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 Exercise capacity in patients with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. Przybylowsky, T., Bielicki, P., Kumor, M., et al. Department of Pneumology and Allergology, Warsaw Medical University, Warsaw, Poland. Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology. 2007 Nov;58 Suppl 5(Pt 2):563-74. Sleep, recovery, and performance: the new frontier in high-performance athletics. Samuels, C. Centre for Sleep and Human Performance. Neurologic Clinics. 2008 Feb;26(1):169-80; ix-x.. 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 Effect of different musical tempo on post-exercise recovery in young adults. Savitha, D., Mallikargjuna, R.N., Rao, C. Departament of Physiology, Narayana Medical College. Indian Journal of Physiological Pharmacology. 2010 Jan-Mar;54(1):32-6.. 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 Protein Ingestion Prior To Sleep Improves Post-Exercise Overnight Recovery. Res, P.T., Groen, B., Pennings, B., et al. Department of Human Movement Sciences, NUTRIM School for Nutrition, Toxicology and Metabolism, Maastricht University Medical Centre. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2012 Feb 9. [Epub ahead of print].
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 Neural responses to visual food stimuli after a normal vs. higher protein breakfast in breakfast-skipping teens: a pilot fMRI study. Leidy, H.J., Lepping, R.J., Savage, C.R., et al. Department of Dietetics & Nutrition, University of Kansas Medical Center. Obesity. 2011 Oct;19(10):2019-25. doi: 10.1038/oby.2011.108. Epub 2011 May 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 Chocolate milk as a post-exercise recovery aid. Karp, J.R., Johnston, J.D., Tecklenburg, S., et al. Dept of Kinesiology and Applied Health Science, Human Performance Laboratory, Indiana University. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 2006 Feb;16(1):78-91..
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 Antioxidant and antiinflammatory activities of anthocyanins and their aglycon, cyanidin, from tart cherries. Wang, H., Nair, M.G., Strasburg, G.M., et al. Bioactive Natural Products Laboratory, Department of Horticulture and National Food Safety and Toxicology Center, Food Science and Human Nutrition, and Department of Biochemistry, Michigan State University. Journal of Natural Products. 1999 Feb;62(2):294-6. Efficacy of tart cherry juice in reducing muscle pain during running: a randomized controlled trial. Kuehl, K.S., Perrier, E.T., Elliot, D.L., et al. Department of Medicine, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, OR. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2010 May 7;7:17..
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 6-day intensive treatment protocol for refractory chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome using myofascial release and paradoxical relaxation training. Anderson, R.U., Wise, D., Sawyer, T., et al. Department of Urology, School of Medicine, Stanford University, Stanford, California. Journal of Urology. 2011 Apr;185(4):1294-9. Epub 2011 Feb 22.. 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 Dehydration and Symptoms of Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness in Hyperthermic Males Cleary, M., Sweeney, L., Kendrick, Z., et al. Florida International University. Journal of Athletic Training. 2005 Oct-Dec; 40(4): 288–297.. 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 Post-exercise alcohol ingestion exacerbates eccentric-exercise induced losses in performance. Barnes, M.J., Mundel, T., Stannard, S.R. Institute of Food, Nutrition, and Human Health, Massey University. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 2010 Mar;108(5):1009-14. Epub 2009 Dec 11. A low dose of alcohol does not impact skeletal muscle performance after exercise-induced muscle damage. Barnes, M.J., Mundel, T., Stannard, S.R. Institute of Food, Nutrition, and Human Health, Massey University. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 2011 Apr;111(4):725-9. Epub 2010 Sep 28..
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 Contemporary Issues in Protein Requirements and Consumption for Resistance Trained Athletes. Wilson, J., Wilson, G. California State University East Bay, Hayward, CA. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2006; 3(1): 7–27..
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 Timing of amino acid-carbohydrate ingestion alters anabolic response of muscle to resistance exercise. Tipton, K.D., Rasmussen, B.B., Miller, S.L., et al. Department of Surgery, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas. American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology, and Metabolism. 2001 Aug;281(2):E197-206..
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 The effect of prior endurance training on nap sleep patterns. Davies, D.J., Graham, K.S., Chow, C.M. Discipline of Exercise and Sport Science, University of Sydney. International Journal of Sports and Physiological Performance. 2010 Mar;5(1):87-97.. 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 The effects of exercise-induced muscle damage on cycling time-trial performance. Burt, D.G., Twist, C. Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences, University of Chester, Chester, United Kingdom. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2011 Aug;25(8):2185-92..
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 Do compression garments enhance the active recovery process after high-intensity running? Lowvell, D.I., Mason, D.G., Delphinus, E.M., et al. School of Health and Sport Sciences, Faculty of Science, Health and Education, University of the Sunshine Coast. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2011 Dec;25(12):3264-8..
16. 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 Effect of water immersion methods on post-exercise recovery from simulated team sport exercise. Ingram, J., Dawson, B., Goodman, C., et al. The University of Western Australia, Human Movement and Exercise Science. Journal of Science in Medicine and Sport. 2009 May;12(3):417-21. Epub 2008 Jun 11..
17. 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 Curcumin effects on inflammation and performance recovery following eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage. Davis, J.M., Murphy, E.A., Carmichael, M.D., et al. Division of Applied Physiology, Department of Exercise Science, Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina. American Journal of Physiology. 2007 Jun;292(6):R2168-73. Epub 2007 Mar 1. Anti-inflammatory therapy in sports injury. The role of nonsteroidal drugs and corticosteroid injection. Leadbetter, W.B. Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Georgetown University. Clinical Sports Medicine. 1995 Apr;14(2):353-410.. However, some researchers suggest anti-inflammatory medication can hinder muscle hypertrophy (aka growth), so it might be a good idea to use them sparingly.