Your fitness routine doesn't end when you hit the showers. The downtime after your workouts is when the good stuff happens: Your muscles repair and rebuild themselves, and your fitness level surges.
Want to optimize your recovery and propel your future workouts to the next level? Make these post-workout practices a regular part of your regimen.
Dip into a stash of carbohydrate- and protein-rich foods after you work out. A healthy snack at the right time tops off your energy supply and helps repair and rebuild your muscles.
About 20 to 60 minutes after your workout, have a snack that's two-thirds carbs and one-third protein, like a turkey sandwich on whole-grain bread.
"Replenishing your water is critical to optimize your recovery," says Eric Oliver, owner of Beyond Exercise, an athletic development and physical therapy facility in Cincinnati. Sipping water after a workout helps your body's cells, boosts circulation, and brings your body temperature back to normal.
Drink 8 ounces before your workout, 7 to 10 ounces every 20 minutes during exercise, and 8 ounces afterward. For a flavor boost, add a splash of 100% fruit juice or a slice of lime.
Kick muscle tightness, aches, and limitations to the curb with a soft-tissue massage. "If you can't get a massage, using products like foam rollers or massage balls is a decent substitute," Oliver says. Roll them slowly over your muscles, and when you find a sore spot, hold it there for 30 to 60 seconds.
Many athletes and fitness buffs rock compression socks, tights, and sleeves while they work out. But keeping them on longer may be beneficial. Recent research suggests that donning compression wear after exercise -- even while you sleep -- may aid muscle recovery.
Ice packs and ice baths are a tried-and-true recovery tool. The frigid temp narrows your blood vessels, which sends extra oxygen to your muscles when they warm up again.
Some pros suggest flipping between an ice bath and a hot shower. Soak in frigid water for 45 seconds, then let a hot shower cascade over you for 3 to 4 minutes. Repeat several times, always starting and ending with cold.
6. Go light
Intense exercise has major benefits, but gentle workouts deserve credit, too. They boost blood circulation, promote the flow of nutrients to your muscles, and prevent scarring of muscle and connective tissue, Oliver says. Try low-intensity activities like yoga or walking a few times a week.
7. Take off
"Recovery days are critical in developing more strength, power, or speed from your exercise efforts," Oliver says.
If you work out hard, alternate muscle groups on different days. Every week, pencil in one full day off plus one day of active recovery, like stretching, easy cardio, or core work.
If you're a low-key exerciser, you don't need a day off. But, says Oliver, "it doesn't hurt to have that time off to let your body and mind relax and recover for the next week of exercise."