What exactly does it mean to recover after a workout? Whether you’re strength training, running, spinning or dancing, your body needs time to repair and re-energize after exercise. During strenuous physical activity, muscle tissue breaks down, fluid is lost and energy stores are depleted. Recovery allows the body to repair damaged muscle tissues (ultimately leading to the creation of bigger muscle fibers, or building strength) and to replenish energy stores.
If you don’t give your body the time and nutrients it needs to recover, you’ll not only wear yourself down and increase risk for injuries, you may never see the results you’re working so hard to achieve. To make the most of your workouts, keep these recovery guidelines in mind:
1. Rest. One of the easiest, but also one of the most important, things to do to post-workout is to rest. After working a particular muscle group, a 24- to 48-hour break is needed for optimal recovery. This is why you’ll see many people training upper body one day, for example, and working lower body the next. Taking a break allows tissues to repair and natural growth hormone levels to be replenished.
2. Eat. An optimal, healthy diet is essential for proper recovery. Aim to eat a meal rich in protein, carbs and healthy fats within 30 to 60 minutes of your workout to replenish nutrients that may have been lost during exercise.
3. Drink. Drinking water during your workout is essential to keep yourself from becoming dehydrated (drink 8 ounces every 15 minutes, whether or not you feel thirsty), but replacing fluids post-workout is just as important. How much is needed? Weigh yourself before and after exercising. Drink about 2 cups of fluid for every pound of body weight lost.
4. Bounce back with BCCAs. Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are essential nutrients known to help support muscle recovery after physical activity.* Not only does taking a BCAA supplement help with the maintenance of lean muscle tissue, it may also help reduce muscle soreness after intense exercise. You can take BCAAs in capsule form or flavored powders that can be added easily to your water bottle. I like ARO brand because it’s free of artificial colors and dyes.
5. Fight muscle fatigue. One of the most abundant amino acids in the body, with high concentrations found in skeletal muscle, glutamine is another nutrient that can be taken post-workout to support the body’s recovery process.* It helps maintain the body’s nitrogen/ammonia balance for better muscle metabolism, while also helping to defend against stress and muscle fatigue.* Again, you can take tablets or mix a scoop of glutamine powder into your post-workout drink.
6. Defend against free radicals. Just like exposure to UV sunlight, exercise generates free radicals, which are unstable molecules that damage healthy cells in the body. To protect yourself, be sure to eat plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits, vegetables and other plant foods, or drink green tea. Yogi makes a Muscle Recovery Green Tea that also contains herbs to relieve minor aches and pains resulting from exercise.*
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
IFBB figure professional Melissa Transou, a fitness expert, wife and mother, blogs about the unique sports and nutrition needs of women and female athletes exclusively for Vitacost.com. Learn more about Melissa in this recent RXMuscle.com spotlight article, connect with her on Facebook or email her at email@example.com.