What you do after a workout is a key pillar to achieving the results you’re after and is just as important as your pre-workout routine. It is crucial to take the proper steps to promote muscle growth, fat loss, and recovery.
Without proper post-workout nutrition and routine, you can not only diminish potential results but also increase muscle soreness and risk of injury. Follow these steps to keep your body moving and optimized for maximum results:
It is just as important to hydrate after a workout as it is before and during. Intense exercise will cause your body to lose fluids via sweat, so you will need to replenish those fluids immediately after exercise.
The American Council on Exercise has suggested the following guidelines for hydrating before, during, and after the gym to prevent dehydration:
- Drink 17 to 20 ounces of water two to three hours before you start exercising.
- Drink 8 ounces of water 20 to 30 minutes before you start exercising or during your warm-up.
- Drink 7 to 10 ounces of water every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise.
- Drink 8 ounces of water no more than 30 minutes after you exercise.
You can also substitute water with healthy alternatives like coconut water, low-sugar sports drinks, and chocolate milk. These alternatives can provide the hydration you need in addition to electrolytes, potassium, and sodium, each of which can prevent and relieve muscle cramping.
Eat a Healthy Snack
Some studies have suggested that your body’s protein absorption is at its peak immediately after a workout, meaning that the right post-workout snack can aid muscle protein synthesis. Therefore, it may be beneficial to consume a protein-rich snack within 45 minutes of completing your workout.
The amino acids in protein promote muscle tissue recovery, repair, and growth and minimize muscle protein breakdown. It is also important to consume carbohydrates to support your energy and metabolism. As carbs are your body’s primary energy source, eating carbs after a workout can help maintain your energy levels and get enough calories in.
Here are some healthy snacks and post-workout meals that are rich in vitamins, minerals, protein, and carbohydrates:
- Peanut butter or almond butter and banana sandwich on whole grain
- A whey protein shake with milk and oats
- An omelette with whole wheat toast
- Greek yogurt with granola and berries
- A turkey sandwich on whole-grain bread
- Brown rice or quinoa with veggies and chicken
- Oatmeal with nut butter
- Sweet potatoes
Stretch Your Muscles
Stretching after a workout has a wide range of benefits that can not only promote your growth and recovery but also increase performance regardless of the type of workout you are doing:
- Reduce muscle tension and prevent soreness and cramping
- Increase flexibility and range of motion to reduce risk of injury
- Promote better posture and reduce back and shoulder pain
- Improve blood flow to reduce muscle soreness and stiffness
- Help you better digest post-workout meals
Static stretching or stretching that is done without movement is best for your post-workout routine. Check out our guide to static stretching, with stretches that you can try after your next workout.
When you finish a workout, allow your heart rate to gradually return to its normal state. For example, consider taking a quick walk after an intense cardiovascular or resistance workout, such as the Ski-Row Air or Ski-Row Air + PWR machines.
A proper cool-down will prevent dizziness while also relieving stress and preventing muscle soreness and injury. Light exercise, such as walking or yoga, is also beneficial on rest days. This will prevent lactic acid buildup and promote blood circulation.
Take a Cold Shower
A cold shower or an ice bath after a workout can have many benefits. Cold water can ease sore muscles, limit inflammation, and decrease heat exhaustion. Ice baths and cold showers can also aid sleep and benefit the central nervous system.
Improved sleep can improve muscle growth and recovery and increase your reaction time and explosiveness in future workouts.
While there are many supplements on the market, protein powder, creatine, and BCAAs are the most backed by science and offer many proven benefits to aid muscle growth and recovery.
In addition to providing amino acids and carbs that rehydrate and refuel your muscles, high-quality protein powder can enhance performance and recovery after resistance training. Most protein powders recommend a serving of between 20 and 30 grams.
If your protein powder does not contain BCAAs, you may also want to consider adding that to your post-workout routine. Branch-chain amino acids are widely accepted as a method to achieve optimal muscle growth.
Creatine is also a widely studied and safe supplement that promotes muscle growth, recovery, and performance. Add just 3-5 grams of it to your protein shake.
Putting It All Together
Developing a post-workout routine is essential to maximizing your results while also promoting recovery and preventing injury.
Diet and hydration are key pillars to achieving any fitness goal, whether losing weight or building muscle. Drink at least eight ounces of water after a workout. You may also want to consider an alternative that includes electrolytes and potassium, such as coconut water or a sports drink.
Eat a protein-rich snack that contains carbohydrates. It has been suggested that your muscles are optimized for protein absorption immediately after a workout, so try to consume lean protein and complex carbohydrates within 45 minutes of your workout. Supplements such as protein powder, BCAAs, and creatine may be beneficial to your diet and goals.
Lastly, ensure that you take the necessary steps to relax your bodies and muscles to promote recovery and growth. Stretching is essential to preventing tension and cramping, while a cold shower can provide similar benefits.
With a proper post-workout routine, your body will be optimized to achieve the results you dream of.