Exercise is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle. It provides numerous benefits, such as improved mental health and boosted physical performance.
However, the workout isn’t the only part that matters—the recovery is equally important. Postworkout recovery is the process of allowing your body to rest and repair after exercising, which can play a big part in producing the results you want. Through a combination of techniques and strategies, you can optimize this process and build stronger, healthier muscles.
The importance of recovery
While the extent of the recovery you’ll need to do will vary, it is a necessary step regardless of the intensity of your exercise regimen. That’s because most workouts create microtears in your muscles; these tiny tears are responsible for the soreness you may feel the day after rigorously exercising and play a key role in helping your muscles grow stronger. After a workout, your body goes through a repair process that begins with inflammation and ends with the synthesis of new proteins, resulting in stronger and more resilient muscles. You must make sure that you’re giving your body the time it needs to complete this recovery. If you don’t, you may end up doing more harm than good, even possibly injuring yourself.
Apart from muscle repair, your body needs to replenish its glycogen, which is the primary energy source for your muscles during exercise. Exercising rapidly depletes the glycogen stored in your liver and muscles, and when those stores are empty, your performance decreases and your body becomes highly fatigued. It can take up to two days for your glycogen levels to fully recover from a strenuous workout.
Further, recovery gives you time to rehydrate. Water is essential for various bodily functions, including regulating body temperature and transporting nutrients to the muscles. During exercise, you lose that water through sweat, which can then lead to dehydration. When you don’t hydrate properly, your body can’t replenish those lost fluids and, therefore, won’t be able to adequately recover.
There are two main types of recovery: active and passive. In active recovery, you engage in a low-intensity, low-impact workout, such as taking a walk or stretching. This activity stimulates blood circulation to better remove the buildup of waste in your muscles, allowing them to repair and rebuild after your exercise. Conversely, passive recovery is a complete break from all exercise. The American Council on Exercise recommends taking a rest day every seven to ten days if you’re continually performing more rigorous exercises. This time away can help you avoid stress injuries or overtraining and gives your body the opportunity to relax and fully recover.
Because there are multiple ways to recover, you should pick and choose what works best for you based on both the type of exercises you perform and how you feel after completing them. Here are a few ideas to help you get started.
Do a cooldown
Be sure to properly cool down when your workout is over. This could include stretching out your muscles, which can reduce muscle tension, improve blood flow, increase mobility, and, in turn, help your body repair faster.
Massage your muscles
Use a foam roller to massage your muscles after exercising. This activity releases the tension from the layer of tissue on top of your muscles and can actively reduce soreness and increase your flexibility and range of motion.
Drink plenty of water and electrolyte-rich fluids not only after working out but also throughout the day to replace the liquids you lost while exercising. This will lubricate your joints and prevent muscle cramps and soreness caused by lactic acid buildup.
Eat a balanced meal
Consume a good balance of protein and carbohydrates within an hour of finishing your exercise to help replenish your glycogen stores and promote muscle repair and growth.
Get enough sleep
Prioritize your sleep, getting the recommended minimum of seven hours each night, to give your body the time it needs to recover from the microtears in your muscles.
Postworkout recovery is just as important as the workout itself, so make sure to stretch or take a rest day afterward. Your body will ultimately feel healthier and stronger because of it.