In fitness, a lot of our progress actually comes when we’re away from the gym.
Even if you put 100% effort into every workout, you’ll never be able to maintain consistent performance without proper recovery. You also won’t see as many visible changes to your body, as these changes happen as the body goes through its natural recovery process.
While most people understand that recovery is important, the number who actually know how to optimize recovery is much smaller. And while the body will recover by itself in time, you’ll want to learn some recovery optimization techniques, so you can get back in the gym for your next training session without delay.
That’s exactly what we’re going to cover in this article. So read on for tips on how to recover and refuel quicker after each workout.
You Guessed it: Proper Nutrition
Nutrition is central to all that goes on in the body. We need the right nutrition to fuel us during a workout, and also to fuel the recovery process.
By putting the right things into your body after a workout, as well as avoiding some things that are bad for you, you’ll see a noticeable improvement in recovery.
Protein and amino acids are particularly beneficial to the body’s recovery process. During this process, the body needs to repair and rebuild muscle tissue that breaks down during training.
It can do this with naturally produced protein and amino acids, however getting more of these substances from supplements has been shown to significantly speed up recovery (1).
Creatine is another supplement which has been shown to have positive effects on the body’s recovery process (2).
On the other side of things, unhealthy nutritional choices will slow down your recovery. In particular, limit or cut out junk food and alcohol to improve the recovery process.
Junk food (fast food, processed foods and sweets) put strain on the digestive system, taking away from resources the body needs to repair muscles.
Excess alcohol intake after training has been proven to slow down the rate of protein synthesis, which the body uses to repair damaged or strained muscle fibers (3).
Improve Circulation in the Sauna
Sauna can have positive effects on recovery after exercise (4). This is due to heat exposure, which works to increase blood flow, increasing the rate at which oxygen is supplied to the muscles.
Oxygen is crucial for all muscle function and recovery, so the more oxygen supplied through the bloodstream, the better your muscles will perform, and the faster they recover.
Sauna also stimulates the production of heat shock proteins, which can boost protein synthesis, thus speeding up the body’s recovery process.
Along with heat therapy, cold therapy can have similar benefits for recovery. Exposure to cold, such as immersion in cold water (i.e. ice baths) may be effective at minimising muscle soreness after exercise, as well as speeding up the rate of physical recovery (5).
Massage for Your Muscles
Another method you can use to recover quicker after working out is massage. This is not a new thing - massage as a therapeutic tool has been around for centuries. But many of us still underestimate what regular massage can do for us in terms of recovery.
Massage helps increase blood flow to fatigued muscles (6), which as we’ve already established is great for recovery. It also reduces inflammation and assists in the production of mitochondria, which help the body’s natural process for rebuilding muscle tissue (7).
It will benefit your recovery a lot to get regular massages - even just once a week, to loosen up the muscles and stimulate blood flow. If you can’t get to a proper masseuse this often, simply spend a few minutes with a foam roller after each workout.
Yoga & Stretching
In much the same way massage works, you can recover faster in between workouts by working on mobility and stretching. By doing this, you’ll loosen your muscles and help blood flow more freely to where it needs to go.
In addition to this, working on your flexibility can prevent or lessen muscle soreness, as can stretching and warming up the body before a workout.
If you find recovery is consistently a struggle, think about how you can add more stretching to your routine. Try stretching before and after working out, to warm up and cool down your body. Additionally, think about adding a weekly yoga session in between high intensity workouts.
Hydration is Key
Hydration is essential for recovery, but too often overlooked.
When we work out and sweat a lot, we lose a lot of fluids, which dehydrates the body. Dehydration comes with a range of negative effects on health, and even minor dehydration slows down the body’s natural recovery process.
On top of this, when we sweat we lose electrolytes, which are of vital importance to the body for many essential functions.
These electrolytes, which include minerals such as sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium, play a big part in maintaining regular muscle functions.
So, naturally, during a workout, a lot of electrolytes are lost via sweat. And if you use a sauna post-workout as well, you’re going to lose even more. That’s why hydration, and replacing these electrolytes can make all the difference to your recovery.
Studies agree that drinking a lot of water, along with consuming electrolytes, can help facilitate rapid recovery after vigorous exercise (8).
Always make sure you drink a lot of water during and after your workout - particularly if you’re taking part in high intensity exercises or using a sauna. At the same time, replenish lost electrolytes with a supplement like Nakedade, which gives you the electrolytes you need for recovery without the added sugar found in many sports drinks.
Good Sleep is a Must for Recovery
One more area to focus on that will drastically improve recovery is sleep. This is when the body works hardest repairing and rebuilding muscles. When you don’t get enough sleep, you’re more likely to wake up fatigued, still experiencing post-workout soreness, because you haven’t given the body enough deep recovery time.
Sleep also has a direct correlation with reaction time, cognitive function, and many more areas of athletic performance (9).
The first step to getting better sleep is simply not neglecting it. Don’t stay up late bingeing on Netflix - plan your sleep/wake times with the goal of getting 7-9 hours of sleep every night.
However, if getting quality sleep is an issue for you, try these tips to get to sleep faster:
Limit blue light before bed
Artificial blue light, from screens on electronic devices, replicate the same light frequencies as we get from the sun. This tricks the body into thinking it’s still daytime, and interferes with our natural sleep cycle.
Stress is a big reason many people struggle with sleep. Regular meditation is great at managing stress, and can help you relax before bed and get to sleep easier.
Some supplements can improve your sleep, by aiding relaxation and natural hormone production. In particular, try supplementing with magnesium threonate and L-theanine. Magnesium has been shown to improve sleep quality and reduce insomnia (10), while L-theanine has similar effects, providing an increase in sleep satisfaction in some studies (11).
Limit caffeine in the afternoon
Finally, limit your caffeine, especially later in the day. Caffeine promotes feelings of wakefulness, and remains active in the body for a number of hours after consumption. This means if you ingest caffeine after a certain time, some of its effects may linger late into the night, and interfere with your sleep. Try not to drink any caffeinated drinks after 2 or 3pm at the latest.
Giving it your all in the gym is only half of the process. If you really want to progress, you need to put as much effort into recovery as you do training itself. Proper recovery will result in faster muscle growth, and let you get back in the gym sooner with less soreness.
Follow the tips introduced in this article and you’re sure to see a marked improvement in your recovery post-workout.