What to do AFTER a Workout to Get Maximum Benefit From Your Exercise
It's somewhat instinctive to warm-up before a workout. You may jog in place a little, shake out your arms, do a few stretches, and some other movements to get your heart pumping and your body feeling loose before you exercise. After you're done exercising, however, you may be tired, and taking the time to cool down and support your body post-workout may be the last thing on your mind.
What you do AFTER your workout can mean the difference between sore muscles and fatigue, or stronger muscles and increased energy.
But as you may suspect, establishing a proper after-workout routine is incredibly important. Taking care of your body after exercise will impact your muscles (their strength and soreness), how well your exercise is received and even how much strain you put on your heart. So if you're taking the healthy step of exercising, be sure to extend it to include these simple, yet essential, after-workout tips.
Stretch Right After Your Workout
According to the Mayo Clinic, stretching is beneficial both after your warm up and before your cool down session, but if you only have time to do it once, you should do it after your workout, before you cool down. At this time, your muscles are warm and more elastic, and stretching increases your flexibility and maximizes the range of motion around your joints. You should stretch all the major muscles groups that you used during your workout.
If it feels more comfortable to you, you can also cool down and then stretch. Some experts recommend cooling down (to slow your heart rate) first, and stretching after.
After you stretch, it's time to cool down (stretching is not all it takes to cool down). During the cool down, your heart, lungs and blood flow slowly return to their normal states, which is essential to reduce strain on your heart and help prevent muscle strain and soreness. It also keeps you from feeling dizzy, faint or sick after your workout.
To cool down, you should slow your aerobic activity down to a level that allows your heart rate to gradually decrease. A five-minute walk on a treadmill, for instance, works well.
You know it's important to drink water during your workout, but it's just as important to stay hydrated afterward as well. Experts typically recommend drinking an additional two to three cups of water within two hours of finishing your workout. You should then keep drinking water regularly, as even if you don't feel thirsty it's still quite possible to be dehydrated.
Eat a Mix of Protein and Carbs
Though exercise is extremely beneficial, it does take a lot of effort on your body's part. After your workout, it's important to repair your muscles and replenish your glycogen stores for energy.
Most experts recommend eating something within 90 minutes of finishing your workout, but sooner is better. What should you eat? Ideally, a mixture of high-protein and complex carbohydrate foods. The protein helps repair muscles while the carbs will help give you energy. Some examples of healthy, post-workout foods include a tuna sandwich on whole-wheat bread, nuts and fruit, yogurt or cheese and whole-grain crackers or raw veggies.
Eating a combination of protein and carbs after exercise may also help to reduce muscle soreness, according to a study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. Thirty minutes after finishing a workout, exercisers were given either a drink containing 6 percent carbs, 10 percent carbs or 8 percent carbs plus 2 percent protein. Those who drank the carb/protein beverage reported feeling only half as sore as those who had the carbs-only drinks.
So next time you exercise, remember that your workout isn't complete until you've done these simple post-workout tips. They'll ensure that you get the maximum benefits from your exercise, with a minimum of strain to your body.
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The Mayo Clinic