By Soji James, CPT, CSCS
There’s nothing like the feeling you get after a great workout. Your blood’s pumping, endorphins are surging, and you step out of the gym with a satisfied smile on your face. But there’s another, less awesome feeling you may get post-workout. Your muscles burn, your body aches, and you just want to lie down and not move for a while. What’s this all about? When your muscles ache, it’s their way of letting you know they need time to recover and heal after an intense workout. They’re telling you they’ve been hurt, and they want you to listen. Follow these muscle recovery tips to start feeling better faster.
Mechanical stress to the muscles occurs when fibers rip and tear due to exercise that stresses the body. Metabolic stress occurs when a muscle produces the required energy to contract during a workout.
Both types of stress are essential to muscle growth, and they both require a post-workout recovery plan to heal fatigue and soreness. These five tips will enhance your recovery so your body will be ready for the next day of exercise.
Some of the best tips for muscle recovery are the simplest. Believe it or not, getting a proper amount of shut-eye will help your muscles more than anything else.
Sleep remains one of the best ways to give your body time to heal after a workout and relax any muscle knots that may have popped up. Why is sleep so important? Your body produces valuable muscle-building hormones like human growth hormone (HGH) when you settle down for the night.
In addition, enhanced blood flow to the muscles occurs during certain parts of the sleep cycle, fostering tissue growth and repair. Studies have also demonstrated the usefulness of sleep to get you ready for the next day at the gym or on the field. Research into basketball players found how adding two hours of sleep per night equated to a 5% boost in court reaction time and speed.
There is a great relationship between exercise and sleep. A tough workout can actually help you sleep better and give you more energy the next time you exercise. It’s a loop that lays a foundation for all other parts of your life as you grow stronger and feel better. If you’re having trouble getting to bed, then try following some tips for sleeping better.
Massages are another powerful and effective tool to enhance muscle recovery and relax the body after a workout. Massage therapy for athletes and everyday fitness junkies alike come in many different forms. Some choose to work with a professional for full-body relaxation. Others choose to target specific muscles and parts of the body to help them heal.
Tools like compression balls and foam rollers are used by some as a localized form of massage therapy. Myofascial release, like a traditional massage, breaks up muscle adhesions and helps realign tissue after a tough workout.
It’s best to carry out the myofascial release as soon as possible after your workout so your muscles and connective tissue do not have time to tighten up and create knots. A foam roller, compression ball, or rolling stick are effective ways to stimulate post-workout collagen growth and speed up muscle recovery.
The benefits of sleep and massage therapy can’t be understated when it comes to muscle recovery after a workout. Both relax the body, give it time to repair and heal, and ultimately make you stronger for the next time you exercise.
You should consider the foods you eat after a workout. You probably know about the importance of eating well post-exercise and understand to stay away from sugary snacks and junk food. But what types of food should you be focusing on to supercharge your recovery?
After exercise, your body needs building blocks like protein and carbs to begin the muscle repair process. Research suggests the importance of nutrient timing—meaning that the time you consume food after a workout might be just as important as the actual item you eat.
Spinach is chock full of much-needed nutrients like vitamins A and C. Each cup also contains protein, iron, and chlorophyll, an inflammation-fighting nutrient. Spinach is a very versatile food that fuels the body adequately to help it recover after a workout. Mix spinach in a post-exercise smoothie or add it to a salad for the best results.
Looking for a food that gives the perfect protein-carb balance to help your body recover? Look no further than lentils. Lentils are pretty easy to make and are filled with fiber to aid your muscles in repair and restoration after your workout is done.
Research demonstrates tart cherry juice contains a variety of specialized antioxidants and other elements that are potent anti-inflammatory agents. One study saw marathon runners either consume tart cherry juice or a placebo drink in the days leading up and after a race. Researchers found that the total antioxidant status in the body of the tart cherry juice runners was nearly 10% greater than the placebo group. Instead of opting for a sugary sports drink after exercise, make the switch to tart cherry juice to help your muscles recover.
There are many other ways you can promote healing and relaxation in your muscles after exercise. Proper stretching each day helps prevent injury and promotes flexibility in your body.
Focus on stretches that are closed-chain versus open-chain. Closed-chain stretches put pressure on the palms or soles of the feet, which has been linked to an increase in flexibility. Full-body exercises like squats and lunges are also useful if you don’t have a lot of time to stretch. Remember, the key is to be consistent to increase your flexibility over time.
There’s plenty you can do after a workout to foster muscle recovery and relief. The pain and aches after exercise might be uncomfortable, but eating right and encouraging muscle recovery will help reduce inflammation for future workouts and make your body stronger each day. Furthermore, if you have nagging injuries, then learn the right exercises to treat them. For example, exercises for patellar tendonitis are great for your legs. And, practice self-care and things like elbow bursiti treatment to minimize the effects of injuries when they do occur. Remember though, when you have serious injuries, you should see a qualified physician.
Like anything to do with exercise, your habits are key. Getting into a daily rhythm of muscle massage, adequate sleep, and nourishing foods will enhance your exercise and prevent injury. Don’t take your muscle recovery for granted. Giving your body the rest and fuel it needs will go a long way toward optimizing your next workout and keeping you on track to meet your fitness and health goals.