There’s nothing more exhilarating than the feeling you get when you’re crushing a 5K run or conquering a set of heavy deadlifts. But if you’re not prioritizing what you do after the workout as much as you do the actual programming, you’re making a major mistake. Here are five essential post-workout strategies that experts say you should incorporate into your regular routine.
1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Sweating is the body’s primary way of cooling the body while exercising, but athletes don’t always have time to refuel on water during performance, which makes post-performance hydration so important. “Regardless of your workout, if you are sweating than you need to make sure you are fueling your body properly after the fact to maintain good health and achieve maximum benefits,” says Amanda Schreiber, ATC, AT/L of Bespoke Treatments in Seattle. A general rule of thumb? Aim to drink 24 ounces of water for every pound of body weight lost during exercise. This will help with a number of things, from protein synthesis to nutrient absorption.
“The body will struggle to digest and process any food and nutrients without adequate hydration,” she says. “Make sure to wash down that burger with a few cups of water, your muscles will thank you! Bonus tip: eat foods high in water content—such as tomatoes and cucumbers—to get a two for one deal.
2. Refuel smart. Your muscles need fuel to be replenished after exercise, so post exercise nutrition is key. What you reach for depends highly on the type of exercise performed, says Dr. Jonathan Amato, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS of Bethpage Physical Therapy on Long Island. After an intense bout of aerobic exercise, the ideal amount of carbohydrate intake is 0.6 to 1 gram of fast digesting carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight within 30 minutes of completion to replenish glycogen stores in the muscle. “Adding a protein source of about 0.2 to 0.5 grams per kilogram of body weight will combat muscle breakdown and aid replenishment of glycogen stores from the carbohydrates in the muscle,” he says.
Resistance training is a whole other beast. “After a moderate to heavy resistance training session protein takes a larger role in recovery as the amino acids found in protein are the building blocks needed to repair and grow new muscle tissue,” he says, suggesting a shake (like Revere’s post-workout Strength) with 20 to 40 grams of good quality protein.
3. Reach for the foam roller. Recovery tools, like a foam roller or a lacrosse ball, can be super helpful for reducing muscle soreness and achieving fluidity. In fact, foam rolling can also improve power, agility, strength, and speed when used in conjunction with dynamic prep movements (like lunges and skaters), according to a study published in the Journal of Athletic Training. “Mobility is important because limited mobility may place extra stress on the musculotendinous system,” says Blake Dircksen, DPT, CSCS of Bespoke Treatments in New York City. “Lack of mobility at one joint likely means that the joint above or below is having to compensate, which may lead to an overuse injury.”
New to rolling? Start with your calves. Sit up straight with a roller placed under your right calf right below the knee. Cross your left calf over your right calf on the roller. Place your hands on the ground a few inches out on either side of your hips, fingers pointing outward. Press down into your hands to lift your bottom off the mat, keeping your calf balanced on the roller. Roll out 10 times; repeat on opposite side.
4. Catch some ZzZs. We need sleep to recharge and recover, both mentally and physically. During sleep is when our body repairs tissue, tops off on hormonal production, updates memories and so much more. “We are a nation of over tired and under rested people,” says Amato. “Sitting up for all hours of the night binge watching TV and stalking on our phones. But if you are serious about training, shutting down early and getting to bed can help you recover from your day and best prepare you for a new one.”
5. Stretch it out. We’ve all been told dozens of times that stretching is important before and after exercise. But are you doing the right kind? The golden rule: keep things dynamic—or fluid—before activity and static—or still—once the effort is done. “After you finish a hard run or training session, you want to switch your focus towards maximizing your recovery potential so that you can get back to baseline (or above), faster,” says Cameron Yuen, DPT, CSCS of Bespoke Treatments in New York City. “Post exercise stretching as a means towards recovery is as old as structured exercise itself and can be helpful for range of motion improvements.”
After your workout, focus on stretching the muscles and movements that are most limited, suggests Yuen, including the hip flexors, quadriceps, calves, and hip rotators. The below stretches are a great jumping off point. Hold each stretch for 10 deep breaths.
Hip Opener: Start in a high plank position, wrists under shoulders and core tight. Bring left foot outside left hand, then weave your hand around the back of the foot and place it on the left side (this helps you go deeper than a traditional hip-opening stretch). Lean into left hip by shifting weight toward the left side while keeping your right foot in place. Repeat on opposite side.
Quad Pull: Stand on one leg with your knees touching. You can grab onto a chair for support. Keeping the chest upright and your tailbone tucked, grab your right ankle with right left hand and pull toward your glutes. Repeat on opposite side.
Table Top Pull: Start standing with your feet together. Bring your right leg up to a figure four position, crossing the right ankle above the left knee..Grabbing onto the ankle, slowly pull the foot up toward your groin region. Repeat on opposite side.