The Best Ways to Recover From a Workout

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that “work” is a significant part of “workout.”

Establishing a consistent workout pattern is one of life’s most difficult things to do. Because it feels like work. Even after we’ve determined we’re going to do it daily, we find every excuse in the world to avoid it.

I’m too tired. I’m too hungry. Maybe after I eat and rest, I’ll feel like doing it. It’s too hot today. It’s too cold today. Once the weather changes, perhaps I’ll do it.

Or, I’m too sore from working out yesterday. I’ll just skip one day and resume tomorrow.

Make It a Habit

Deciding to work out daily is relatively easy. Especially when we have a good reason for it. Such as we notice we’re overweight. Or we’re tiring more easily than before. Or the doctor strongly recommends it.

But actually doing it is much more difficult. It takes willpower. For many, it involves setting a specific time each day to work out and getting an accountability partner. 

Here’s the good news. Once that workout habit is established, it becomes considerably easier. It’s like you’re doing it on autopilot.

And here’s even better news. Regular workouts will do your entire body a world of good. You will see and feel the results, sooner rather than later.

Too Much Pain = No Gain

We’ll talk more at a future date about different types of age-appropriate workouts. And which muscle groups you can work on which days.

For today, I want to focus on the best ways to recover from a workout. That’s so you can keep working out daily without much soreness.

Physical fitness experts are famous for saying, “No pain, no gain.” To a certain extent they’re correct. But too much pain will set you back because you won’t be able to work out the next day or two.

The key is to cause very small amounts of damage to working muscles, producing waste products such as lactic acid. And building up carbon dioxide in the blood.

Revisiting Cold-Water Immersion

Before we get into good recovery techniques, let’s look at a couple that may not be so effective.

A recent Washington Post article suggests that cold-water immersion following a workout might produce short-term benefits. But it also may result in long-term penalties. 

Sitting in a tub of cold water could reduce fatigue, muscle soreness and inflammation. But the cold temperature might also restrict blood flow to your muscles.

Brad Schoenfeld is a professor in the exercise science program at Lehman College in New York City.

He said lack of blood flow could impair “the muscle protein synthesis largely responsible for muscle growth.” Those muscles may not become as large and strong as they otherwise would.

NSAIDs May Be Counterproductive 

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) could have the same type of negative effects.

Again, the temporary relief from muscle soreness will probably be accomplished with NSAIDs.

But an eight-week resistance-training program demonstrated that chronic use of ibuprofen actually reduced strength and muscle size.

According to Schoenfeld, the program results provided “compelling evidence that athletes concerned with maximizing muscular adaptations should limit consumption of ibuprofen.”

Sleep Promotes Recovery 

Believe it or not, the best ways to achieve muscle recovery are as basic as proper sleep, diet and protein intake.

Shona Halson is an associate professor of exercise science at Australian Catholic University. She says, “Sleep is essential for almost all biological functions.” Especially for those with significant physical and mental demands.

She said sleep deprivation causes all sorts of problems. Including reduced performance and reaction time. And increased pain perception.

Plus increased inflammation, changes in metabolism and hormones, and reduced learning, memory and cognition.

Healthy Diet Is Another Helper 

A nutritious diet is also essential for muscle recovery. Leucine-rich protein, found in chicken, beef and fish, activates a protein essential for muscle repair.

Eat protein-rich foods every four hours for 24 hours following a workout. The key is keeping protein activity high during recovery.

Some physical fitness experts believe creatine as a nutritional tool can help with recovery.

Sports Medicine journal suggests creatine monohydrate reduces the level of exercise-induced muscle damage. While promoting long-term training gains.

More Recovery Suggestions

Three other methods for muscle recovery following a workout are active recovery, stretching and massage. 

In a four-week training program, a light, 15-minute jog after a training session was shown to protect performance improvements. Compared to those who recovered passively, joggers had a pronounced increase in anaerobic capacity.

Following a workout is also a great time to stretch. That’s when muscles are warmest and most pliable. 

Schoenfeld added that massage and foam rolling appeared to have beneficial effects on muscle recovery.   

Don’t Overdo It

Now, many of us are at an age where we aren’t entering weight-lifting competitions. Or trying to impress folks at the gym with how long we can run on a treadmill. 

But staying healthy and fit as we age is as important as ever. Working out regularly with a doctor-approved regimen is beneficial. 

Many of us won’t have the same recovery needs athletes in their 20s and 30s have. But we still want to get back at it the next day to remain in tip-top condition.

If we don’t overdo it, we won’t require as much muscle recovery time. But when we do need it, adequate sleep, a nutritious diet and protein intake will help us achieve it.

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