5 Key Tips to Improve Recovery After a Workout
When it comes to reaching your fitness goals most people optimize training and nutrition but fail to pay attention to another key variable, recovery.
Well, while diet and training are certainly key, what if I told you that optimizing your recovery could improve your performance in the gym as well as help you lose fat, gain muscle, or add more strength in a short space of time.
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) following exercise is very common amongst both athletes and weight lifters.
DOMS may begin as soon as 24 hours post exercise and last for up to 72 hours and is normally a marker of under recovery, especially if it occurs on a regular basis.
If you’ve worked out before, then you know that DOMS is not only painful but reduces performance as well.
Therefore, any method that could either speed up DOMS or reduce the intensity would be valuable for weight lifters and athletes alike.
If you are training hard, participating in sports, or dieting, then recovery may be the limiting factor, especially if you are already optimizing your diet and training.
Luckily, I’ve searched through the literature and in this article I will provide you with 5 scientifically backed tips to optimize recovery and reduce DOMS.
1. Protein & Carbohydrates Post Workout
The post workout anabolic window has played an important part in sports nutrition for several decades.
Protein alone has been shown to have a positive effect on both muscle growth and muscular strength post workout1. However, one practice that is still misunderstood in a lot of the fitness or bodybuilding realms is the powerful combo of carbohydrates and protein post workout.
As you work out your body uses glycogen from your muscles to fuel exercise. At the completion of your workout, depending on its type and intensity, your glycogen stores may be significantly depleted.
Related: Everything You Need to Know about Post-Workout Nutrition
Even if you aren’t an endurance athlete, some high intensity interval training studies have shown muscle glycogen depletion of 40-60% from baseline with a few short sprints2.
To optimize muscle recovery and performance it is essential to restore that lost glycogen, which helps lower cortisol post workout, increases insulin and ensures you are re-fuelled for tomorrow’s workout.
Because of the improved carbohydrate tolerance and non-insulin dependent metabolism of nutrients immediately after the workout, the best way to restore glycogen is to take a post-workout shake once you finish the workout.
As expected, studies have found that supplementing with a carbohydrate + protein supplement post workout replenished glycogen stores to a greater degree compared to just carbohydrates alone3. Carbohydrates post workout have also been shown to reduce muscle soreness the next day, compared to no carbs after the workout.
Try consuming around 0.2 – 0.4 grams of carbs per 1LB bodyweight post workout. This figure will depend on your calorie intake, goals, exercise intensity/duration etc.
2. Drink More Water
Water is arguably the most important nutrient your body requires – it plays a key role in digestion, absorption, transportation and use of nutrients. Water is also responsible for energy production and joint lubrication4.
After an intense workout it is not uncommon to lose a significant amount of water through sweat. A 2% reduction in body weight from water loss can lead to heat-related illnesses and in very severe cases possibly even death5.
Most people do not consume enough water because they rely on the thirst mechanism. However, this is not a good indicator because by the time you are thirsty you’re already dehydrated6.
Therefore, to stay ahead of the game and improve both performance and recovery it is recommended you consume at least 2 cups of water before your workout, and another 2 cups after your workout for every pound you may have lost in sweat7.
Adequate fluid replacement post exercise has been shown to improve both recovery and performance in the following sessions, vs those that do not re-hydrate post workout8.
Aim to consume around 16 oz. of water leading up to the workout, plus another 16 oz. of water per 1 hour of exercise. This number should be increased if you exercise in hot or humid environments.
Massages are the go-to recovery strategy for many, especially in sports and professional settings.
While massages are a very common practice for recovery, until recently there was surprising little research on the efficacy of massages.
In one study, researchers examined the effects of massages on muscle recovery in NCAA D1 basketball and volleyball athletes. All of the athletes participated in three hard days of intense strength training in the weight room to maximize muscle damage and soreness.
However, one group received a massage on the third day and the other did not. The researchers then looked at the rate of perceived soreness as well as performance on the jump height and shuttle run.
Related: 3 Simple Recovery Methods to Train Harder Than Ever Before
The results showed that 17% of the participants in the control group noted that they had increased levels of soreness, whereas as 80% of participants in the massage group noted decreases in soreness after receiving a massage.
For vertical jump, the control group showed no changes in the pre and post-test assessments but the massage group saw significant increases in vertical jump height. Finally, for the shuttle run the control group saw an increase in sprint time due to under-recovery and fatigue, whereas the massage group actually decreased sprint time9.
Massages may be beneficial for improving muscle soreness by increasing blood and lymph circulation, as well as providing extra blood to areas that lack a constant blood supply such as tendons and ligaments.
Remember, massage doesn’t mean you must hire a professional. Now, with some research, you can perform self-massage, along with using tools such foam rollers as well.
4. Casein Protein Before Bed
While many people ingest protein post workout to increase muscle protein synthesis and recovery, they forget about another important window, pre-bed.
It has been theorized that by consuming protein before bed you could enhance muscular adaptations and recovery even further because the protein provides a constant amino acid supply while you sleep, along with reducing protein breakdown which may occur during a long overnight fast.
One group of researchers tested this, providing 16 healthy young males with an intense workout protocol and monitored the anabolic response throughout the day. These researchers then provided one group with 40g of casein protein before bed and the other 40g of placebo powder.
The results showed that the group who consumed casein before bed elicited muscle protein synthesis rates 22% greater compared to control, a key mechanism behind muscle growth and recovery10.
Along with helping your muscles recover while you sleep the extra protein before bed is a great strategy to increase your total daily protein intake, which will further enhance recovery and reduce DOMS.
The importance of adequate sleep for muscle recovery cannot be overstated and is one of the best tips provided in this article.
Research shows that when you deprive yourself of sleep you impair cognitive, immune, and hormonal function.
Related: Science Tells All: Get Shredded While You Sleep
While cognitive function isn’t linked to recovery, your immune and hormonal function both play integrative roles in cellular repair, the removal of toxins and waste products, along with new growth.
Two key anabolic hormones that are regulated by sleep are testosterone and growth hormone. Inadequate amounts of sleep have been shown to decrease testosterone concentrations, impact your body’s natural production of growth hormone and increase cortisol.
All of these factors are clearly the opposite of what you want when trying to add new muscle, reduce DOMS and optimize recovery.11
To maximize testosterone and growth hormone production while improving muscle recovery, make sure you’re getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night as a minimum and more on occasions when you are dieting, training hard, training multiple times per day or generally under recovered12.
Lots of different factors affect muscle recovery, luckily, most of them are in your control and easy to fix.
To optimize muscle recovery and performance try applying these five top tips:
- Consume protein + carbohydrates post workout
- Make sure you drink at least 2 cups of water pre and post workout
- Get a massage to quickly reduce soreness and increase performance
- Consume casein protein before bed to maximize gains over night
- Make sure you get 7-8 hours of sleep per night.
- Cermak, N. M., de Groot, L. C., Saris, W. H., & van Loon, L. J. (2012). Protein supplementation augments the adaptive response of skeletal muscle to resistance-type exercise training: a meta-analysis. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 96(6), 1454-1464.
- Gollnick, P. D., Armstrong, R. B., Sembrowich, W. L., Shepherd, R. E., & Saltin, B. (1973). Glycogen depletion pattern in human skeletal muscle fibers after heavy exercise. J Appl Physiol, 34(5), 615-8.
- Ivy, J. L., Goforth, H. W., Damon, B. M., McCauley, T. R., Parsons, E. C., & Price, T. B. (2002). Early postexercise muscle glycogen recovery is enhanced with a carbohydrate-protein supplement. Journal of Applied Physiology, 93(4), 1337-1344.
- Kleiner, S. M. (1999). Water: an essential but overlooked nutrient. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 99(2), 200-206.
- Sawka, M. N., & Pandolf, K. B. (1990). Effects of body water loss on physiological function and exercise performance. Perspectives in exercise science and sports medicine, 3, 1-38.
- Rico-Sanz, J., Frontera, W. R., Rivera, M. A., Rivera-Brown, A., Mole, P. A., & Meredith, C. N. (1996). Effects of hyperhydration on total body water, temperature regulation and performance of elite young soccer players in a warm climate. International journal of sports medicine, 17(02), 85-91.
- Mullins, V. A., & Houtkooper, L. (1997). Nutrition and Recovery From Endurance Exercise. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 19(5), 7-11.
- Moreno, I. L., Pastre, C. M., Ferreira, C., de Abreu, L. C., Valenti, V. E., & Vanderlei, L. C. M. (2013). Effects of an isotonic beverage on autonomic regulation during and after exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 10(1), 2.
- Mancinelli, C. A., Davis, D. S., Aboulhosn, L., Brady, M., Eisenhofer, J., & Foutty, S. (2006). The effects of massage on delayed onset muscle soreness and physical performance in female collegiate athletes. Physical Therapy in Sport, 7(1), 5-13.
- Groen, B., Pennings, B. A. R. T., Beelen, M., Wallis, G. A., Gijsen, A. P., Senden, J. M., & Van Loon, L. J. (2012). Protein ingestion before sleep improves postexercise overnight recovery. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 44(8), 1560-1569.
- Tufik S, Andersen ML, Bittencourt LR, Mello MT. Paradoxical sleep deprivation: neurochemical, hormonal and behavioral alterations Evidence from 30 years of research. An Acad Bras Cienc 2009;81:521–38.
- Weitzman ED, Zimmerman JC, Czeisler CA, Ronda J. Cortisol secretion is inhibited during sleep in normal man. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 1983;56:352–8.