I Worked Out. Now What?

What’s the first thing you do after a difficult workout? Sit on the couch, check your phone, go straight to work? If the transition period between exercise and the next item on your calendar leaves little time for recovery, the following post-workout tips are quick, totally worth it, and will help you get more out of each workout.

Post-workout nutrition

Rule number one of post-workout nutrition: a double tall latte with skim milk does not cut it. “Exercise puts stress on your muscles, joints and bones, and your body ‘uses up’ nutrients during workouts, so post-workout foods help to put back what you’ve lost and provide the raw materials needed for repair and healing,” explains sports nutritionist Cynthia Sass, RD, CSSD.

After a tough workout, Sass says you ideally want to have a recovery meal, snack or beverage within one hour of finishing. “That’s when your body is primed to use the raw materials from food for repair and healing,” she explains. However, if you’re going to eat a regular meal an hour or less after working out, you don’t need to eat anything right after finishing up. But, Sass says to make sure that meal is clean and balanced—with plenty of colorful veggies, lean protein, a healthy fat (EVOO, avocado, or nuts) and a whole food source of carbs (a whole grain, starchy vegetable such as  sweet potato or squash) or beans, lentils, peas or chickpeas.

A few of Sass’s favorite post-workout meals include:

  • Veggies, garlic and herbs sautéed in EVOO over low heat. Toss with spaghetti squash and top with lean protein.
  • An entree salad, made with greens and other raw veggies, dressed with EVOO and balsamic, topped with protein (like chicken breast, salmon, etc.) and quinoa.
  • An omelet made with veggies and avocado, with a side of black beans.
  • A clean protein bar, like Rx or Amrita, or a clean pre-made shake, such as Orgain, which offers both plant-based and grass-fed organic whey options.

Drink up

How you hydrate depends on many factors including your activity, the time you spent working out, where you’re working out (indoors vs. outdoors) and how well you hydrate during the day. According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the goal post-workout is to make up for any fluid defect resulting from exercise and to replace electrolytes lost from sweating. Their guidelines advise individuals to drink 20 to 24 fluid ounces of water or sports beverage for every pound lost during exercise. While what you drink after exercise is important, the key to proper hydration is to make sure you are drinking an adequate amount of fluid all day long.

Get up close and personal with your foam roller

When your muscles are sore after an intense workout, the use of a foam roller can help remove knots and alleviate muscle fatigue and delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), as well as improve muscular performance. During foam rolling, individuals use their own body mass on a foam roller to exert pressure on the soft tissues. The motions place direct sweeping pressure on the soft tissue, stretching it and generating friction between it and the foam roller, which results in a release of the tissues.

Some of the more common areas of the body to use a foam roller on post-exercise include the adductors, Iliotibial band, hamstrings, calves/Achilles tendon, upper/lower back and the gluteal muscles. Spend 10 to 15 minutes rolling out the areas of your body that were worked the hardest. Remember there will be some pain when you hit a pressure point, so go easy until you learn what your body is able to handle.

Change out of your workout clothes

So, this tip is not going to necessarily make or break your next workout, but it will certainly keep your body healthy and happy. Just because the label on your clothing says it’s made to “wick the sweat away,” doesn’t mean you should stay in the shorts you wore to spin class. Sweaty clothes harbor bacteria that can lead to skin rashes, acne and yeast infections. Ideally, you should shower immediately following exercise, but if that’s not possible, then try wiping your body down with a wet washcloth or wipes before changing your clothes.

Rest between workouts

The amount of time scheduled between workouts matters almost as much as the workouts themselves. Hitting the same muscle groups too often results in overtraining and can eventually lead to injury. Your cardiovascular and nervous system needs time to rest, reset, and recharge for the next intense workout. Most experts recommend two days of rest during the week and to avoid working the same body parts on consecutive days.

But since there is no “one size fits all” approach to fitness, you must listen to your body. If something hurts, rest. If you’re sick, stay home and sleep. And if you’re hitting the pavement for the third day in a row, try cross-training to give your body a break. If the idea of taking a rest day kicks your anxiety into overdrive, try swapping out one day of aerobic or strength training with yoga and light stretching. Just remember, if you want to build strength, endurance and lean muscle mass, it’s the recovery time from exercise that allows you to see the results from all of your hard work.