This further helps relieve tension and pain. Those who are exercising intensely, and get enough sleep, are going to experience a great deal of difference in their lifting ability, and in muscle development as they continue to train.
When you’re not sleeping enough, you’re groggy, feel a lack of energy, and this can cause your workouts to suffer as well. Not only is this going to limit your development in the gym, it can also lead to injuries if you’re not careful. Sleep and training work hand in hand. When you’re working out intensely, this is going to help improve your sleep patterns. And, when you’re tired after a workout, you’ll find it easier to fall and stay asleep.
3. Improve Your Diet (and Fuel Yourself Properly)
Certain muscle recovery foods are specifically geared to help you do just that… recover! Your body needs fuel. After a tough session of lifting or weight-training at any capacity, your body is depleted. If you aren’t fueling it, you aren’t feeding the muscles that you just trained so intensely.
Some foods to incorporate into your diet, and eat post-workout are:
- Carrots, sweet potatoes, kale
- Foods packed with Vitamins A, C, and essential nutrients
- Oranges, strawberries, peppers
- Foods with high Vitamin C content
- Meat (turkey, red meat, poultry) The high protein content instantly fuels your muscles
- Dairy – eggs, milk, yogurt
- Again, foods with high protein content, and also calcium (which can help prevent bone deterioration with certain leg workouts)
- Salmon, tuna (seafood)
- Foods high in omega 3 fatty acid content help fuel your body with good, healthy fat, after a workout
There’s no doubt about it, your muscles need to be fueled after working out and a post-workout snack is an easy way to do this. Look for foods that are rich in high-quality sources of protein. The more protein intake you have after your workout session, the better and quicker the muscles recovery process is going to go.
4. Avoid Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol can interfere with your sleep patterns. Alcohol is a depressant, so it might help you fall asleep fast, but not stay asleep. Remember, sleep is one of the most important things you’ll need for healing and repair.
Apart from this, there are some debates as to whether having a drink after the gym is going to really impact your results and recovery. The key isn’t not drinking altogether, but instead, to moderate your drinking. If you have a couple of drinks at week’s end, you should be fine. If, however, you’re gulping down 5 beers a night, this will greatly impact your training, your sleep, your ability to recover (and your waistline).
Therefore, you’re going to want to minimize how much and how often you drink, to achieve the best results from your workout regimen.
5. Supplement for recovery
Supplements are packed with protein and the necessary vitamins and minerals to speed up muscle recovery. This is what your body needs right after a tough workout to fuel the muscles and help fuel the body after burning so many calories. Here are a few of the most popular ones:
Creatine is thought to help improve lean muscle development, increase strength levels, and to help speed up the recovery process. It also provides a burst of energy and strength, so it can help athletes improve performance during a workout. Also you’re trying to max out with reps or weight, creatine during and after your workout can help you do so.
Branch-chain amino acids helps reduce the onset of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). Since you aren’t feeling sore after working out (or as sore as you would without BCAAs), you’ll be able to workout again quicker. Therefore, you can build, develop, and increase strength. And, with the improved protein synthesis, and feeling less soreness/tension, your recovery and strength will be impacted in a positive manner.
As the building blocks of protein, researchers have found that this supplement can help reduce soreness, spasms, and improve recovery after a workout. Although it’s not certain whether using L-Glutamine will actually help you build muscle faster (or strength), research has found it can alleviate tension and soreness quicker after working out.
This can serve as a buffer after a workout or tough fitness session. The supplement can help with healing, spasms, recovery speeds, tension and twitching, tightness and contraction of muscles.
Of course, the intensity of training, your diet, and other factors will play a role into it as well. But, supplementing after a strenuous workout, is also beneficial to those who train hard, and train regularly.
6. Muscle Recovery Drink/Products
Similar to the right food fuel sources, there are also liquid fuel sources you can use to help with muscle recovery. Consider a few of these options.
Water is critical for hydration. Muscles that aren’t hydrated are tense, contract, and can easily become injured. Therefore, water serves more as a buffer to prevent injury/tightness. And, by hydrating continually throughout the day, during and after your workouts, it will help prevent tightness, injuries, and help speed up the muscle recovery process.
The body needs protein after a workout. Protein shakes and powders deliver that in a compact, ready-to-go package. If you can’t eat foods that are rich in protein immediately after a workout, this is the next best thing. You can also eat a protein bar as a snack after your workout.
Some energy drinks are specifically made as “pre-workout” or “post-workout” supplements. They’re intended to help hydrate, fuel, and improve recovery and strength building. When choosing energy drinks, look for those which are intended for post-workouts, to get the benefits they’re intended to deliver.
Milk and chocolate milk are extremely rich in protein. Drinking chocolate milk also increases levels of glycogen in the body, which serves as a fuel in the body. Drinking it after intense sports activity such as running or lifting, can greatly reduce soreness and tightness.
7. Get an Ice Bath (or Two) in After Workouts
Sitting in a tub of freezing water can indeed help with post-workout recovery. This is called cold therapy and is becoming very popular as fitness enthusiasts embrace the freeze to help reduce soreness and inflammation. Some people (especially pro athletes) are even fans of cryo-chambers, which reach temperatures well below freezing to relieve swelling, pains and sprains. The idea is that freezing cold temperatures speeds up the muscle recovery process after exercise by reducing body temperature, blood flow and circulation and inflammation and swelling. This results in less soreness after workout activities. And, because your muscles are loose, there’s no inflammation or blood clotting around the fibers, and if you’re limber, this will help in injury prevention as well.
8. Get a Massage
A massage from a qualified sports massage therapist can do wonders for your body after tough workouts. But, if you can’t afford a regular professional massage, there are plenty of tools that can do the same job. A massage gun, ball, or foam roller, are excellent for relieving exercise-induced soreness and for injury prevention.
Massage guns are great for recovery in that they offer percussion therapy.
Percussion therapy helps reduce swelling and inflammation in tight muscles
The therapy helps reduce tension and fiber buildup around muscles after workouts
It encourages range of motion and flexibility
Encourages blood flow which assists in healing
These are a few of the many benefits of these hand massage guns. They are powerful, so make sure you’re aware of this before using one.
A massage ball is similar to massage guns in that it allows you to apply direct pressure to the muscles which are sore. The myofascial release. Fascial tightness can cause
The body to become out of alignment
Increased pressure on joints
Increase pressure on muscles
Therefore, using a massage ball can help relieve this tension and pressure, and help the body recover quicker.
And, obviously, foam rolling is another third, popular method of massage. Basically stretching, increasing circulation, blood flow, improving mobility, and targeting the specific muscle groups you worked out, are some benefits of foam rollers.
The pressure each of these massage therapies offer, will greatly help enhance and speed up the post-workout recovery process.
Deep tissue and sports massages are intended specifically to help with the recovery of muscles. They are deeper and more intense than a traditional spa massage. These massages can improve circulation, release tension, are good for myofascial release, can reduce soreness, and treat aches and pains.
A licensed, specialized sports or deep tissue massage therapist should perform these massages. They are more intense than traditional massages, so you might feel pain and even bruising in treated areas. However, you’ll also notice a great deal of improvement with range of mobility, recovery, and being able to get back to the gym a little faster.
Take Care of Your Body and It’ll Take Care of You
Ultimately, for best results, you should utilize more than one of these tips to help you with active recovery. There are no two ways about it. If you aren’t fueling your muscles, treating them well, and helping provide them the relaxation they need, you’re doing more harm than good. No matter what your fitness level, anyone can benefit from recovery days and techniques to prevent damage and improve recovery.
Getting in a great sweat and exerting yourself to help build your muscles, is great. And, the more you push yourself during your workouts, the greater your results are going to be. However, if you aren’t properly taking the time to stretch, rest and relax (for regeneration and repair), you’re not going to be rewarded with the best possible results for your hard work.