RECOVERY TIPS AFTER EXERCISE
Rest and recovery is an essential part of any workout routine. Your after-exercise recovery routine has a big impact on your fitness gains and sports performance and allows you to train much more effectively. Exercise is an essential part of maintaining a happy and healthy lifestyle, but it is not without risk of injury. To minimise these risks and perform optimally the next time you exercise, you must allow your body to recover. Exercise recovery does not take long or require much effort, but it is often neglected. If you schedule recovery into your fitness routine, it will soon become second nature, and you will be helping yourself get the most from your exercise. Unfortunately, most people don’t have an after exercise recovery plan.
WHY RECOVERY IS IMPORTANT
Recovery after exercise is essential for muscle and tissue repair and strength building. This is even more critical after a heavy weight training session. A muscle needs anywhere from 24 to 48 hours to repair and rebuild, and working it again too soon simply leads to tissue breakdown instead of building. For weight training routines, never work the same muscles groups two days in a row.
There are as many methods of recovery as there are athletes. The following are some tips of the most commonly recommended by the experts:
1. Replace Lost Fluids
You lose a lot of fluid during exercise and ideally, you should be replacing it during exercise, but filling up after exercise is an easy way to boost your recovery. Water supports every metabolic function and nutrient transfer in the body and having plenty of water will improve every bodily function. Adequate fluid replacement is even more important for endurance athletes who lose large amounts of water during hours of sweating.
The following fluids replenish and hydrate most effectively:
- Water:Essential for maintaining your body’s water balance and replacing water lost when sweating.
- Milk:Milk has been shown to provide sufficient hydration for athletes and recreational exercisers. It also helps to build lean muscle and speed up recovery.
- Sport drinks:Useful for people partaking in intense exercise, but not for low intensity exercise (e.g. walking). The purpose of sport drinks is to replenish blood glucose, glycogen and electrolytes depleted during intense exercise. The average sport drink contains 250 kilojoules of carbohydrate per serve (mainly in the form of sugars). If the energy supplied by the sport drink is not worked off during the exercise, weight gain will result. To maintain your current weight, the energy from the foods you eat must be equal to the energy you burn.
The amount of fluid consumed after exercise should equal or exceed the amount of sweat lost. Intense athletes should drink fluid that will replace electrolytes (e.g. milk or a sport drink). For moderate intensity exercisers, water will be adequate.
2. Eat Healthy Recovery Foods
After depleting your energy stores with exercise, you need to refuel if you expect your body to recover, repair tissues, get stronger and be ready for the next challenge. This is even more important if you are performing endurance exercise day after day or trying to build muscle. Ideally, you should try to eat within 60 minutes of the end of your workout and make sure you include some high-quality protein and complex carbohydrate. This will help recovery and increase metabolism. The best foods to eat after exercise are high glycemic index (GI) foods. These foods are more quickly digested by the body and therefore will replenish energy faster.
3. Rest and Relax
Time is one of the best ways to recover (or heal) from just about any illness or injury and this also works after a hard workout. Your body has an amazing capacity to take care of itself if you allow it some time. Resting and waiting after a hard workout allows the repair and recovery process to happen at a natural pace. It’s not the only thing you can or should do to promote recovery, but sometimes doing nothing is the easiest thing to do.
4. Stretch It Out
After a tough workout, consider gentle stretching. This is a simple and fast way to help your muscles recover. Stretching after you have exercised is very important. During exercise, a lot of pressure and strain is put on our muscles, tendons and joints. Your muscles will become knotted if you do not stretch out these tender spots. After a while, these knots become worse and start affecting other muscles. Knots may not pose too much of a problem in the short term, but may eventually result in a muscle injury that will prevent you from further exercise. Stretching after exercise will improve the flexibility of the muscles and will reduce any soreness from the exercise.
Stretching should begin within 10 minutes of finishing exercise, before your muscles have a chance to tighten up. Some important points to remember while stretching are:
- Stretch until you feel a “stretch” or tension. Muscles should never be strained to the point where they feel pain;
- Hold post-exercise stretches for at least 30 seconds per stretch;
- Stretch slowly; and
- Breathe out at as you ease into the stretch.
5. Perform Active Recovery
Easy, gentle movement improves circulation which helps promote nutrient and waste product transport throughout the body. In theory, this helps the muscles repair and refuel faster. Warming down involves 5–15 minutes of extra exercise after the main exercise is completed. The warm down should be low intensity to allow your heart rate to drop gradually. Warming down also prevents muscle stiffening. The warm down does not have to be the same type of exercise as the main activity.
6. Get a Massage
Massage feels good and improves circulation while allowing you to fully relax. You can also try self-massage and Foam Roller Exercises for Easing Tight Muscles and avoid the heavy sports massage price tag.
7. Take an Ice Bath
Some athletes swear by ice baths, ice massage or contrast water therapy (alternating hot and cold showers) to recover faster, reduce muscle soreness and prevent injury. The theory behind this method is that by repeatedly constricting and dilating blood vessels helps remove (or flush out) waste products in the tissues. Limited research has found some benefits of contrast water therapy at reducing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
How to use contrast water therapy: While taking your post-exercise shower, alternate 2 minutes of hot water with 30 seconds of cold water. Repeat four times with a minute of moderate temperatures between each hot-cold spray. If you happen to have a spa with hot and cold tubs available, you can take a plunge in each for the same time.
8. Get a Bit More Sleep
While you sleep, amazing things are taking place in your body. Optimal sleep is essential for anyone who exercises regularly. During sleep, your body produces Growth Hormone (GH) which is largely responsible for tissue growth and repair.
9. Try Visualization Exercises
Adding a mental practice to your workout routine can be a huge benefit for any athlete. Spending time practicing mental rehearsal or following a mindfulness meditation program can help process a calm, clear attitude and reduce anxiety and reactivity. Getting familiar with how your mind works, how thoughts can bounce around, and how you don’t need to attach to any of them, is a wonderful way for an athlete to recover both mentally and physically. Additionally, practicing positive self-talk can help change the ongoing dialogue in your head. Consider using both types of mental practice during your recovery days.
10. Avoid Overtraining
One simple way to recovery faster is by designing a smart workout routine in the first place. Excessive exercise, heavy training at every session or a lack of rest days will limit your fitness gains from exercise and undermine your recovery efforts.
Listen to Your Body for a Faster Recovery
If you are feeling strong the day after a hard workout, you don’t have to force yourself to go slow. If you pay attention, in most cases, your body will let you know what it needs, when it needs it. The problem for many of us is that we don’t listen to those warnings or we dismiss them with our own self-talk (“I can’t be tired, I didn’t run my best yesterday” or “No one else needs two rest days after that workout; they’ll think I’m a wimp if I go slow today.”). The most important thing you can do to recovery quickly is to listen to your body. If you are feeling tired, sore or notice decreased performance you may need more recovery time or a break from training altogether.
- Dawson B, Cow S, Modra S, Bishop D, Stewart G. Effects of immediate post-game recovery procedures on muscle soreness, power and flexiblity levels over the next 48 hours. J Sci Med Sport. 2005; 8(2): 210-21.
- Greenwood JD, Moses GE, Bernardino FM, Gaesser GA, Weltman A. Intensity of exercise recovery, blood lactate disappearance, and subsequent swimming performance. J Sports Sci. 2008; 26(1): 29-34.
- Shirreffs SM, Armstrong LE, Cheuvront SN. Fluid and electrolyte needs for preparation and recovery from training and competition. J Sports Sci. 2004; 22(1): 57-63.
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