9 Ways To Recover From Your Workouts Faster

By Esther Crain for Men's Journal

Image via: healthandstyle.com

Image via: healthandstyle.com

To reach your fitness goals, you hit the gym regularly, target specific muscles, and push the intensity of your workouts. But you might as well throw in the towel if you’re not treating your body to proper post-exercise rest and recovery. Muscle fibers broken down during training need time and TLC to heal. Skimp on it, and you’re less likely to build strength and endurance. 

Plus, you could end up with an injury, says Tedd Keating, Ph.D., CSCS, associate professor of kinesiology at Manhattan College in New York City. Below are the nine recovery rules you need to follow to get the most from your hard work.

1. Spread Out Your Protein Intake

Protein helps repair muscle. But the sole focus on consuming protein within 45-60 minutes of leaving the gym is short-sighted. “This used to be the conventional wisdom, so you’d have all these guys rushing out of the gym to get a protein meal,” says Keating. Your body can only process so much protein after a meal. So instead of one big meal, spread your protein intake out throughout your meals and snacks. Aim for about 1.4 grams of protein for every kilogram of bodyweight every day.

2. Avoid Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

Popping occasional over-the-counter anti-inflammatory meds (NSAIDs) to ease achy muscles is no big deal. But there’s a school of thought that says taking them like candy actually hinders recovery because it cuts down on the natural inflammation that results from stressing your muscles and that preps them for repair. A 2012 article in Sports Medicine made the case that regular long-term use of NSAIDs can interfere with muscle regrowth. It’s your body’s response to stress, it initiates healing, says Keating, and that’s what builds strength and size.

3. Foam Roll Frequently

“Preliminary studies show that foam rollers after a workout can improve recovery,” says Keating. The rollers have an anti-pain effect on your body, he says, and that can help get you back into the gym faster. Foam rolling is also one of your best tools for preventing injury, so spend at least 10 minutes on one after every workout.

4. Tailor Your Rest to the Task

How often you break between strength workouts has a lot to do with your intensity level and routine. A basic approach to total body strength training is three days per week, with a rest day between each, says Craig Ballantyne, CSCS and author of Turbulence Training. Some advanced athletes might consider a recovery week off after several weeks of alternate-day intense workouts. Moderate exercisers can get away with a day off after every two or three days. Rest days don’t have to mean parking your butt on the couch — doing entirely different, less taxing workout (for example, yoga instead of weight training) can keep your burning calories and scoring a fitness buzz without affecting recovery.

5. Sleep Drives The Recovery Process

Recovery isn’t just about resting specific muscle groups. It also means scoring 7-8 hours of restful sleep, because so much repairing and rebuilding happens when you’re snoozing and your body isn’t moving, says Ballantyne. “Sleep also leads to increases in the production of growth hormones, which aids recovery,” he says. And of course, a sleep deficit hurts performance in other ways, such as altering metabolic functioning and plunging you into brain fog.

6. Have Coffee After A Workout

A double espresso as a recovery drink? There’s actual research behind this. It has to do with replenishing glycogen stores in muscles. Glycogen, found in carbohydrates, is the fuel your body runs on, and a killer workout depletes your glycogen reserves. A study in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that muscle glycogen levels were replenished faster when athletes consumed a complex carb drink infused with caffeine as opposed to when they had a carb-rich beverage without caffeine.

7. Looks Past Sports Drinks

True, those sweetened sports drinks have simple carbs, which are easily absorbed as post-workout fuel. But unless your fitness routine is crazy intense and in the heat, you probably don’t need the extra electrolytes that are the selling point for many sports beverages, says Keating. Better options? Water gives you simple, effective hydration. And a recent study touted the benefits of antioxidant-rich tart cherry juice. And though the research is preliminary, chocolate milk can work too. It has the right mix of protein and sugar, says Ballantyne, kick-starting muscle regrowth.

8. Cool Down With Music

One small 2010 study discovered that listening to music, specifically slow jams, after a workout improved recovery and relaxation in a group of young adults. Sounds like a strong argument for cranking 1980s power ballads on your iPod as you head home from the gym.

9. Recharge Your Mind

As important as the physiological aspect of recovery is, there’s actually a psychological reason to take it seriously as well. Taking a day off gives you time to mentally recharge and stave off workout boredom, says Ballantyne. It breaks up the routine and gives you a chance to take part in different activities, or to tend to the rest of your life instead of turning into a gym rat. With your brain refreshed and refocused, you’ll be better able to tackle your fitness goals, he says.