Your body does an excellent job of recovering by itself. Only sometimes that may take longer than it should. To speed up post-workout recovery you need to give your muscles exactly what they need.
Stretching and contracting of the muscles, during physical activity, creates micro tears in the muscle tissue. To avoid injury it’s important for muscles to completely heal before the next workout.
When you’re creating your workout schedule it’s important to plan the rest days as well. Because what you do between two workouts is as important as the workout.
Muscle recovery time after the workout
Like all natural processes, muscle recovery after a workout takes time. Repair and recovery of torn muscles doesn’t happen instantly.
Ideally, after a light to moderate workout you shouldn’t experience any muscle pain, but if you do it shouldn’t last longer than 24 hours.
In a case of moderate to intense workout muscle pain should last between 2 to 3 days.
And in a case of extremely intense workout recovery can last up to 5 days.
Causes of poor muscle recovery
Reasons your post-workout recovery lasts longer than it should may lay in your genes, health conditions or your health/life choices. In the remainder of this article we will focus on the latter. Because that is something you have control over.
Choices that cause longer muscle recovery are:
- Poor diet and lack of essential macro and micro nutrients
- Inadequate water intake
- Lack of good quality sleep
- Prolonged unmanaged stress
- Alcohol, tobacco and other harmful substances
- Stretching after workout
How to speed up post-workout recovery?
Warm-up before the workout
To minimize the damage a workout might do to your muscles and joints, you should practice dynamic stretching before the workout.
Dynamic stretches are slow movements that warm up muscles and get your joints go through their full range of motion.
This type of warm up gently prepares every muscle and joint for more intense activity.
Choose dynamic stretches that engage muscles and joints you will be working on during the workout. For example if you have a leg day, do mostly dynamic stretches for legs.
Cool down after workout
Do not stretch after workout. Latest research shows that stretching after workout is not effective and can even worsen muscle soreness and inflamation.
Stretching after a workout is one of those big misconceptions we have about the human body. Similar to the long believed idea that drinking hot tea will heal sore throat.
Imagine you get a small cut on your hand. If you start stretching the skin around that cut, the cut will expand and deepen. Well the same thing happens with your muscles. During a workout, muscles develop micro tears (cuts). Then, when you start stretching, those tears expand.
What you should do is a cool down. To bring your heart rate down and calm your breathing. If you are at the gym go for a slow pace walk on a treadmill. If you are at home walk slowly around the room.
Eat food that promotes post-workout muscle recovery
After workout your body needs to repair the damage and restock glycogen stores. Glycogen is fuel for muscles and proteins are building blocks.
Another thing to keep in mind is that workout is stressful for your body, and stress means oxidants. To prevent the damage they create, after workout you should eat food rich in antioxidants.
Focus your pre and post workout meals around those nutrients.
Carbohydrates and proteins from health whole food sources are your best choice. As a general rule foods with strong colors, like red and dark green, are often rich in antioxidants.
Focus on real food, not supplements, concentrates or convenient snacks. Your body is in distress and it needs food in its most simple natural form.
Additionally, if you are doing strength training have more protein based meals. But when you do cardio choose more carbohydrate based meals.
Good post-workout meal ideas:
- Banana, dark chocolate and nut butters
- Baked salmon, sweet potato and broccoli
- Quinoa, greek yogurt, nuts and mixed berries
- Whole grain bread, hummus and pickled beets
- Two handfuls of nuts and dried fruits mix
- Whole grain bread with tuna salad and baby spinach
- Egg white omelet with avocado on a whole grain bread
Rehydrate for a better post-workout recovery
During workout you lose a lot of water through sweating. That loss needs to be restored. It is recommended to drink 150% of the approximate water loss.
Best way to do that is by pacing your water intake over the period of 4 hours after the workout.
To know how much water exactly you should drink, weigh yourself before and after the workout. Let’s say you lost 0,5 kg (1 lbs). That means you should drink 750ml ( 3 cups) in the next 4 hours.
Unless you are a professional athlete, training heavily every day, water is a perfectly good choice. Even if you had an intense training session that lasted 1 hour. Together with a wholesome post-workout meal you will get all the nutrients you need.
From those 3 cups, not all have to be pure water. One cup can be green or black tea. Black tea is rich in antioxidants and some athletes say drinking black tea reduces the feeling of soreness.
During sleep the body does all the necessary maintenance work.
Getting plenty of rest and sleep after a workout will give your body enough time to repair and strengthen muscles and joints.
But know one thing, just laying in bed awake is not enough. You need to really be sleeping for your body to do the work. So turn off the lights and all the screens and get a quality night sleep.
Practice active rest for faster post-workout recovery
During the night you should sleep, but during the day you should practice active rest.
Healing processes require oxygen, without it healing is impaired. That means you need to have a good circulation through the damaged area.
The only way you can increase circulation is by activity.
Active rest means you give your muscles enough resting to recover but you also engage in light activity to keep the blood flowing.
The best activity for your active rest is walking.
Walking is the perfect activity. It will gently activate all muscles, in a way that is already familiar without exerting yourself. And elevate heart rate just enough to increase blood flow throughout the body.
Practice stress management techniques
Stress weakens the body. It impacts all bodily functions including repair and recovery.
Because stress places your body in survival mode. And while in survival mode all recovery processes are on the stand-by.
Workout itself is stressful for the body and coupled with prolonged unmanaged stress can really slow down the rate of recovery.
Find one stress management technique that works for you and spend 5-10 minutes daily practicing it. That will speed up your recovery, increase immunity and improve your overall health
Small changes you can make to lower your stress:
- Spend enough time outside in the sun or supplement vitamin D
- Talk to someone about what is troubling you
- Read a fiction book
- Turn off blue light on all the screens
- Go to bed an hour earlier without the phone
Wear compression clothing to speed-up post-workout recovery
The purpose of compression clothes is to direct blood flow from the surface blood vessels to the deeper ones. That should increase microcirculation through the muscles to speed up recovery.
Athletes who wear compression clothing say they feel less sore during recovery. And some even say they feel stronger in the next workout session.