Gretchen Lidicker is a writer, researcher, and the author of the books CBD Oil Everyday Secrets and Magnesium Everyday Secrets. She has a degree in biology and a masters in physiology with a concentration in complementary and integrative medicine. She's been featured in the New York Times, Marie Claire, Forbes, and Travel & Leisure.
Whether you’re a competitive athlete or just on a new workout kick, muscle soreness, pain, and stiffness can keep you from reaching your full potential. It is, quite literally, a pain to have the motivation to achieve your fitness goals—but be held back by sluggish recovery from your workouts.
If you do a quick Google search for workout recovery methods, you’ll get thousands of results. It’s hard to know where to turn. Which ones really work?
Here are 5 science-backed workout recovery methods to get you back in the gym, on the pavement, or in the studio — STAT.
You’re probably familiar with the huge category of post-workout protein shakes, bars, and powders. But have you ever really stopped to consider why, exactly, protein is so important? According to an article from the Department of Human Movement Sciences at Maastricht University Medical Centre in The Netherlands, “Dietary protein ingestion after exercise stimulates muscle protein synthesis, inhibits protein breakdown and, as such, stimulates net muscle protein accretion.” This occurs after all types of exercise, including resistance training and endurance workouts.
What to do: Make sure you’re getting at least 0.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight after your workout. This can come in the form of whole foods — try one of these 5 high-protein desserts — or a protein powder or other supplemental form of protein.
Ice baths, cryotherapy, and cold water immersion are all types of cold therapy, which has become increasingly popular for workout recovery. And it’s for good reason! Research shows that cold therapy immediately after exercise can reduce pain and curb muscle damage better than heat. So while you might instinctively reach for a heating pad to soothe sore muscles, what you might actually need is ice.
What to do: After a particularly taxing workout, try taking a cold bath (with the water somewhere between 50 and 59 degrees) for at least 10 minutes.
It might surprise you, but sleep might be the most important factor when it comes to recovering from your workout. According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), inadequate sleep can seriously hinder your ability to recover from exercise, especially weight lifting. As they write on the NSF website, during the N3 stage of non-rapid eye movement sleep, “blood flow to your muscles increases, and tissue growth and repair occurs.” So while you should be mindful of your sleep hygiene at all times, it’s especially important if you’re hitting the gym on a regular basis.
What to do: Two hours before bed, shut off all electronics and wind down with a nice book, music, of some journaling. Make sure you sleep 8 full hours after tough workouts; or, schedule your hardest workouts on days you know you can get to bed early or sleep in the next day.
Intense exercise creates small tears in your muscle fibers, which leads to inflammation. Research has shown that massaging muscles after intense exercise reduced the production of cytokines, molecules that are produced when there’s an inflammatory response trigger. Massage also stimulates the mitochondria, which are known as the energy centers of our cells. The best part? You don’t have to schedule a 90-minute full-body massage to get the benefits According to one study, published in Science Translational Medicine, massaging even a single part of the body for 10 minutes will help.
The truth is that what you do after your workout is just as important as the workout itself, so try one of these science-backed recovery methods and notice how they help you optimize your fitness goals.