Exercise is a major part of many people’s lives. You might squeeze a trip to the gym in after work, start your morning with a sunrise jog or lift weights at your home gym whenever you can find the time. Regardless of when or how often you exercise, though, everyone has to manage one more important thing shortly after: recovery.
Fitness recovery can be challenging and grueling, particularly if you don’t work out frequently. After a workout, your muscles may be stiff, sore or even painful, and they might stay that way for days. In order to minimize your discomfort, you’ll want to focus your efforts on providing your body the tools it needs to recover quickly.
Why you need fitness recovery
Muscles soreness or pain is caused by overuse, tension and even minor injuries to the protein fibers in the specific muscles you targeted during your workout. These feelings are localized, meaning they are centralized to the areas you were working on the most.
Once you complete your workout, your body naturally goes into recovery mode to repair the damage you’ve done to your muscles and to build your muscles up stronger. Even if you’re not doing extreme exercise, your muscles still need time to recover, so you can hit the gym the next day feeling refreshed and strong once again.
Having poor muscle recovery can lead to injury. Pushing too hard too fast could cause you more pain and potentially lead to a serious tear or sprain because your muscles are in a weakened, fatigued state.
Natural recovery techniques
Because muscle soreness is such a common phenomenon in the fitness world, people might get used to taking an anti-inflammatory drug or pain medication to dull their discomfort before heading back to the gym. However, this is not sustainable or healthy in the long term.
Instead, you should incorporate natural muscle recovery techniques into your fitness regimen to help speed up the recovery process and get your body feeling back to normal in no time. In addition to the usual fitness recovery techniques like foam rolling, stretching and taking cold-water or ice baths, try some of these natural methods:
- Water: Drinking water before, during and after exercising is crucial in helping your muscles recover as quickly and efficiently as possible. Water helps flush the body out, removing metabolic waste caused by muscle damage and recovery. Being dehydrated can not only slow the recovery process, but it can also lead to a higher risk of tears or muscle injuries. Thus, you should aim to drink multiple cups of water before and after your workout—not just when you feel thirsty.
- Eat more protein: Your muscles are composed of proteins, so it makes sense that a high-protein diet will provide your body with the building blocks it needs to repair muscles faster and more easily. Protein is not only important for new muscle growth and improved strength, but also for reducing muscle soreness after a workout. This is why protein powder drinks—whether derived from whey, casein or plant sources—are such popular post-workout beverages. Additionally, research shows that eating a protein-rich snack before bed can provide your body the amino acids it needs to go to work repairing muscles while you sleep
- Magnesium: Calcium causes muscles to contract, leading to painful muscle cramps or spasms following a workout. Magnesium, the fourth-most abundant mineral in the body, helps regulate muscle contractions by blocking calcium, allowing the muscles to relax and recover more easily. Magnesium can be bought in supplement form, as well as found in a wide range of foods, including bananas, almonds, apple cider vinegar and spinach.
- Curcumin supplements: Curcumin, the active ingredient in the popular spice turmeric, has marvelous antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that make it a valuable asset in post-workout recovery. Inflammation can cause stiffness in the muscles as they are repaired, making movement uncomfortable.
- CBD: Cannabidiol (CBD), a cannabinoid derived from the hemp plant, works with the natural endocannabinoid system to engage or block receptors related to inflammation and pain. Topical CBD products or CBD oil tinctures may help reduce inflammation in your muscles and feelings of pain while you recover.
- Sleep: Sleep is an absolutely essential component of fitness and recovery for a number of reasons. Without sleep, your body would not be able to build or maintain the strength you need to work out regularly. During sleep, your body produces growth hormones, which aid in the recovery of torn or fatigued muscles. This process helps muscles grow stronger and recover faster. Aim to get around eight hours of restful sleep per night for optimal recovery.
Of course, the most important aspect of fitness recovery is giving your body enough downtime to recover. Overtraining is far too common and often results in injury. By taking time off to rest and providing your body the nutrients, hydration and other ingredients it needs to repair tissues and strengthen itself, you’ll feel much better post-workout.