exercise recoveryShare on Pinterest

Having a day where no matter which way you move, you hurt? Whether you’re an occasional runner or a gym fanatic, you should consider recovery an essential part of your health.

Instead of dealing with the fatigue and soreness by popping an Advil and sucking it up, try one of these science-backed tips to help your body feel better, faster. Trust us, your recovery days and easy workout days are just as important as the days you crush it.

Take the time you need to rest your bones, treat your body well, and reap the benefits later.

While the exact relationship between sleep and exercise is still unclear, research suggests that sleep deprivation can have a significant negative effect on performance and recovery. Patrick Y, et al. (2017). Effects of sleep deprivation on cognitive and physical performance in university students. DOI: 10.1007/s41105-017-0099-5

Sleep affects the whole body and all its systems — including the brain, heart, lungs, along with metabolism, immune function, mood, and disease resistance. So getting extra Zzz’s after a tough workout might do more than you know to speed your body’s recovery.

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.

Slow-tempo songs can help reduce your heart rate faster and get your blood lactate — the stuff that causes the pain in the first place — down back to resting levels more quickly after exercise. Lee S, et al. (2016). Influence of music on maximal self-paced running performance and passive post-exercise recovery rate. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27314136

Barring a serious case of sleepwalking, we’re not usually giving our body nutrients while we sleep. And you probably know by now that, when we workout, we cause tiny tears in our muscle tissue.

The body immediately goes to work repairing these tears, fueled by the protein we eat. Research shows that consuming a light, protein-rich snack before bed allows our bodies to keep repairing muscles overnight. Res PT, et al. (2012). Protein ingestion before sleep improves postexercise overnight recovery. DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31824cc363

After a hard workout and a good night’s rest, the body can use some nutrients to recharge. Breakfasts high in protein can keep the muscle rebuild chugging along and might also reduce cravings later in the day and put the kibosh on evening snacking. Leidy HJ. (2013). Beneficial effects of a higher-protein breakfast on the appetitive, hormonal, and neural signals controlling energy intake regulation in overweight/obese, “breakfast-skipping,” late-adolescent girls. DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.112.053116

Share on Pinterest

Looking for a convenient post-workout snack on the go? 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 JR, Johnston JD, Tecklenburg S. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 2006, Jun.;16(1):1526-484X.”

Looking for a convenient and delicious, post-workout snack on the go? Down some chocolate milk.

The protein it contains will kickstart said muscle recovery. Also, those chocolaty carbs have been shown in actual studies to decrease muscle soreness and the amount of time it takes for the body to get ready for its next challenge. Pritchett K, et al. (2012). Chocolate milk: A post-exercise recovery beverage for endurance sports. DOI: 10.1159/000341954

Stiff as a board from yesterday’s spin class or lifting session? Tart cherry juice or supplements might help reduce the swelling that occurs when muscles are damaged, allowing our bodies to recover faster and with less pain.

Shop for tart cherry juice and supplements online.

A research review that looked at the benefits of dietary supplements in athletes found that tart cherry juice reduced inflammation and the delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) after exercise.

(Curcumin — the active compound in turmeric, the spice that makes Indian curries so yellow — also showed these benefits Rawson ES, et al. (2018). Dietary supplements for health, adaptation, and recovery in athletes. DOI: 10.1123/ijsnem.2017-0340). You can also buy curcumin supplements online.

Better recovery could be just a glass (or two, or three… ) away. Among many other functions, fluid helps to remove the metabolic waste a heavy workout produces.

According to the American Council on Exercise, you should drink 8 ounces 30 minutes after exercise and 16 to 24 ounces for every pound of body weight lost during exercise. In the heat, apparently it’s possible to lose up to 4 liters — or almost 9 pounds of fluid — per hour. Gisolfi CV. (1993). Chapter 5: Water requirements during exercise in the heat. Nutritional needs in hot environments: Applications for military personnel in field operations. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK236237/

Before reaching for Gatorade, however, know that H20 is often enough.

Those of us who enjoy a post-workout happy hour might want to be careful of too much of a good thing. According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, anything with 4 percent or more alcohol can increase how much you pee, which delays rehydration after exercise.

Also, alcohol interferes with the synthesis of protein, which means it can mess up the body’s muscle repair magic after a workout.

Much of the soreness that goes along with exercise occurs when our muscles and fascia — the connective tissue that runs throughout the body — become “knotted.”

Rolling out muscles with foam or semi-rigid rollers can help remove those knots — aka myofascial adhesions — and prevent muscle imbalances from forming. While not exactly noted for its comfort, the benefits of foam rolling are worth it.

Shop for foam rollers online.

Recovery back rubs, anyone? As though we really needed randomized controlled studies to tell us, research shows that massage helps reduce post-exercise muscle soreness. Imtiyaz S. (2014). To compare the effect of vibration therapy and massage in prevention of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). DOI: 10.7860/JCDR/2014/7294.3971

Scented candles and relaxing tunes optional.

Share on Pinterest

Amino acids are the building blocks of tissue, and we consume protein to give our bodies enough amino acids to rebuild and maintain the muscles we “damage” during workouts (see numbers 3, 4, and 5, above).

Research has shown that having a little protein before working out can trigger our bodies to start repairing and building more muscle during and after hitting the weights. Ormsbee M, et al. (2014). Pre-exercise nutrition: The role of macronutrients, modified starches and supplements on metabolism and endurance performance. DOI: 10.3390/nu6051782

Sensing a trend here? While protein helps the body do its repair work, eating something containing both carbohydrates and protein is a good idea immediately post-exercise.

Consuming milk, yogurt, or a peanut butter sandwich within two hours after your workout can help your muscles recover and restore the glycogen they’ve lost.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, naps can restore alertness, enhance performance, and reduce mistakes and accidents. Also, a study involving over 10,000 students, ages 16 to 30, found a link between sleep quality and duration and muscle strength.

Men who got seven or more hours of sleep had greater hand-grip strength than those who got less than six hours. Sleep had no significant effect on women’s strength, however. Chen Y. (2017). Relationship between sleep and muscle strength among Chinese university students: A cross-sectional study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5749041/

And trust us, a quick power nap won’t ruin an upcoming night’s rest.

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 between our weight-lifting sessions.

If you notice your performance is deteriorating from workout to workout, that’s a sure sign to schedule in a few extra rest days.

For many athletes, it’s important to quickly regain the energy (and willpower) to run, jump, or throw once again. Research suggests wearing compression garments can help decrease muscle recovery time, especially strength recovery, between intense bouts of exercise. Brown F, et al. (2017). Compression garments and recovery from exercise: A meta-analysis. DOI: 10.1007/s40279-017-0728-9

While it might be a scary prospect, it’s a common assumption among some athletes that taking a cold, full-body plunge after working out can significantly reduce soreness and inflammation after exercise.

However, research suggests that while cold water immersion may be helpful for reducing muscle inflammation after resistance training, it’s not any more effective than active recovery (in this case, low-intensity cycling). Peake JM. (2017). The effects of cold water immersion and active recovery on inflammation and cell stress responses in human skeletal muscle after resistance exercise. DOI: 10.1113/JP272881

Make sure you’re cleared by your doctor first and don’t have any reasons to avoid them, but anti-inflammatory medications can speed muscle recovery and reduce soreness, at least in the short term. Morelli, KM. (2018). Effect of NSAIDs on recovery from acute skeletal muscle injury: A systematic review and meta-analysis. DOI: 10.1177/0363546517697957

However, if you’re trying tobuild muscle, research indicates that high doses of NSAIDs (drugs like ibuprofen and aspirin), may hinder exercise’s ability to increase muscle strength. Lilja J, et al. (2017). High doses of anti‐inflammatory drugs compromise muscle strength and hypertrophic adaptations to resistance training in young adults. DOI: 10.1111/apha.12948 You might consider natural anti-inflammatories like turmeric and willow bark.

You can buy turmeric supplements and willow bark extract online.

Bottom line: If your goal is bigger biceps, a little soreness maybe be part of the process. An occasional Advil is probably fine. Just take one, and don’t make it a regular part of your routine.