Working out is great for boosting strength, slimming down and toning up. But unless you want to deal with ongoing muscle soreness, fatigue and poor performance, it’s important to pay attention to muscle recovery.
The better you take care of your muscles and tissue repair, the better they’ll perform in future workouts.
Importance of Muscle Recovery
Muscle recovery is the best way to maximize your muscle growth and strength, but it’s also important to give your muscles a break and time to rest.
You can think of this as a kind of “active rest.” While it’s typically recommended that you take 1-3 day off per week, if you’re training in a sport (rather than for general fitness) or working out 6 days per week or more, it’s really important that you build in enough rest between workouts so that your muscles don’t become fatigued or overworked.
Here is what you should and shouldn’t do after a great workout in order to stay healthy, avoid injury and recover faster.
Muscle Recovery Do’s
#1. Eat plenty of protein, plant-based foods and hydrate properly
The most important thing to do to promote muscle recovery is to feed your body all the nutrients it needs.
According to an article published in Nutrition and Muscle Recovery, “the most influential nutritional resources for promoting muscle anabolism are proteins, amino acids, carbohydrates, antioxidants, and dietary supplements.”
Your muscles need protein and complex carbohydrates to recover and build muscle. The “ideal” proteins are complete lean animal proteins, meaning they contain adequate amounts of all essential amino acids.
Eat a protein-rich meal immediately after your workout, such as a glass of low-fat milk or yogurt with almonds. You can also use collagen, bone broth or whey protein powder to help incorporate more protein into your diet.
Include fish, poultry and other lean meats, as well as eggs, avocados and nuts for a balanced diet. Anti-inflammatory foods include fish oil (like salmon), chia and flaxseeds, and berries. Healthy fats like olive and coconut oil can also help reduce inflammation in the body.
For example, a serving of broiled salmon along with greens like kale or spinach, Swiss chard or spinach, asparagus and sweet potatoes is an excellent meal for muscle recovery.
Staying hydrated is super important after exercise, but it’s also key to combating muscle soreness. Dehydration can make you more susceptible to injury and other issues like inflamation.
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#2. Continue doing stretching and compound movements
Stretching for 10 minutes after a workout can reduce your risk of injury and improve how you recover. Also, do compound movements with large muscle groups, such as your legs, back, chest and shoulders.
When you perform compound movements with large muscle groups, it does two things: 1) it helps you build the maximum amount of muscle possible and 2) it helps you recover even faster than other types of workouts.
#3. Have active recovery days
Active recovery refers to light exercise that you can perform on scheduled days off. Think of active recovery as “light” days.
Try swimming laps, going for a walk, or doing gentle yoga or circuit training. These types of activities will speed your recovery and keep your muscles ready for their next workout.
#4. Have massage therapy or foam rolling
Studies show that massage therapy, foam rolling and other self-massage techniques can help decrease muscle soreness, pain and even emotional stress. For the best results, massage yourself gently, use a foam roller, massage gun or massage chair, or visit a professional for massage therapy.
Compression garments are another option to consider. They can help enhance recovery from exercise when used within 24 hours after a workout.
Massage therapy is helpful for limiting inflammation and boosting the blood flow.
Muscle Recovery Don’ts
The number one “don’t” regarding muscle recovery is to avoid overtraining.
#1. Don’t overdo it.
Training for more than two times per week can lead to overtraining, which could reduce your performance, increase risk of injury, and even make you sick.
In order to recover from a hard workout and repair muscles, you need rest. For most people, taking off from exercise two days a week allows muscles to complete rest and repair.
#2. Avoid unhealthy foods and drinks
Avoid added sugar and fast foods as much as possible. Consume healthy fats, and drink plenty of water. If you’re addicted to sugar and consuming it regularly, it’ll cause inflammation that messes with blood flow, performance and body composition goals.
The same thing goes for fast foods, alcohol, plus refined grains and hydrogenated oils found in most unhealthy processed foods.
#3. Don’t underestimate the importance of sleep
When you sleep, your body goes through a deep process of relaxation. Sleep is an essential part of feeling your best and being able to perform at your best. Research shows sleep deprivation can lead to many physical symptoms, including poor strength, focus, reaction times and more.
If you’re trying to build muscle and get more fuel for your next workout, you should get about seven to nine hours of quality sleep at night.