Behind every intense and effective workout routine, there’s a recovery process that your muscles need to go through in order to keep making progress. And for this process to be successful, your muscles need all the help that they can get! Just like you take care of your whole body to keep it healthy, your muscles need extra care after exercising because they’re tired from all the work. It’s not just about waiting until your next workout, you need to actively promote muscle recovery to avoid any unwanted soreness or even injuries, so you can keep working towards your fitness goals without any setbacks!
There are many ways to improve your muscle-recovery process so that you can crush your next workout without a problem, and we’ll go over them with you so that you can improve your post-workout routine and fitness performance in general. So let’s get started!
Get enough rest
We’re kicking off this list with what is probably the biggest way to promote muscle recovery: resting properly. While it might sound obvious, a lot of people tend to disregard rest days because they think that they’re doing just fine. The thing is that sometimes you don’t notice that you’re tired until it’s too late and your muscles are already overtrained! This is more common among intermediate and advanced trainers because they don’t get as sore as beginners do, leading them to believe that they can keep going without resting, leaving no time for recovery and subsequently overtraining their muscles. This could significantly hinder your progress and even risk getting injured because your muscles can only do so much before needing some rest, which is why you need to keep this in mind whenever you’re working out, especially if you have an intense training program or work out several times a week. There’s no shame in getting the rest that your body needs, so try your best to prioritize resting in between workouts for speedy muscle recovery!
Eat enough nutrients
Healthy eating is always important, but emphasizing certain nutrients at different times will help you give your muscles the best care possible, allowing for a better recovery after each training session. There are two essential nutrients that will make your muscle recovery better: protein and carbohydrates.
Protein is the building block of muscle tissue, and it’s what’s going to help your body repair the muscle that was damaged during exercise as well as build new muscle. Carbs, on the other hand, are stored in your body in the form of glycogen, serving as its main source of energy. Naturally, you use a lot of energy to move your body and the weights around when you’re working out, so your glycogen stores get depleted and you need to fill them again with more carbs. This is why a post-workout snack that includes both protein and carbs can be a great way to support your muscle recovery efforts! Ideally, you should eat your post-workout snack (or meal, or shake) no longer than an hour and a half after your workout is over because this is when the body is more effective at using up nutrients to recover, so remember to pack something nutritious to eat after your gym sessions!
Be sure to check our list of the best post-workout foods for muscle recovery and growth for snack ideas!
Aside from protein and carbs, another thing that you might want to get in your body ASAP after a workout is water! You sweat a lot during exercise, making you lose water and electrolytes in the process, which you need for your body to regulate muscle function and the nervous system. You usually get electrolytes through your diet, but you can also use electrolyte supplements if you sweat a lot or have very intense workouts, to make sure you’re making up for all of the electrolytes that you lost while exercising. Not only that, but water is what helps absorb and transport the nutrients to your cells, which means that it helps get protein and carbs where they need to be for muscle repair and energy replenishment. Additionally, it helps flush out toxins that are associated with delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), allowing your muscles to better recover after each workout.
All in all, hydration is key for muscle recovery, so make sure you drink plenty of water at all times - pre and post-workout!
Take muscle-recovery supplements
When it comes to workout supplements to support your muscles, there are many options that you can try. Protein powder is a popular one because you need protein to repair damaged muscle, so it’s a great muscle-recovery supplement for your training days. But if you want to take your muscle recovery efforts to the next level, consider trying BCAA supplements!
BCAA stands for branched-chain amino acids, a group that consists of the three main essential amino acids involved in muscle protein synthesis: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Because of this, BCAAs are known for being the king supplement when it comes to enhancing muscle recovery and preventing muscle soreness. Several studies have backed this up, such as a publication from the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness that shows that BCAAs help decrease creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase concentrations in your body, which are intramuscular enzymes that accurately indicate muscle damage.  This means that BCAA supplementation may reduce muscle damage after working out, effectively supporting muscle recovery and helping you get back to the gym in no time!
Massage your muscles
Massaging your muscles helps release all the built-up tension and stress after each workout. This is a great way to promote muscle recovery after you’re done cooling down and stretching, and you can do it throughout the day too! There isn’t a specific time to do massages so you can just do it whenever you feel like you need it, such as when you start feeling sore or before going to bed so your muscles can have a better night’s rest, helping prevent DOMS the next day. You could give yourself a massage, ask your partner, or even treat yourself and go to a spa!
Another method that is widely used to help your muscles relax and recover is foam rolling, and it works similarly to massages. The actual method is called myofascial release, and it works by rolling your muscles with a foam roller, as if you were making bread, in order to release the tension from your muscles. The best way to do it is by getting on top of the foam roller and rolling your body over it so that your body weight pushes your muscles against the roller. This helps increase blood flow, bringing nutrients and oxygen over to the damaged muscles more quickly and speeding up muscle recovery time. Foam rolling also helps increase muscle flexibility and range of motion, so make sure to keep a foam roller around!
Cool down properly
When you work out, you put your muscles under a lot of stress, and you need to help release that stress right after so you can have a speedy post-workout recovery. Just like warming up helps prepare your muscles pre-workout so you can train properly without getting hurt, cooling down after your workout will help your muscles get back to their initial resting state so you can avoid sore muscles later on. You can cool down by doing a light physical activity such as walking on the treadmill for a few minutes so your heart rate can slow down. Then, you can help relieve the accumulated tension in your muscles by doing static stretches post-exercise. Make sure to stretch your whole body, particularly targeting the muscle groups that you used the most during your workout, and hold each stretch for a few seconds. This will help your muscles relax and recover more efficiently for your next workout session!
Get enough sleep
Everyone needs a good night’s sleep, no matter what you do, because your body needs enough rest. But this is especially important for those who live an active lifestyle and keep their muscles working hard because at night is when muscle growth and recovery happen! During sleep, there’s a phase where your brain has very little activity, allowing for more blood to reach your muscles and give it an extra dose of nutrients and oxygen. Additionally, during this phase, your body releases a hormone known as growth hormone which stimulates tissue growth and muscle repair, helping your muscles recover more efficiently. With a lack of sleep comes a lack of production of the growth hormone, which directly affects your athletic performance and can even result in a loss of muscle mass, and you definitely don’t want that if you’re trying to build muscle and get stronger. So make sure to get at least 7 hours of sleep at night, but aim for a little more, around 8 or 9 if you can!
Try active recovery
A big part of muscle recovery is promoting blood circulation after your workouts because it helps carry nutrients and oxygen to your muscles faster, which is why massages and foam rolling are so popular. But if there’s one that takes the cake for being the best muscle recovery technique, it’s definitely active recovery! While passive recovery (total rest) is encouraged, active recovery will benefit you the most between workouts because you’ll keep your muscles engaged and moving. If you just lay in bed for the rest of the day after a tough workout, your muscles will become stiff and sore, and the repair process will take longer because your blood flow will decrease. Any kind of non-strenuous activity can work as an active recovery, such as doing yoga, some light stretching, or walking outdoors! Even making the simple decision to walk up the stairs instead of taking the elevator counts as active recovery, just make sure it’s a very low-impact activity because you need your muscles to recover, not to get even more fatigued.
These are only some of the best ways to improve muscle recovery, but there are many more that you can try, such as using cold water and compression garments or even drinking tart cherry juice, which has been proven to significantly aid in exercise recovery. Ideally, you shouldn’t stick to just one method, but instead, use several of them to make your muscle recovery more efficient! And don’t be afraid to rest for a little longer if you feel like you need it. After all, you need your muscles to be healthy if you want to keep making progress toward your fitness goals, so take good care of them!