When it comes to staying healthy, what is done in between workouts can be just as important as the workouts themselves.
This includes speeding up muscle recovery, increasing fitness, improving sports performance, and helping prevent injuries.
In this article, we explore 20 ways you can maximize muscle recovery to efficiently gain more strength and endurance while avoiding injury.
Lifestyle for Optimal Muscle Recovery
Living a healthy lifestyle makes the body more resilient, and it helps support your muscles during the times you’re not exercising.
Tip #1: Rest More
Muscle fibers develop microscopic tears during exercise. During rest, they repair, and the repaired muscle fibers come back stronger than before.
While there are things you can do to accelerate the rebuilding process, you can’t skip rest and recovery. The rebuilding process takes time.
However, the best kind of rest is often not sitting on the couch, but rather active recovery. Active recovery stimulates the flow of lymph, which removes toxins and waste from the muscles. It also stimulates blood flow to bring oxygen and nutrients to the muscles as they rebuild.
Getting adequate rest also often requires maintaining better sleep habits. Your body conducts repair functions while you sleep. For example, your pituitary gland becomes active during sleep, releasing a hormone that helps repair and rebuild muscle tissue.
You may find that as workouts intensify, you’ll need more sleep so factor that into your routine.
Inadequate sleep can lead to systemic inflammation and hormonal imbalances that could interfere with muscle recovery.
How much rest is enough? It depends on how tough your workout was, how fit you are, and how you support muscle recovery outside of the workout.
If you are sore or you notice that your performance is decreasing, it may be time to take an extra day or two off.
Tip #2: Relieve Stress
Many people exercise to relieve stress. While it’s a great approach, it can lead to overtraining injuries if you neglect to rest.
When you’re chronically stressed, your body simply cannot devote the resources necessary for muscle recovery. Stress impairs the recovery of muscular function.
While exercise feels great and can release a lot of pent-up stress, it has to be balanced with rest to give your parasympathetic nervous system a chance to perform its restorative functions.
Yoga, meditation, tai chi, or walking in nature are great ways to relieve stress in a gentler way than high-intensity workouts. These are also great ways to conduct active recovery.
Drinks to Return to Lifting Faster
What you drink can either speed up or slow down muscle recovery.
Tip #3: Drink More Water
Being well-hydrated thins the blood. This makes it easier for the heart to push blood through the body. More circulation to your muscles means more nutrients and oxygen, and faster recovery.
Water also helps remove metabolic waste produced by an intense workout, which helps prevent cramping.
Tip #4: Drink Tart Cherry Juice
A potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, tart cherry juice can help repair muscle damage.
You’ll get the most anti-inflammatory benefits if you drink tart cherry juice before a workout.
Tip #5: Replace Electrolytes
Be sure to replace the electrolytes lost in sweat. You can do this through electrolyte drinks that contain sodium, potassium, and magnesium.
Coconut water is a great option if you don’t want the artificial colors and other chemicals added to most electrolyte drinks.
Many athletes swear by pickle juice to help restore their electrolyte balance after a workout.
Tip #6: Drink Chocolate Milk
Some athletes drink chocolate milk after a workout. Chocolate milk contains both carbs and protein to help fuel recovery. Skip this recovery drink if you’re lactose-intolerant.
Tip #7: Skip the Alcohol
A post-workout beer might sound great because it’s high in carbs, but be aware that alcohol can also dehydrate you when you should be rehydrating.
Foods to a Quicker Workout Recovery
Nourishing your body with the right foods will encourage faster muscle recovery. The right foods will improve and maintain cellular energy by supporting the mitochondria.
The mitochondria are microscopic organelles found in each cell. The mitochondria produce 90% of your cells’ energy using a compound called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. The key is to eat foods that support mitochondrial function and avoid those that interfere with it.
Tip #8: Eat More Protein
Protein is essential for repairing the microscopic tears in muscle fibers that occur during exercise.
The old-school method was to eat protein within 30 minutes of a workout. Today, it is believed that a meal that combines carbohydrates and protein immediately after a workout will give your muscles the energy they need to start rebuilding. Protein provides the building blocks for muscle growth.
According to the Mayo Clinic, 10-35% of your calories should be protein.
Tip #9: Eat More Vegetables
Muscle recovery isn’t all about protein. Your muscles also need micronutrients and antioxidants found in vegetables and fruit. The micronutrients found in plant-based foods are important for mitochondrial function.
Plant-based foods should make up the bulk of each meal to help prevent inflammation and support overall health.
What to Avoid During Exercise Recovery
As we’ve mentioned, rest, hydration, and nutrition are the main ways to support muscle recovery. But, there are also things you want to avoid.
Tip #10: Avoid These Mistakes
What you do outside of your workout is just as important as the workout itself. Avoid:
- Not getting enough rest
- Not warming up properly before exercising
- Stretching cold muscles
- Letting yourself get dehydrated
- Eating heavily processed foods
- Drinking a lot of alcohol
- Smoking cigarettes
Are Supplements Worthwhile for Muscle Recovery?
Supplements may be useful in supporting muscle recovery. Keep in mind that supplements can not completely compensate for a lack of good nutrition, hydration, and rest.
Tip #11: Supplement with Omega-3
Omega-3 fatty acids support the immune system, decrease inflammation, reduce pain, and improve blood flow to help prevent lingering muscle soreness.
Fatty, cold-water fish are rich in Omega-3s. Taking fish oil capsules daily is a great way to ensure that you get enough Omega-3s.
Tip #12: Supplement with Magnesium
Magnesium aids with muscle recovery and reduces cramping. Magnesium can also help you sleep better, improve bone density, decrease the stress response, and boost the immune system.
The most bioavailable type of magnesium is called magnesium glycinate, which can be administered in capsules or powder.
Tip #13: Supplement with Creatine
Creatine supplements can help improve muscle strength and reduce muscle damage and inflammation.
Tip #14: Supplement with Protein Powder
If you are vegetarian or vegan, consider adding a protein powder to your daily routine to boost protein intake and broaden the types of protein your body is getting.
Tip #15: Supplement with Curcumin
The spice turmeric, which gives curry its golden color, contains an anti-inflammatory substance called curcumin. Use as directed to ease post-workout pain.
Chronic use of over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs may cause liver damage. However, curcumin supplements may be used daily for a month or two.
How Long Does Muscle Recovery Take?
After a typical workout, muscles may need 24-48 hours to rebuild and repair. However, the amount of time it takes muscles to recover depends on your age and fitness, as well as the volume, intensity, and duration of your workout.
Those returning to exercise after long periods out of the gym typically require longer recovery periods, although this should not prevent low-stress activities like yoga and walking, which are easy and low-impact ways to stay active and burn calories.
How to Prevent Injury During Muscle Recovery
Injuries are the main reason people quit exercising. Many injuries are caused by doing too much, too fast, and causing damage to muscles and connective tissues.
Overuse injuries often occur when the emphasis is on more training at the expense of recovery.
If you’re still feeling soreness or, more importantly, have an injury, it’s important to take your doctor’s recommendation when it comes to time spent off. Coming back too early often just results in another injury, which will only further delay any gains.
Control the pace at which you increase a load on a muscle. Muscles, connective tissue, and your cardiovascular and respiratory systems need time to adjust to progressively harder loads.
Slow, steady progression will lead to less soreness and injury than sudden increases in effort.
Tip #16: Warm Up and Cool Down
Warming up your muscles will prime them for activity. Cooling them down properly will help prevent stiffness.
- Always warm up before intensifying your efforts.
- DO NOT stretch cold muscles! This will only tear them. Stretch only after you’ve warmed up.
- Increase exercise volume, intensity, and duration very gradually.
- Focus on a well-rounded exercise program to avoid over-developing one muscle group while under-utilizing the opposing muscle group, for example working on the quads and neglecting the hamstrings. Muscle imbalances often lead to injury.
- Finish the workout with stretches and a cooldown. Not cooling down, such as getting into a car immediately after a workout, can lead to stiffness.
Tip #17: Use Foam Rollers
Foam rollers help relax the nervous system and may stimulate myofascial release, which involves finding a tightness or restriction, applying force to the sore spot by using your body weight against the roller, and holding or gently rolling back and forth until you feel a release.
Tip #18: Get a Massage
Sports massage releases tension in the muscles and increases the circulation of blood and lymph.
Tip #19: Try Contrast Therapy
Contrast therapy involves alternating a sauna into a cold plunge several times to stimulate the lymphatic system and promote blood flow to the muscles.
The Risk of Returning Too Early
Overtraining is a major cause of muscle pain and poor athletic performance.
Resist the temptation to push through the pain and get out there too soon. Give your muscles the 24-48 hours they need to recover.
Avoiding recovery won’t accelerate muscle building and endurance. Instead, it will accelerate tissue breakdown.
Overtraining will lead to a dramatic decrease in strength, endurance, and flexibility. It will also increase soreness and slow down muscle recovery.
Why do people push through and choose another workout instead of a rest day? A lot of people overestimate what their bodies are capable of, and often end up overdoing it, which leads to delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and injuries.
Incremental increases in volume, intensity, and duration will help prevent muscle damage.
Tip #20: Prioritize Recovery
Support muscle recovery after a hard workout with good lifestyle choices that prioritize rest, nutrition, and hydration.
Curious about the role of mitochondria in your overall health? Check out the Learning Center.
Muscle Recovery with Red Light Therapy
Nothing can replace a healthy lifestyle, but there are plenty of things that can supplement it. Red light therapy can help with quicker muscle recovery.
It stimulates the mitochondria, which are the power plants of the cell, resulting in heightened energy that fuels the body’s repair mechanisms.
The BIOMAX Series emits R+ and NIR+ wavelengths for affordable, easy, and convenient daily treatment in the comfort of your home.
Check out the best red light therapy panels on the consumer market to supercharge your muscle recovery.