18 Scientifically Proven Ways to Speed Recovery

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From the reluctant jogger to proud gym rat, ample recovery from exercise is important. But instead of staring at the clock until that next workout fix, check out our list of 18 ways to boost recovery, all backed by the cold hard facts. Follow these tips — from tools to speed recovery to cherry juice and midday naps — to hit the gym stronger, faster, and more refreshed than ever.

Speed Up R&R — Your Action Plan

1. Get More Sleep. While the exact relationship between sleep and exercise is still unclear, multiple studies suggest sleep deprivation and disorders can have a significant negative effect on performance and recovery [1] [2]. Sleep is also prime time for the body to undergo protein synthesis, so make sure to get in those Zzz’s for stronger muscles and better endurance.

2. Listen to music. Music can be great for helping us power through a tough workout (or at least distracting us from that “my legs are on fire!” feeling), but listening to relaxing tunes can also aid in exercise recovery [3]. Slow-tempo songs can help reduce blood pressure and pulse rate more quickly after exercise, especially useful if there’s more than one intense burst on the day’s gym agenda.

3. Consume protein before bed. Barring a serious case of sleepwalking, we’re not usually giving our body nutrients while we sleep. Consuming a light, protein-rich snack before bed allows our bodies to keep repairing muscles overnight [4].

4. Eat protein in the morning. After a hard night of sleeping (the highlight of many Greatists’ days), the body could use some nutrients to recharge. Breakfasts high in protein can give our muscles the necessary ingredients to start rebuilding and may reduce food cravings later on in the day [5].

5. Drink chocolate milk. Looking for a convenient post-workout snack on the go? Tap into that inner child and chug some chocolate milk. The protein it contains will kickstart muscle recovery, and those chocolaty carbs have been shown to decrease the amount of time it takes for the body to get ready for its next challenge [6].

6. Drink cherry juice. Stiff as a board from yesterday’s sweat-tastic spin class or lifting session? Tart cherry juice and supplements might help reduce the swelling that occurs when muscles are damaged, allowing our bodies to recover faster and — thank goodness — with less pain [7] [8].

7. Roll it out. Much of the soreness that goes along with exercise occurs when our muscles and fascia — connective tissue running throughout the body — become knotted. Rolling out muscles with foam or semi-rigid rollers — two forms of self-myofascial release (SMR) — can help remove these knots and prevent muscle imbalances from forming [9]. But be warned: While effective, SMR isn’t exactly pain free (we’re untying muscle knots, after all!).

8. Get a massage. Recovery backrubs, anyone? Like SMR, massage helps break up scar tissue and reduce stiffness associated with muscle repair. Scented candles and relaxing tunes optional.

9. Hydrate! Better recovery could be just a glass (or two, or three…) away. Exercising while dehydrated can cause greater damage to muscles and reduce the body’s ability to repair itself [10]. Before reaching for Gatorade, however, know that good old H2O is often enough for many individuals looking to replenish fluids.

10. Cut back on the booze. Those of us who enjoy a few post-workout brewskies might want to be careful of too much of a good thing. Research suggests more than one or two drinks after working could reduce the body’s ability to recover [11] [12].

11. Consume protein post-workout. While a protein-rich snack can get the body ready for a great workout, sipping on a protein shake or eating a protein-filled meal can ensure the body has enough fuel to keep on rebuilding throughout the day [13].

12. Consume protein before a workout. Amino acids are the building blocks of tissue, and we consume protein to give our bodies enough to rebuild and maintain muscles damaged during workouts. But there’s more to recovery than snacking any which way. Consuming protein before working out can trigger our bodies to start muscle synthesis (a fancy name for repairing and building those guns) throughout and even after hitting the weights [14].

13. Take a daytime nap. Research suggests taking a nap around two hours after a workout helps the body enter deep, restorative states of sleep [15]. And trust us (based on research and experience), a quick power nap won’t ruin an upcoming night’s rest.

14. Rest those muscles. While many advocate two days between workouts involving the same muscle group, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for recovery time. Factors like age and fitness level are important in determining how much rest we really need. If performance is decreasing from workout to workout, it might be time to schedule in a few extra rest days [16].

15. Try compression garments. For many athletes, it’s important to be able go all out and quickly regain the energy (and willpower) to run, jump, or throw once again. Recent research suggests wearing compression garments can help decrease the time it takes for muscles to recovery between intense bouts of exercise [17].

16. Ice muscles. Cooling down muscles post-exercise could reduce inflammation and speed the path to recovery, especially for chronically injured areas. Cooling in short bursts (think 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off) can also reduce muscle soreness after a workout [18].

17. Take a cold bath. Don’t just dip that toe in! It might be a scary prospect for some, but taking a cold, full-body plunge after working out can significantly reduce soreness and inflammation for up to 24 hours after exercise [19].

18. Try anti-inflammatories. Consult with a physician before relying on them, of course, but research suggests some anti-inflammatory medications and herbs can speed muscle recovery [20] [21]. However, some researchers suggest anti-inflammatory medication can hinder muscle hypertrophy (aka growth), so it might be a good idea to use them sparingly.

This article has been read and verified by Greatist Experts Jason Edmonds and Matt Delaney.

How do you recover from a tough workout? Share in the comments section below! 

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About the Author
David Tao
I'm the chief research officer for Greatist.com and a greatist since 2011. Originally from Kentucky but now calling NYC home.

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Works Cited

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