Exercise Recovery Methods

Laura Williams, M.S.Ed.
Recovery sleep

If you haven't put a whole lot into exercise recovery methods, you're not alone. After all, doesn't your body just recover on its own? Well, sort of. The fact is, you can actually speed recovery and improve your next bout of exercise by learning a few simple exercise recovery tricks.

Exercise Recovery Methods

Stretch and cool down your muscles thoroughly after each workout. Stretching will help maintain and improve flexibility while also improving blood flow to the muscle tissue. Increased blood flow will enable better delivery of oxygenated blood and nutrients to the muscle cells, which will speed recovery time. Stretching can be an important part of a cool down, but following an exercise routine you should aim to remain up and walking around for at least five to 10 minutes. During exercise your body will increase blood flow to fuel the movement you're performing, and it's always a good idea to let your body adjust to the decreased blood flow requirements before sitting down.

Post-workout eating is an important part of exercise recovery. There are two reasons for this: 1) You use up some of your energy stores while exercising and it's important to refuel them, 2) In order to build muscle, you have to reach a state of positive nitrogen balance. The only way to do this is to consume protein in the two hours following a workout. So, after a workout try eating a healthy meal consisting of carbohydrates and high quality protein. Healthy options include a turkey sandwich or a banana and a glass of milk.

Post workout drinking is also a key factor in speeding recovery time. Your body consists of roughly 50 to 60 percent water, and active muscle tissue is made of 75 percent water. If you fail to replenish the water lost during an exercise routine, you're setting yourself up for the negative biological effects of dehydration and hindered exercise performance down the line. During a bout of exercise you should aim to drink roughly a cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes and you should continue to drink water steadily for the six hours following a workout routine. Unless you're exercising for longer than an hour or you plan to workout again shortly, there's really no need to consume drinks like Gatorade or Powerade. You will naturally replenish lost electrolytes the next time you eat.

Sleeping would seem obvious, but a surprising number of adults live in a constant state of sleep deprivation. Sleeping just 5-6 hours a night short-changes your body's ability to recover and rebuild tissues that have undergone stress the previous day. It should be obvious that a rested, alert person will perform better in the gym or on the jogging trail than a worn and exhausted person, but sleep is an exercise recovery method that's often overlooked.

Light exercise targeting the muscles that you stressed the previous day can actually help speed recovery because it will increase blood flow to the damaged tissue. You don't want to perform the same type of exercise as you did the day before, though. For instance, if you performed a lower-body strength training routine, don't hit the squat rack again; rather, take a walk with a friend or hit your park for a moderate-intensity bike ride.

Supplements like whey/casein protein powder can help muscles recover for the same reasons that post-workout eating can speed recovery - they deliver key amino acids (the body's "building blocks") to damaged muscle, creating a positive nitrogen balance in the body that enables muscle growth and recovery. It's up to you whether you want to invest in protein supplements, but the fact is that a glass of milk delivers the perfect blend of amino acids to your muscles for a fraction of the cost.

Massage therapy can be beneficial, but mostly for the soreness itself rather than improving recovery speed.

Choosing Your Recovery Methods

While it may seem like exercise recovery just got a lot more complicated, the fact is that none of these methods take much time and you're probably already doing most of them. Simply take 10 to 15 minutes to cool down and stretch, eat a protein and carbohydrate rich snack, and make sure you get plenty of rest. For the regular gymrat or jogger, the steps above will go far in boosting your recovery efforts.

Exercise Recovery Methods