It's been a day or two since your last workout. You've been feelin' good, and riding high on all those endorphins. And then the agony hits — soreness, stiffness, aching muscles. In one painful moment, you realize how important it is to recover quickly after a workout.
Because whether you're a workout fiend, or someone who just got back to it, soreness really can make the whole "getting in shape" process an agonizing one. No one enjoys hobbling around with stiff legs or near-useless arms. And it often hurts so much it can have you swearing off exercise forever.
So what causes all this post-work out pain? As Jessica Matthews, MS, ACE-certified health coach and assistant professor, says in an email to Bustle, "Exercise produces mechanical stress to muscle tissue in the form of small microscopic years. It is these small microscopic tears that ultimately produce soreness in the body, given that exercise is a form of stress (though a good form of stress) that disrupts the body's homeostasis."
Now, you might be wondering if anything can be done, or if you'll be cursed to a life of soreness forever. Well, according to Matthews, you're in luck. "The recovery period following the workout plays a key role in determining how the body will respond and adapt to the training stimulus (aka- your workout)," she says. Here are some after work out tips for preventing soreness, warding off exhaustion, and quickly getting back to your day.
1. Wait 30 Minutes Before Eating
You may have some pretty intense post-exercise hunger, and that's a good thing when it comes to recovery. As Matthews says, "The optimal time period for refueling is with 30-45 minutes post-workout." So go ahead and have yourself a snack.
2. Be All About Those Carbs
One of the best things you can eat for recovery are carbs, so don't think twice about having a granola bar, or a bagel. "Consuming carbohydrates during this time can actually help increase protein synthesis and enhance gains in terms of muscular strength and muscular endurance," Matthews explains.
3. Don't Forget About Protein
Be sure to add in some protein, too. "Research related to the science of nutrient timing suggests that consuming a combination of carbohydrates and protein in approximately a 2:1 or a 3:1 ratio post-workout is helpful in terms of ensuring optimal recovery," Matthews explains. This is good news for those of us who love a cheese/cracker combo.
4. Drink Up ASAP
Not that you necessarily need a reminder to drink water, but here's one anyway — you should drink water before, during, and after our workout. Staying well-hydrated is not only necessary for your health, but it can help ward off soreness, too. "Water supports every metabolic function and nutrient transfer in the body, and having plenty of water will improve every bodily function," said Elizabeth Quinn on VeryWell.com. Got it? Good.
5. Don't Forget About Other Nutrients
While you're on your snacking kick, be sure to add in some antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E. These nutrients will help repair tissues and prevent damage of cells, according to Matthews. Electrolytes don't hurt either, so go for something that contains potassium, such as a banana.
6. Take A Quick Nap
If you have a few minutes post-workout, see if you can sneak in a quick nap. "Research suggests taking a nap around two hours after a workout helps the body enter deep, restorative states of sleep," said David Tao on Greatist.com. Here's hoping you wake up feeling great, and decidedly un-sore.
7. Sip On Green Tea
Here's yet another healthy excuse to drink more tea, especially the green variety. "Green tea is packed with catechins, antioxidants that not only fight heart disease and cancer, but also help reduce muscle damage caused by exercise," noted Krista Stryker on MindBodyGreen.com. "Try drinking iced green tea for a refreshing pre-workout boost or even afterwards to help your body recover faster from workouts."
8. Drink Some Chocolate Milk
I always have weird cravings for chocolate milk after I workout, and it turns out there's good reason for that. As Tao said, "The protein it contains will kickstart muscle recovery, and those chocolaty carbs have been shown to decrease the amount of time it takes for the body to get ready for its next challenge."
9. Keep On Moving
Whatever you do, don't topple off the treadmill and remain sedentary for the rest of the day. Instead, keep yourself moving, whether that means walking it off, or occasionally doing some squats. This will send fresh blood to your tired muscles, helping to repair the damage, according to Anna Monette Roberts on PopSugar.com.
10. Hop In A Cold Bath
If you're planning on hopping in the shower after your workout, make it a cold one. "Icing sore muscles, or even submerging yourself in an ice bath, after a workout can help reduce swelling and recovery time," Stryker said. If anything, it will be refreshing, and may just be worth a try.
11. Take An Anti-Inflammatory
If you can feel some true soreness coming on, it may be worth popping an anti-inflammatory to preemptively stop the pain. "Consult a doctor first, but according to some studies, anti-inflammatory medications ... can speed muscle recovery," Tao said. If you're kind of against pills, try an anti-inflammatory spice, such as Turmeric. It may be just what you need to feel better.
While exercising is great, the ensuing pain is most definitely not. So follow these tips for recovering after your workout, and get back to your day feeling pain-free.
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