When it comes to your exercise performance, what you do pre- and post-workout counts. That means fueling your body with nutritious food, sleeping well, taking the right supplements, drinking water, stretching… to give your body what it needs to recover and prepare for the next session so you can perform at your best.
In this article we’re going to explain why post-workout recovery is so essential, the impact of not recovering properly, and finally share some key post-workout habits that have been proven in research to boost your exercise performance.
Shop our custom collections
What you do post-workout is important
A number of physiological and biochemical changes occur in your body as a result of exercise that all require recovery and post-workout care. These are the top 5 things to be aware of, to understand how your body is affected by exercise:
- Muscle and tissue damage
As a result of the strain and tension created during a workout, your muscles and connective tissue are damaged. In resistance training and high intensity exercise, micro-tears occur in the muscle tissue, as a response to the training stimuli.
This is a key stage of the adaptation process to get bigger, stronger muscles; each time they tear, they recover by getting less prone to damage by the same stimulus. It’s essential to heal the damage before you expose yourself to the same stimuli, otherwise you may cause muscular atrophy or injuries, or just inhibit your progress.
- Glycogen depletion
Glycogens are stored carbohydrates that are broken down and used as the main source of fuel during exercise due to adrenaline stimulation. They are released as lactate, before being converted to glucose in the liver. A 2018 study published in Nutrition Reviews found that after 45 minutes of exercise, glycogen stores begin to deplete, in the average exerciser.
- Fluid loss
When you exercise, your body’s core temperature increases. Sweat occurs, as a response; which causes fluid and mineral loss as a result. It’s estimated that the average person loses 17 to 50 ounces of water per hour of exercise.
Certain types of exercise create more inflammation, including high intensity exercise and exercise with a longer duration, as examined in a 2012 study published in Aging and Disease. As per the study, inflammatory cytokines can be detected in the blood post-exercise, and a greater inflammatory response occurs in untrained individuals or those training too frequently.
- Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)
DOMS is the physical manifestation of exercise-inducing inflammation. It can occur between 12 to 24 hours post exercise, and is characterized by muscle pain, aches and total body fatigue. Essentially, it’s your body's way of signalling to you that it’s in need of recovery!
How does recovery affect exercise performance?
The five points we just covered should give you an insight into how recovery can affect performance.
For example, if you are experiencing severe DOMS and attempt to workout, your mobility, power, and endurance will likely be stunted, preventing you from performing optimally. This was supported in a study published by Sports Medicine, finding that DOMS reduced joint range of motion, shock attenuation and peak torque, which affected recruitment patterns, causing undue stress on muscle ligaments and tendons.
A study published in 2012 found that glycogen depletion “markedly impairs exercise performance” due to hypoglycemia and central fatigue. Similarly, fluid loss has been shown in research to reduce blood volume and blood flow, decrease sweat rate, increase core temperature and deplete glycogen quicker.
So with that being said, what are some actionable tips you can implement to accelerate recovery and boost your athletic performance? Keep reading!
Post-workout tips to boost exercise performance
Based on research, here are some of the most effective post-workout performance enhancing habits you can do.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
We’ve covered both the rate of fluid loss that happens during exercise, as well as the performance inhibiting effects of being dehydrated. Increasing the amount of water you drink post-workout counters fluid loss and supports muscle recovery.
How much water you should drink depends on your gender, weight, height, climate and activity level. But as a general rule, after exercise, drink 7 to 10 oz of water every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise, and 8 oz after.
- Foam roll
Your muscles and tissues are covered with a thin sheet-like substance called the fascia. When you workout intensely, your fascia gets tight and rigid, affecting your range of motion and worsening muscle soreness.
Regular foam rolling post-workout has been shown to accelerate recovery by causing myofascial release - the smoothing out and releasing of your fascia. A study published in 2014 found that foam rolling sped up recovery time between sessions, allowing participants to perform better, more consistently.
- Sleep more, and better
If you’re not getting enough high quality sleep, your body will be unable to recover properly. In fact, your muscles get stronger and bigger whilst sleeping, so without it, your performance will not reach its potential.
A study published in the 2011 edition of Medical Hypotheses examines these hormonal changes in relation to sleep debt and exercise. Researchers found that insufficient sleep causes a spike in cortisol (a stress hormone) and a reduction of testosterone and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), two hormones integral to muscle and strength building. The reduction of these hormones accelerates muscle breakdown and impacts recovery.
In a study of sleep-deprived athletes, researchers found that their average and total sprint times notably decreased. Another study found sleep deprivation delayed reaction time, as well as accuracy and endurance.
- Get your nutrition right
To counter the effects of exercise-induced glycogen depletion and muscle damage, consume protein and carbohydrates post-workout. Protein provides amino acids to prevent muscle protein breakdown and to initiate synthesis, and carbohydrates replenish depleted glycogen.
The current recommendation from the International Society of Sports Nutrition is to consume 0.14-0.23 grams of protein per pound of body weight as soon as possible post-workout. The current recommendation from the International Society of Sports Nutrition is to consume 0.5-0.7 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight as soon as possible post-workout.
It seems pretty simple to drink water, eat, sleep, and foam roll - but yet, so many people forget these key steps, and it impacts their performance beyond what they may have imagined. Take care of your body and enjoy how well it performs for you.