by Carolyn Meers
Step one is done — you’ve completed a workout. Whether it was a short sprint, long run, HIIT circuit, at-home cycling class or a sweaty vinyasa yoga flow, the hardest part of your health and fitness routine is complete. Now what?
What is workout recovery?
Research has shown that in order to maintain the vital benefits of exercise, it is essential for the body to recover. Thoughtful, full body cool down exercises and replenishing post-workout routines have numerous perks, from increased muscle strength and improved athletic performance to injury prevention.
Read on to learn why recovery routines are so vital to your overall health, and to find some easy-to-do recovery exercises.
Why is it important to rest after exercise
It can be easy to assume that pushing yourself at the gym day after day is the easiest way to level up your fitness game. But there’s a reason professional athletes take at least one rest day a week and carve out time after workouts to cool down: our bodies need that down time in order to perform.
So what are the benefits of the recovery routine?
Muscles injury prevention
Adding recovery exercises to your cool down routine can improve mobility and flexibility, prevent later injury and reduce the concentration of lactic acid in the muscles, which builds up after strenuous workouts.
Plus, active recovery increases oxygenated blood flow to muscles and helps the body sidestep soreness, which can be a hindrance to continued exercise.
Maintaining heart health
Research from the American Heart Association has shown that slowly bringing down your heart rate after exercise can help the body recover more easily and even increase heart health over time.
So, instead of abruptly halting, standing or sitting after an intense workout, try to walk or move your body gently until your heart rate lowers. This also prevents a hazardous drop in blood pressure (which can cause fainting) and keeps blood from pooling in your extremities, which can lead to swelling.
Easy, full body stretch routine
Research from the National Academy of Sports Medicine has found that active recovery exercises not only cut down on delayed onset muscle soreness (which shows up days after a workout), but also help muscles recover from intense workouts faster.
Here are a few exercises to try after your next sweat session:
Standing full body stretch
Stand with feet hip-width apart, place right hand on right hip. Lift left hand overhead and lean gently to the right. You’ll feel a stretch alongside the left side of your body. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.
Seated forward fold
Sit with legs out in front of you. Bend at the hips and reach for your feet. If you can, hold the tops of your feet and gently pull them toward you, head to shins. Hold for one minute. This stretch will help release tension in the lower back and in the feet.
Can be done seated or standing. Interlock your fingers, bend your elbows and raise arms above your head. Squeeze shoulder blades together and move your elbows and hands backward. Hands can be behind the head, on top of the head, or a few inches above the head.
Once you’re done stretching, make friends with your foam roller. Broad research has found that the practice provides essential myofascial release and increases blood flow to the body’s soft tissue, which enhances flexibility and range of motion.
Plus, more blood flow means more oxygen, which translates to less muscle soreness and lactic acid buildup.
Among the most effective and intense foam rolling moves are the ones that focus on the iliotibial band (IT band) — a string of connective tissue that runs down the side of the leg, from hip to knee and shin — and the front quadricep.
Both sections of the leg are often engaged during common exercises like running, weightlifting and swimming, and become tight after long periods of sitting. You can find a breakdown of a few key foam rolling moves here.
Rehydrate, replenish, refuel
Replenishment is a key element to full body recovery. During exercise — cardio or weight training — tiny tears occur in muscles, which can be repaired and strengthened by consuming protein and amino acids.
After a workout (ideally after your heart rate has lowered and you’ve done a few of the aforementioned cool down exercises), aim to replenish with a high-protein smoothie or electrolyte-filled drink or snack.
Research supports the benefits of post-exercise replenishment, which can take place within 30 minutes or 24 hours after a workout.
Some quick fixes include:
- A bar or smoothie with 15-30 grams of protein
- Tart cherry juice, which reduces inflammation
- Watermelon juice, which is rich in electrolytes like potassium
- Coconut water, which is stocked with muscle-repairing magnesium
- A whole wheat pita or slice of bread with peanut or almond butter
Is CBD good for recovery?
In a word, yes. If you’re aiming for peak performance, call in the CBD troops.
Plus, CBD has a natural analgesic effect that helps decrease pain. While rehydrating, refueling and regular stretching are essential post-workout tasks, adding CBD to that routine can help boost muscle recovery.
Start by adding the focus-enhancing, 1,000 mg FOCL Premium CBD Drops to a pre-workout drink and follow it up post-exercise with FOCL Night, which includes muscle-repairing Ashwagandha and relaxation-enhancing Valerian Root to help you get that deep, restorative sleep.
For a fast reprieve, you can also try FOCL’s topical Relief Cream, formulated to help soothe sore muscles and reduce inflammation on contact.
What is the best recovery food after a workout?
Eating the right foods after workouts is as important as a pre-workout meal. During a workout, your body muscles use up their stored glycogen. The muscles get partially depleted of glycogen, and the body tries to repair and replenish the muscle proteins.
Hence, eating proteins, carbs, and fats after a workout is vital. It helps the body in:
- Better post-workout recovery
- Enhancing glycogen reserves in the body
- Reduces protein muscle breakdown
- Increases muscle protein synthesis
Experts recommend that you consume a combination of carbs and protein immediately after exercising.
Delaying carb consumption by even 2 hours after a workout may lead to as much as 50% lower rates of glycogen synthesis. However, more research confirms that this window can now be extended up to a few hours.
Let's explore the different foods that help in better recovery after a workout:
Proteins help muscle repair and build new muscles – exercise triggers muscle breakdown in the body. Eating the right amount of protein after a workout provides the body with amino acids for recovery and rebuilding the proteins.
Recommended intake: 0.14 – 0.23 grams of protein per pound of body weight (0.3 – 0.5 grams/kg).
Some protein-rich foods are:
- Salmon, Tuna
- Protein bar
- Animal- or plant-based protein powder
- Greek yogurt
- Cottage cheese
- Quinoa, cereals
- Fruits, whole wheat grain toast/crackers
You can have a bowl of cereals with milk and fruits, grill some fish, cottage cheese or veggies. Satiate your cravings with a bowl of quinoa and vegetable salad or grab a pita and hummus.
Carbohydrates replenish the lost glycogen stores – during a workout session, the rate at which your glycogen stores are used depends on the intensity of the exercise. Endurance sports like swimming or running cause your body to use more glycogen than resistance training.
Athletes who undertake endurance sports should consume more carbs than those who are lifting weights. Consuming within 30 minutes after training results in proper glycogen resynthesis.
Recommended intake: 0.5 – 0.7 grams of carbs per pound (1.1 – 1.5 grams/kg) of body weight.
Some carbs rich foods include:
- Sweet potatoes
- Whole grain bread
- Chocolate milk
- Quinoa and other grains
- Fruits ( berries, banana, pineapple, and kiwi)
Fat promotes muscle growth – Some people believe that consuming fat might impact the absorption of your post-workout meal. However, it will not reduce its benefits. A study reveals that whole milk was more beneficial at promoting muscle growth after a workout than skim milk.
Some fat-rich foods include:
- Nuts and seeds
- trail mix (dried fruits and nuts)
What is the best recovery drink after a workout?
After a workout, proper hydration is important for recovery and endurance in the body. Water and electrolytes are lost during workouts, make sure you replace them by drinking an optimum amount of water or an electrolyte enriched drink.
After exercise, some people suffer from fatigue, mental confusion, and muscle cramps. Drink ample fluids to replace any fluid electrolyte deficit in the body.
Here are 5 drinks recommended post-workout:
- Chocolate milk – rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium, this is beneficial for cyclists, athletes and runners. A study from 2010 suggests that chocolate milk was effective in improving recovery and performance in cyclists.
- Coconut water – containing a high amount of antioxidants and nutrients, coconut water also has a high amount of electrolytes that are beneficial for post-workout recovery.
- Tart(cherry) juice – fights sore muscles by increasing antioxidants, and decreasing inflammation and lipid peroxidation.
- Black and green tea – as per research, the high level of antioxidants in tea help reduce muscle soreness and accelerate recovery.
- Beer – studies suggest that a beer after a workout doesn’t have negative effects on hydration. Also, those who consume beer moderately tend to be more active.
Carolyn Meers is an editor and copywriter based in Los Angeles. She has more than a decade of experience in the luxury lifestyle realm — specializing in health and wellness and home design — and has contributed to publications including CSQ, C Magazine, Robb Report, 805 Living and The Knot.