Hate feeling stiff after a big workout? Our Fitness Expert Libby Babet provides her top tips to help you manage your muscle recovery.
Everyone loves that post-workout buzz, but the next-day muscle stiffness that often descends after a tough HIIT, or heavy weights session is not quite as much fun.
Here are my top 12 tips for a speedy recovery from your workouts - and if you stick to most of them, you’ll probably end up a whole lot healthier overall too.
So here you have it, the DOMS-preventing dozen!
1. Recovery begins before your workout
Not warming up properly is a sure-fire way to end up with sore muscles. Most people only spend a minute or two preparing their body for an intense session, but it really should be closer to 10-15 minutes! Take the time to move your body in different directions, up-down, side-to-side, bending and twisting, walking or jogging, to properly activate the central nervous system, hydrate connective tissue and gives muscles time to respond, before you kick into gear.
2. Take recovery days – but keep moving!
If you’re performing HIIT workouts, or lifting heavy weights, recovery days are super important – they’re where the magic happens! Sadly though, “recovery” doesn’t mean lying around on the couch. You want to keep moving, but be gentle, for best results. Take a long walk, drop into a yoga class, or just do a good isometric stretch session at home.
3. Drink (lots of) water
Water is the original workout recovery supplement. Without it, your muscles will stiffen up, your skin and tissue quality will suffer and it’s harder for your body to deliver adequate nutrients where they’re needed. Drink up!
4. Eat enough good quality calories
If you’re training hard and also drastically cutting fat and calories, your recovery will suffer and it’s likely you won’t get the body shaping results you’re after. Make sure you’re getting enough good quality, ideally organic protein and some healthy fats at every meal. Some of my favourite protein and fat sources are eggs, meat, seafood, nuts/seeds, avocado, coconut and even a little organic greek yoghurt, or butter.
5. Eat more rainbow coloured carbs
When it comes to recovery, carbohydrates are super important, but the best ones come in all the colours of the rainbow, not white and beige. That’s because colourful vegetables and fruits are high in antioxidants that fight inflammation and encourage recovery, whereas the starchy carbs from things like bread and pasta are often full of empty calories that won’t do much for your body but encourage it to store fat!
6. Ditch most alcohol, keep (a little) red wine
Alcohol is poison for your body – that’s a fact. When there’s even a tiny bit of booze in your system, it will get processed and eliminated before any other form of energy, such as food. Why does this matter when it comes to recovery? Because having alcohol in your system slows down the removal of waste products from the body and causes oxidative stress. A little red wine, however, can help due to its antioxidant and resveratrol content, both of which are potent anti-inflammatories. Just don’t overdo it – 1-2 glasses a few nights a week is more than enough!
7. Add a squeeze of citrus to your water
The alkalising effects of fruits like lemon, lime, grapefruit and orange have cleansing and energising properties. They help to reduce acidity in your body and aid your liver in metabolising fats more effectively. You don’t need much, so add a squeeze or two to your water next time you hit the gym, or choose citrus for your post-workout recovery snack.
8. SUP like a pro
I’m not talking Stand Up Paddleboarding here, it’s all about nourishing supplements that support your recovery. My three faves are a good quality fish oil supplement to reduce inflammation, a daily supergreens supplement for nutrition replenishment, and some magnesium taken before bedtime, which can help reduce oxidative stress and aid sleep. Don’t self medicate though, ask your local naturopath about what the best options for your body and workout routine might be.
9. Increase anti-inflammatory foods
Oily fish, dark leafy greens, fresh cherries or tart cherry juice, ginger and turmeric, fresh basil, sweet potatoes, walnuts, green and white tea will all do the trick!
10. Stretch, bend and roll
In between your workouts, stretch and bend your body in multiple directions, as often as possible. Pick yourself up a foam roller too, as rolling the body parts you used post-workout not only releases tight muscles, but has been found to decrease pain feedback and significantly reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
11. Time your coffee high right
Consuming a little black coffee around 20-30 minutes before your workout can give your energy a boost and help you get more out of the session. Sip on caffeine after a workout, however and you risk disrupting cortisol (the stress hormone) patterns and delaying recovery, not to mention making dehydration more likely.
12. Ramp up your sleep, or try meditation
When it comes to workout recovery, the more sleep the better! If you struggle to squeeze in at least 7-8 hours each night, try adding daily meditation to your routine – it has a similar, or potentially even greater effect on the way your body recovers from exercise and manages stress. It can also help when it comes to ramping up results and shifting unwanted fat.