By Martin Ebner
Whether you're new to exercise or are a seasoned athlete, it's possible that you've been neglecting the importance of recovery. The truth is, results don't happen in the gym alone and what you do in the hours and days surrounding your workouts can make all the difference between a slow and painful recovery with mediocre results and a fast recovery with great results!
If you find that you're having to routinely battle muscle pain and sluggishness not only during your workouts but long after you're done, here are 6 simple things you can do right now to improve your body's ability to recover:
1. Prioritise post-workout nutrition
Let's start with arguably the most important factor of recovery, post-workout nutrition. You are not only what you eat but when you eat. Macronutrient timing is critical especially when it comes to post-exercise recovery. If you skip it, perhaps in an attempt to reduce your overall calorie consumption to lose weight, you can seriously restrict your body's ability to fully recover from a workout. It's important to remember that muscles recover and grow when they're resting, not when they're active.
Now, how much you consume following your workout should be dependant on your goal and the intensity level of the session. However, as a general rule, aim for a ratio of 2:1 carbs to protein within 1-2 hours of finishing your workout.
Additionally, you might want to consider eating potassium-rich foods like bananas and potatoes following a workout. Like calcium and sodium, potassium levels deplete during workouts and is a vital mineral in muscular energy.
Note: If you find that you're short on time or simply don't feel like cooking a meal immediately after a workout, a Whey protein supplement can come in very handy.
2. Push yourself but don't overdo it!
By this I mean, yes, push yourself hard enough to reap the rewards of exercise but don't go overboard. There's a very fine line between the perfect amount and overdoing it completely.
If you find that you are sore and exhausted for days following a workout, it's possible that A.) you are neglecting recovery and/or B.) you are pushing yourself too hard during workouts.
Your workouts should be reflective of your goals and lifestyle and unless you're a professional athlete or your life depends on it, it's worth considering the intensity and frequency of your workouts. Push yourself to the point that it spurs steady progress, not completely destroys you in the hours and days following your workouts. If you push too hard too often without allowing for proper recovery, you'll likely face an injury or burn out. Neither of which will get you any closer to your health and fitness goals.
The simplest thing to do is to listen to your body and adapt your workouts to how you feel on any given day.
I know, I know. Stretching can be tedious and time-consuming, especially following a long and grueling workout. However, by allowing 10 minutes or so at the end of each workout to stretch, you can improve both the speed at which your muscles recover and heighten your ability to perform exercises without the restriction of tight muscles. Remember, your body is all connected and if one part is tight and sore, it can impact your ability to exercise efficiently.
While many people are probably aware of the importance of hydration during exercise, they may not realise the importance of hydration after a workout. Water plays an essential role in recovery, from the digestion of vital nutrients to repairing damaged muscles during your workouts.
As a general rule, aim for at least 2 litres of water a day.
5. Quality sleep
While it's easy to say, “sleep more”, it's not necessarily all that easy to do when you've got an active social life and hectic work schedule. If you can't get a consistent 7-8 hours sleep every night, at the very least try to get into bed an hour earlier than usual the night before and the night following a workout. Sleep is not only a great way to relax the body and shut off mentally, it's a great opportunity for your body to repair itself from strenuous workouts.
6. Take active recovery days
Forget this no days off crap circulating on Instagram and social media. These so-called “high performance” athletes aren't actually working out 7 days a week, it's more about their ego and their need to appear superhuman. Either that or they are all on steroids.
Active recovery means light activity with the goal to activate blood flow and improve circulation which can help reduce muscle soreness and stiffness.
Walking, light cycling, stretching and mobility work are all great examples of active recovery.
Related: 9 reasons you're always tired