Congratulations! You’ve joined a gym or started a new fitness program. But did you know that what you do after your workout—especially in the first two hours—is almost as important as the exercise itself? Try these techniques to help your body recover more quickly and maximize the impact of your exercise.
Rehydrate: Water is a simple choice for rehydration, and is fine for low-impact exercise under 45 minutes. But more intense exercise, or exercise performed in hot weather, requires that you replace fluids lost through sweat with electrolytes and sodium. Try Nuun’s tablets for an easy do-it-yourself sports drink without added sugars.
Replace Carbohydrates: Glycogen, stored in our muscles, fuels our bodies during exercise. That’s why it’s important to quickly replace lost glycogen during the “carbohydrate window” that occurs within 60 minutes after stopping—when muscles are converting carbohydrate-rich drinks and food into glycogen up to three times faster. In addition to eating carb-rich food, Boulder-based nutrition expert Julie McGinnis recommends L-Glutamine, an amino acid supplement that boosts the production of glycogen and helps us refuel. She likes Jarrow Formulas’ L-Glutamine Powder. TIP: Refueling in the first 15-30 minutes of the carbohydrate window is most effective.
Add Protein: Along with carbs, protein is needed to repair the micro tears in muscles after workouts, especially weight-bearing exercises like running and weight lifting. Whey, a by-product of cheese production, is a good source of protein and is rich in branch-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which help repair muscles and prevent soreness, says Julie. One serving of Pharmaca’s Grass-Fed Whey Protein Powder Drink is a quick, tasty way to get 15 g of protein. Fat-free chocolate milk is another good choice for protein and carb replacement, say researchers, since a 16 oz serving has about 15 g of protein and twice the carbs of plain milk. Vegetarians and vegans can turn to spirulina, an algae-based complete protein. (Find it in Health Force Nutritionals’ Spirulina Manna). TIP: Most experts recommend 10-20 g of protein after a workout.
Treat sore muscles: Stretching for 15 minutes after your workout can prevent soreness, but in those times when you know you’ve done too much, topical treatments or warm baths can also help, Julie tells us. Arnica relieves pain and stiffness, and speeds recovery of bruises; Boericke & Tafel’s Arniflora Arnica Gel with 8% tincture of arnica Montana rubbed on four times a day will help reduce inflammation and pain. Warm baths are another good choice for soothing aches; Kneipp’s Arnica Joint & Muscle Mineral Bath Salts combine arnica, pine and thermal salts to relieve soreness.
Take a break: As good as it feels to find your groove with your exercise program, it’s important to take a break to let muscles repair. Fitness coaches say that after 8-12 weeks, take a week off. That doesn’t mean going back to couch-potato status—instead, transition to a less intense exercise to keep you moving and flexible, like yoga, dancing or walking. You’ll come back to your favorite exercise renewed.