While most of us think that grabbing a protein drink after a really tough workout is all we really need to get on the road to muscle recovery, there is so much more to the recovery process than a shake or a glass of chocolate milk.
That’s not to downplay the importance of refueling with a mix of protein and carbs, which is vitally important to the recovery process.
“It’s important to refuel your body, especially with complex carbohydrates,” says Olympian Dara Torres. (Ref. 1) “Some experts speak about the ‘carb window,’ the sixty-minute period following a workout when your body needs carbs to replenish glycogen and refuel your body’s energy resources.”
(Yogurt is also a good post-workout recovery food.)
But whether you’re hitting the gym, heading outdoors for a run or exploring some back country on your bike, you’re working muscles that will have to recover after your workout. And refueling is only part of the process.
There are some other equally important moves many of us might miss, and these could make a huge difference in not only how fast we recover from exercise, but how quickly we see the benefits of our workouts.
Drink plenty of water
While it’s easy to forget to drink enough water – beautiful scenery or working to improve your speed or weight can be distracting - exercising without enough hydration is like driving on fumes. You’ll be working with weakened muscles and will have a slower recovery time. (Ref. 2)
According to researchers at Temple University, dehydration during exercise causes the body to send blood to the surface of the skin to help regulate body temperature and keep you cool. That means less blood is sent to the muscles where it’s needed most, leading to impaired muscle function. (Ref. 3)
Drink up before you begin your workout, drink during your workout if you can and after you’re done, make sure to replace all the liquid you’ve lost by working up that good sweat.
Don’t forget to stretch
When you’ve finished your workout, the last thing you probably want to do is cool down, but that’s the most important part of the process.
Stretching muscles allows them to lengthen and become more flexible when they’re already warmed up, so they’ll work more efficiently when it comes time for your next workout.
“Make sure you set aside at least 20 minutes after a workout to cool down and stretch. If you don't plan for it, you are more likely to skip it,” according to bodybuilding and fitness pro Barbara Bolotte.
Not only that, stretching can have health benefits beyond toned muscles, she added.
“Prolonged stretching with moderate exercise and diet control will help manage cholesterol levels and significantly reverse hardening of the arteries,” she said. (Ref. 4)
Get some shut-eye
When we sleep, our body is on down-time, even if our brain is busy dreaming and some of our body’s most important hormones are at their most active.
This is the time our muscles rebuild themselves. (Every time we work out, our muscles sustain small tears. When those tears are knitted back together during sleep, THAT’S when we get stronger.)
Skimping on sleep means that not only do our muscles have less time to rebuild, but all sorts of other troubles come into play.
Sleepless nights mean higher levels of cortisol – the fight of flight hormone that elevates glucose levels, even when we don’t need it. That excess glucose hanging around has the potential to lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, no matter your size. (Ref. 5)
Without proper rest, our bodies don’t effectively recover from the day’s events, including exercise, and we’ll be more prone to injure ourselves the next time out.
Getting plenty of sleep also helps reduce oxidative stress and chronic inflammation, which helps rebuild mitochondria, generating enough energy to power us through our next workout, according to Shape magazine. (Ref. 6)
Without adequate levels of mitochondria - essentially the engines in every cell that not only produce the energy we need to exercise, but also impact how quickly we recover from that exercise – we burn less fat, have a weakened immune system and have less energy.
Let’s say you’ve just ridden a century – a 100-mile bike ride for those in the know – and you hop off your bike with tender yet tight muscles.
While a massage or some time with your legs in a hot tub can help ease the tension, doing some other, light exercise can also help with the recovery process.
Walking a mile or so or taking a swim will work different muscle groups and stretch out those you’ve over-taxed during your day-long ride.
“Active recovery can stimulate blood flow to the muscles to help reduce muscle pain,” according to the experts at Men’s Fitness. (Ref. 7)
The next day, instead of feeling stiff and sore, you’ll feel more flexible because you worked your muscles in a different way.
Our Total Balance formula contains the powerhouse antioxidant astaxanthin – the nutrient that gives seafood such as shrimp its pink color - which has been shown to not only help boost strength and energy, but also speed up muscle recovery. (Ref. 8)
- Ketchiff, Mirial, Power Up, Shape Magazine, November 2015