When it comes to a healthy lifestyle, your recovery days and easy workout days are just as important as the days you crush it. Take the time you need to rest, and reap the benefits later.
Speed Up Your Recovery
1. Get more sleep.
While the exact relationship between sleep and exercise , multiple studies suggest sleep deprivation can have a significant negative effects on performance and recovery. Samuels C. Neurologic clinics, 2008, Apr.;26(1):0733-8619. Przybyłowski T, Bielicki P, Kumor M. Journal of physiology and pharmacology : an official journal of the Polish Physiological Society, 2008, Apr.;58 Suppl 5(Pt 2):0867-5910." data-widget="linkref is also prime time for the body to undergo protein synthesis, so getting extra zzzs after a tough workout might make for stronger muscles and better endurance. Sprenger A, Weber FD, Machner B. Cerebral cortex (New York, N.Y. : 1991), 2015, Jun.;():1460-2199." data-widget="linkref
2. Listen to music.
Music can be great for helping us power through a tough workout (or at least distracting us from that “My legs are on fire!” feeling), but listening to relaxing tunes can also aid in exercise recovery. Savitha D, Mallikarjuna RN, Rao C. Indian journal of physiology and pharmacology, 2010, Nov.;54(1):0019-5499." data-widget="linkref Slow-tempo songs can help reduce blood pressure and pulse rate more quickly after exercise.
3. Consume protein before bed.
Barring a serious case of sleepwalking, we’re not usually giving our body nutrients while we sleep. Consuming a light, protein-rich snack before bed allows our bodies to keep repairing muscles overnight.
4. Eat protein in the morning.
After a good night's rest, the body could use some nutrients to recharge. Breakfasts high in protein can give our muscles the necessary ingredients to start rebuilding and may reduce food cravings later in the day.
5. Drink chocolate milk.
Looking for a convenient post-workout snack on the go? Chug some chocolate milk. The protein it contains will kickstart muscle recovery, and those chocolaty carbs have been shown to decrease the amount of time it takes for the body to get ready for its next challenge. Karp JR, Johnston JD, Tecklenburg S. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 2006, Jun.;16(1):1526-484X." data-widget="linkref
6. Try tart cherry juice.
Stiff as a board from yesterday’s spin class or lifting session? Tart cherry juice and supplements might help reduce the swelling that occurs when muscles are damaged, allowing our bodies to recover faster and—thank goodness—with less pain.
7. Drink lots of water.
Better recovery could be just a glass (or two, or three…) away. Exercising while dehydrated can cause greater and reduce the body’s ability to repair itself. Before reaching for Gatorade, however, know that H20 is often enough for many individuals looking to replenish fluids.
8. Cut back on the booze.
Those of us who enjoy a few post-workout happy hours might want to be careful of too much of a good thing. Research suggests more than one or two drinks after working out could reduce the body’s ability to recover. Barnes MJ, Mündel T, Stannard SR. European journal of applied physiology, 2010, Sep.;111(4):1439-6327. Barnes MJ, Mündel T, Stannard SR. European journal of applied physiology, 2009, Dec.;108(5):1439-6327." data-widget="linkref
9. Make foam rolling your friend.
Much of the soreness that goes along with exercise occurs when our muscles and —connective tissue running throughout the body—become knotted. Rolling out muscles with foam or semi-rigid rollers—two forms of —can help remove those knots and prevent muscle imbalances from forming. While not exactly noted for its comfort, the benefits are worth it. Anderson RU, Wise D, Sawyer T. The Journal of urology, 2011, Feb.;185(4):1527-3792." data-widget="linkref
10. Get a massage.
Recovery backrubs, anyone? Like foam rolling, massage helps break up scar tissue and reduce stiffness associated with . Scented candles and relaxing tunes optional.
11. Eat a little protein before your workout.
Amino acids are of tissue, and we consume protein to give our bodies enough to rebuild and maintain muscles damaged during workouts. Having a little protein before working out can trigger our bodies to start muscle synthesis (repairing and building more muscle) throughout and even after hitting the weights.
12. Eat something with protein post-workout, too.
Sensing a trend here when it comes to protein? While a protein-rich snack can get the body ready for a great workout, sipping on a protein smoothie or eating a protein-filled meal the body has enough fuel to keep on rebuilding throughout the day.
13. Take a daytime nap.
Research suggests taking a nap around two hours after a workout helps the body enter deep, restorative states of sleep. Davies DJ, Graham KS, Chow CM. International journal of sports physiology and performance, 2010, May.;5(1):1555-0265." data-widget="linkref And trust us, a quick power nap of about 20 minutes won’t ruin an upcoming night’s rest.
14. Rest your muscles.
While many advocate two days between workouts involving the same muscle group, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for recovery time. Factors like age and fitness level are important in determining how much rest we really need. If performance is decreasing from workout to workout, it might be time to schedule in a few extra rest days.
15. Try compression garments.
For many athletes, it’s important to quickly regain the energy (and willpower) to run, jump, or throw once again. Recent research suggests wearing compression garments can help decrease the time it takes for muscles to recover between intense bouts of exercise. Lovell DI, Mason DG, Delphinus EM. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 2012, Apr.;25(12):1533-4287." data-widget="linkref
16. Take a cold bath.
While it might be a scary prospect, research suggests taking a cold, full-body plunge after working out can significantly reduce soreness and inflammation for up to 24 hours after exercise. Ingram J, Dawson B, Goodman C. Journal of science and medicine in sport / Sports Medicine Australia, 2008, Jun.;12(3):1440-2440." data-widget="linkref
17. Try anti-inflammatories.
Consult a doctor first, but according to some studies, anti-inflammatory medications and spices (like turmeric and ) can speed muscle recovery. Davis JM, Murphy EA, Carmichael MD. American journal of physiology. Regulatory, integrative and comparative physiology, 2007, Mar.;292(6):0363-6119. Leadbetter WB. Clinics in sports medicine, 1995, Aug.;14(2):0278-5919." data-widget="linkref However, if you're trying to build muscle, NSAIDs (drugs like ibuprofen and aspirin), may hinder hypertrophy (muscle growth). Schoenfeld BJ. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 2013, Apr.;42(12):1179-2035. Translation: If your goal is bigger biceps, a little soreness maybe be part of the process.
Originally published March 2012. Updated August 2015.