No one likes to be sore, and though soreness is completely natural and cannot be completely eliminated, it can be controlled, and proper recovery protocols will not only ensure minimal levels of post-workout discomfort but also allow your body to recover more quickly and gain better fitness from the workout.

Why Workout Recovery Is Important

During the recovery period after a workout, the body repairs these fibers, removes waste products, lowers inflammation, replenishes energy stores, restores the CNS, and builds new blood vessels to the stressed areas. The energy-generating components of the cells develop a higher work capacity, and bone density increases. However, none of these adaptations will occur unless the body has proper rest and recovery.

Excessive soreness is generally an indication that you either increased volume or intensity far too quickly in your exercise routine or that you did not recover properly. A well-known term is “DOMS,” or “Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness,” which means soreness does not peak immediately after a workout, but rather about 24-48 hours post-workout. DOMS that manifests in light muscle tenderness and stiff joints is completely normal, but DOMS that results in muscles that are very painful to the touch or sharp pains in the joints is not normal.

How to Recover After A Workout

Nutrition: Eating nutrient-rich food with the appropriate macronutrients is one of the most important things to do post-workout. Eat dark-colored fruits such as blueberries or tart cherries as they are anti-inflammatory and contain a host of nutrients that are beneficial to healing tissues. Green leafy vegetables improve metabolic processes involved in healing and waste elimination similar to cherries. Watermelon improves nitric oxide production, and sweet potatoes are also very nutrient-rich. Make sure you eat enough protein to repair muscle tissues, and healthy fats for hormone and joint recovery.

Fish oil is anti-inflammatory and improves intra-cellular signaling.

Carbohydrate timing is key. Carbohydrates after a workout lowers cortisol, support appropriate thyroid function, and replenish glycogen stores. Contrary to conventional thinking, you don’t need to slam down a carb drink right after a workout; you have up to 24 hours to replete your stores. Eat them in the evening or if your workout is long or very intense, go ahead and have them post-workout. Don’t eat them pre-workout as this will shift your body out of fat-burning mode.

Hydrate: When it comes to recovery, dehydration is one of your biggest enemies, so try to drink at least one 20-24oz bottle of water for each hour of exercise. Within a couple of hours after a workout, your urine should be light yellow or clear. If it is dark yellow, then you are inadequately hydrated. Overheating slows metabolic processes so drinking cold water helps to offset this.

Stress Reduction:

Stress and the secondary cortisol elevation blunts immune function and adversely affects all other hormones, which can interfere with muscle building and cellular recovery. Use proper deep breathing techniques, meditation, listen to music, do some foam rolling, or get a massage; all of these help the body to heal and lower stress levels.

Compression: Performing a brief cool-down after a workout helps contracting muscles milk out excess soreness-generating fluids. In the same way, techniques such as massage and a foam roller can not only help to move inflammatory fluids out of the muscle but also can remove adhesions and sore or tight spots from the worked muscles. If possible, perform these exercises with a foam roller once a week or even after every strenuous workout, and schedule a massage once a month.

Blood flow: Circulation of blood in and out of a stressed body part improves the speed of recovery. Techniques that can improve blood flow include cooling down after your workout with a walk or easy bike ride, performing light stretching during or after each workout, alternating every 30-60 seconds between hot and cold running water in your post-workout shower, taking an ice bath after a very strenuous weight training workout or long run, and performing a light walk, swim, or easy exercise routine the day after a hard workout.

Topical ointments: There are several compounds that you can rub on a muscle to eliminate soreness and improve recovery. Most of these compounds work by creating a pain-relieving and cooling sensation, increasing blood flow, or displacing elevated levels of calcium. Popular remedies include Arnica rub, Pain-A-Trate, Ben-Gay, Tiger Balm, and Magnesium Oil.

Recovery Workouts and Workout Tips:

If you have a lot of DOMS, you may benefit from a light workout or cardio session the following day. Keep workouts to an hour or less. Avoid doing sprints and weight training in the same session. If your work week is long and stressful, keep workouts shorter and no more than 4 days a week; also focus on relaxing walks and yoga sessions.

Take care of your gut:

Make sure your gut and digestion are in order, otherwise, your nutrient absorption will be off. Avoid any foods that you are sensitive to, avoid alcohol and NSAIDs, and take a quality probiotic.