One of the most important aspects of exercise and training is muscle recovery. Essential recovery time allows for your body and muscles to return to its equilibrium (aka homeostasis). Without giving your muscles time to repair between intense workouts, you increase your risk for potential injuries, soft tissue damage, and fatigue. Recovery also helps with easing the soreness in your muscles and encourages you to maintain a consistent workout regimen.
Here are a few tips to help your muscles recover properly before and after your workout:
Staying hydrated is important before, during, and after your workout. When you sweat during a workout, you lose fluids and need to replace them. While drinking water is your best solution to replenish your fluids, for a particularly strenuous routine, you may want to drink liquids with electrolytes. During high intensity workouts, you lose these essential minerals that help maintain basic muscle function.
Before your workout: Drink about 17 ounces of water about two to three hours before moderate physical activity.
During your workout: You only need to sip 7 ounces of water every 20 minutes or so.
After your workout: Drink about 16 to 24 ounces of water for every pound of body weight you've lost while exercising. (Hint: You need to burn 3,500 calories to lose one pound of weight).
Keep in mind, it’s best to consume water consistently throughout the day rather than doing so all at once in an effort to rehydrate, as drinking too much water can damage your kidneys. So, sip regularly — and for more tips on staying hydrated, click here.
If it's been a couple of hours since you've eaten, having a carbohydrate snack before your workout can enhance performance. An easy pre-workout snack to grab on the go could be a banana, small cup of applesauce, or a handful of whole-grain crackers. Ideally, you should eat your pre-workout snack one to four hours before you exercise.
Post-exercise, you want the right combination of nutrients and calories at the right time. A blend of protein and carbohydrates about 30 minutes to an hour after your workout helps your body repair and restore muscles. Grilled chicken and rice is a great post-workout meal, but if you prefer a quick post-workout snack, try a glass of chocolate milk or an apple with peanut butter.
When you pair good nutrition and hydration with a good night's sleep, you are giving your muscles — as well as your whole body — a chance to recover. Losing too much sleep, combined with physiological stress and personal life stress, could threaten your health, and as studies show, impede effective muscle recovery.
You can use a sleep calculator to determine how much sleep you need, but in general, it's recommended you get at least eight hours of restful sleep per night and wait at least 48 hours between working out the same muscle groups, which can help prevent injury and give your muscles time to rebuild.
No matter how long your workout is, a warm-up allows your body the chance to prepare and helps prevent injury. You'll want a dynamic warm-up, one that gets your heart rate up, like light jogging, as well as movements with a large range of motion, like arm circles or lunges. Your warm-up only needs to be a few minutes long, but it can be just what your muscles need to prepare. After your workout, spending a few minutes on a low intensity recovery exercise, such as slow walking or biking at a slow pace, can also help prevent soreness and fatigue. Always take a few minutes to stretch, too.
Many athletes use compression garments for quicker muscle recovery. When worn after your workout, studies show the pressure that compression garments put on your muscles can delay muscle soreness. These garments can also help with healing by improving blood flow to your muscles. You’ll want to wear specific compression garments on the muscle group you've just worked out within three to four hours after your workout to reap the benefits.
About the author
Nicole Pyles is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. Her writing has appeared in Ripley's Believe it or Not, WOW! Women on Writing, Sky Island Journal, and The Voices Project. When she's not writing, she loves spending time with family, watching movies, and reading books. Say hi on Twitter @BeingTheWriter.