Post-workout recovery

Why what you do after your workout matters

Regular workouts may help your body to perform at its best – but what you do after your workout may be just as important.

Intense exercise often leads to dehydration, depleted energy stores and muscle damage. Building key nutritional steps into your post-workout routine to rehydrate, refuel, and rebuild helps your body recover – so you’re refreshed and ready for the next workout or big event.

Here are some post-workout recovery tips:

1. Rehydrate to replenish lost fluids and electrolytes

While you’re working out your body is losing lots of fluid through sweat – particularly in warm or hot conditions1 – so restoring body fluids after an intense workout is a key part of recovery.

When you sweat you’re not only lose water, but you also lose electrolytes – so rehydration means getting both your fluid and electrolyte levels back to normal.

  • You’ll need to drink more fluids than you’re losing to prevent dehydration. Individual sweat rates and fluid losses vary widely, but as a rough guide, for a fast recovery from intense exercise dehydration, every 1 kg of body weight lost through sweating needs to be replaced with 1.5 litres of fluid1.
  • Make sure you avoid caffeinated and alcoholic drinks – they may lead to further dehydration.
  • Keep your electrolytes up – while water is a convenient after exercise drink, sweat electrolytes (sodium and potassium1) also need to be replaced with products, such as Berocca Sport, which can help provide hydration and nutritional support before, during or after physical activity.
  • Combining electrolyte-containing drinks with food after exercise helps improve fluid retention compared with just drinking water with your meal or snack1.

2. Refuel with carbohydrates

When you exercise, carbohydrates – stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen – provide the most efficient source of energy for around 90–120 minutes of vigorous exercise.

  • Replenishing these fuel stores is important for muscle recovery and improving exercise performance during your next workout.
  • When exercising at a low or moderate intensity, a normal diet usually provides enough carbohydrates to replenish muscle glycogen stores – just follow your daily carbohydrate needs appropriate for your level of activity as part of a healthy, well-balanced diet.
  • Try starting your post-workout refuelling with carbohydrate rich foods such as pasta, fruits, yoghurts, cereal with low-fat milk, peanut butter, granola bars, baked potatoes, smoothie made with fruit, fruit juice, yoghurt, and frozen yoghurt.
  • If stepping up to high intensity or endurance activities, then post-workout carbohydrate supplements may be useful.

3. Rebuild muscles with protein and magnesium

After an intense workout, your muscles are not only drained of energy (glycogen) but may also become damaged – so the next step in recovery is to focus on maximising muscle repair.

  • Protein is essential for repairing and rebuilding muscles – helping to make them bigger and stronger than they were before.
  • Having about 20 g of protein during your recovery time can help maximise muscle protein synthesis.
  • Consuming more protein doesn’t necessarily mean more muscle or better recovery – most people get enough protein from their diet – so unless you are looking to increase muscle bulk or are doing strenuous or endurance training, then protein supplements may not be needed.

Magnesium is an important mineral involved in lots of different processes in the body – including the production of energy, protein synthesis and how muscles respond to exercise.

  • Having adequate levels of magnesium is important when training hard – helping muscles maintain their normal contraction and relaxation functions, while helping recovery from intense exercise.

What else is important for post-workout muscle recovery?

Having tackled the nutritional areas of recovery, it’s time to look at some of the other activities that are used to help boost post-workout recovery, including:

  • Stretching – this is usually built into everyone’s workout routine, with warm-up stretches to get muscles active before the main workout, then finishing with the cool-down stretches aimed at reducing stiffness and sore muscles.
  • Massage – while a post-exercise massage may not improve your performance, it can help reduce or prevent sore muscles and also improve flexibility.
  • Sleep – getting plenty of sleep is considered essential for muscle recovery mainly because of its effect on hormones that help stimulate muscle growth and repair.
References:

1. Sawka MN, et al. Exercise and fluid replacement. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007;39(2):377‐90.

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