You put a lot of planning into your daily workout routine, but how well do you plan your post-workout recovery? What you do after a strenuous exercise session will not only have a big impact on healing but your future performance as well. When you’re training for a big event, you should set aside time for recovery based on the amount of time and effort you spend training throughout the week.
In this article we dive into the different rituals, foods, and habits you may want to include in your post-workout routine. These will support your body as it rebuilds muscle, strengthens bones, and prepares you for your next training session or event.
Overtraining or Under-Recovering?
Sometimes a tough run or workout can leave us feeling fatigued, sore, and broken for days. This can make it more difficult to stay on track, especially for those spending multiple hours in the gym or on the road every day. Some sources claim the prolonged fatigue is a sign of “overtraining”. While this may be the case, more often than not, if a workout pushes you over the edge it’s because you are under-recovering or not supporting your intense workouts with the right downtime routines.
Recovery can easily be overlooked - especially if you don’t consciously make an effort to focus on it. But that also doesn’t mean you should be spending days in bed, eating ice cream on the couch, or getting expensive treatments every day. It can be simple and prioritizing your recovery can work wonders for reducing the length of time you feel soreness and fatigue.
Signs You’re Under-Recovering
- You wake up feeling extremely achy
- It takes several days to recover from targeted soreness
- You’re not sleeping more than 4-6 hours a night
- You’re tiring early in a workout
- You aren’t getting as many “highs” during a run
- Your goals are taking longer to reach than expected
- Your diet is sporadic and unplanned
How To Optimize your Post-Workout Recovery
It’s tempting to flop onto the couch or pull up to your favorite restaurant after hitting the gym. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if you want to get the most out of a workout (aka hit those awesome goals you set for yourself!), it’s important to be intentional with your post-workout recovery. That includes looking at what you eat, but we’ve got a few other ideas for what you can do after a sweaty gym session.
The two most important post-workout recovery habits that every athlete should pay attention to is sleep and nutrition. Once these are on point, test a few different recommendations below and find what supports you the best. You may want to mix things up or intensify your recovery methods after a particularly difficult training week or competition.
1. Maximize Sleep
There’s no way around it- effective post-workout recovery takes lots of high-quality sleep. Your body is incredible at healing itself, but it needs the time to do so. The exact hours you need to sleep may vary because we are all unique. But, if you’re a high-performance athlete, you’ll likely need between 8-10 hours of shut-eye a night.
Confident you can get by on 4-6 hours of sleep per night? Challenge yourself by logging between 8-10 hours a night for two weeks and record the difference. Athletes who get that extra sleep generally report faster speeds, stronger lifts, better accuracy in performance, improved mood, increased vigor, and less fatigue.
Routine is key for good sleep habits. Keeping the same sleep-wake schedule will help your body know when to sleep and when not to. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time all through the week. Set a simple pre-bed routine to wind down that includes disconnecting from electronics.
2. Try Cryotherapy
Cryotherapy, aka “cold therapy”, is a technique where you expose part or all of your body to temperatures as low as negative 200-300 Fahrenheit for a short period of time. It is used by professional athletes to decrease pain and muscle soreness. Some use it daily, but most athletes prefer to use it 1-2 times a week or once a month after a big race.
Try it once and see how you feel - the results should be almost immediate. Using cryotherapy to decrease muscle pain may help decrease recovery time after a competition or shorten your time between training sessions.
3. Implement Effective Post-Workout Stretches
Stretching is imperative to maintaining flexibility and preventing muscle tears. It’s also a great way to cool down after a workout.
What type of stretches are best for post-workout recovery? This depends partly on what type of exercise you are doing. If you are running, you should focus the majority of your stretching time working on your leg muscles (obviously). Remember that you need to perform a variety of stretches to hit all the muscle groups in each area of your body.
Lifters should pay special attention to stretching out their arm, chest, and shoulder muscles to avoid muscle shortening and loss of movement.
4. Try Active Post-Workout Recovery
There are a lot of benefits from adding some “active recovery” to your weekly routine. Moving in a more gentle way than your regular workouts can help keep things loose and improve blood flow.
Some great ways to do active recovery include long walks, yoga, zero incline jogs, cross-training, and more. The focus isn’t on getting your heart rate up or pushing your muscles, but rather keeping your body moving and using a full range of motion.
5. Eat Some Post-Workout Food
This may surprise you, but a lot of athletes under-eat.
The more you train, the more food you need. A lack of planning, too much stress, over-estimating how much you’re eating, or blunted hunger due to the strains of training can lead to less than adequate nutrition. This doesn’t mean you need to have hulk portions at mealtime. It just means adding a couple hundred more calories each day to match the effort you are putting into training.
As you know, quality is of great importance. What you eat becomes the building blocks for your muscles, bones, and tissues. You’ll get faster and stronger when you eat foods with high-quality, wholesome ingredients. You also need foods that promote good digestion, or else you won’t absorb all the nutrients you eat. These include high-fiber foods, probiotics, and adequate water.
Try to eat a healthy balance of:
- Protein (at each meal)
- Carbohydrates (after training is the best time for a high carb meal)
- Probiotic foods (sauerkraut, miso, yogurt)
- Healthy fats
Collagen Vs Whey Protein: Which is better as a post-workout food?
A common question people ask about protein supplements is whether they should use a whey-based or a collagen-based supplement. We discuss this question in depth in our collagen vs whey article. Essentially, there are benefits to both types of supplements, but collagen wins over whey in several areas.
Collagen protein is easier on digestion, considering many people react negatively to dairy-based products. Collagen also digests more quickly than whey, unless digestive enzymes are added. Finally, the reason why we think collagen protein is your stand-out post-workout protein choice: it strengthens and heals ligaments and tendons without “bulking” you. And those benefits aren’t just for your muscles - it helps almost every area of the body (think gorgeous hair, skin and nails, strong muscles, tendons, and ligaments).
6. Use Healing Supplements
While the bulk of your nutrition should come from whole foods, certain supplements may be important for high-intensity athletes to maximize their post-workout recovery.
- Collagen - the most abundant protein in the human body, collagen supplements can help to rebuild bones, tendons, ligaments, muscles, and other tissues. Because we don’t typically eat collagen in our diet (it comes mostly from the tendons/hides/tissues of animals), supplementing with a high-quality, fast-absorbing collagen protein, like Frog Fuel, is necessary to gain all the benefits.
- BCAAs - Branched-chain amino acids are the building blocks of all proteins and, as a result, are key to muscle recovery/maintenance.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids - This type of fat is an anti-inflammatory that can reduce inflammation in the muscles, airway, lungs and other parts of the body. Most people get this from fish oil supplements like Cod Liver Oil.
- Probiotics- As mentioned above, the most important part of digestion is absorption. If you aren’t absorbing the food you eat, you aren’t getting the nutrients. Probiotics are key to good digestion.
Outside of a post-workout recovery routine, a lot of people complain of mild digestive issues. If you’re one of them, a probiotic supplement may help to replenish the good bacteria in your gut and improve digestion. You can eat foods like sauerkraut, fermented vegetables and miso to get probiotics. Or, you can take a daily supplement.
7. Manage Your Stress
Stress can make or break you. In moderation, stress keeps you motivated, increases work ethic and signals you’re in a “growth” zone. However, if stress gets out of control or becomes constant, it can lead to inflammation, sickness, and poor post-workout recovery (or any sort of recovery, really).
Balance is key!
The hormone that circulates in your body when you’re under stress is called cortisol. Cortisol also plays a role in your sleep/wake cycle. When cortisol levels rise periodically and decrease within a reasonable amount of time, it doesn’t have negative effects on your body. If it becomes elevated and stays that way, it can exhaust your body’s resources and lead to breakdown and a weakened immune system.
You know your life and your body best. Take inventory of how you feel, how you spend your time, how busy you are, and how “stressed” you feel. You know if you are in a red zone. Notice we are suggesting that you “manage” stress, not eliminate it.
A few keys to managing stress successfully:
- Vary your hard and easier workout days. Don’t schedule yourself for 5 hard days in a row, for example. This applies to your workout schedule as well as your life schedule.
- Use active post-workout recovery (see above)
- Sign up for regular counseling
- Spend more time reading books and uplifting content instead of scrolling social media
- Learn to say “no,” a lot
- Focus on building and maintaining your important relationships
- Do something every day to help another person
- Go easy on the caffeine intake (too much can worsen anxiety/stress)
- Know what helps you calm down/decompress after a hard day and do it
How Many Days Should I Spend On Recovery?
This is a complex question because no two bodies are alike, and no two training schedules are the same.
The bottom line is, listen to your body. Focus on getting high-quality sleep, eating whole, nutrient-dense foods and protein - like our Frog Fuel liquid protein shots - and utilizing other post-workout recovery methods. If you’re doing this, you should be able to work out more often without feeling overtired or sore.
If you are participating in a big event like a marathon or triathlon, you may want to take about a week of recovery/active recovery before resuming your normal training schedule.
Move Your Body, Love Your Body
At the end of the day, be proud of yourself for how much energy you are putting into living an active lifestyle. We know it’s not always easy, but it’s worth it. Your body was built to move and grow and become stronger. Balancing that killer exercise regimen with a post-workout recovery routine will give you your best shot at a long, happy, healthy, thriving life. You are capable of greatness!