Regular exercise is vital for everyone, improving mood, longevity, and overall health, but your personal exercise routine must be uniquely yours. It should suit your body type, your goals, your preferences, your schedule, and your access to gym equipment (or lack thereof). Additionally, the workout isn’t the only important part: doing the right things after your workout is vital for ensuring that it delivers the results you’re looking for.
So what are the right things? In this post, we’re going to run through some actions you should take once you’ve wrapped up your exercise routine. Here they are:
No matter what form of exercise you choose, a productive workout will get your heart racing and your skin sweating, so the first thing you should do after you’re finished is start to replace the fluid you’ve lost. You can stick to water with nothing added, or opt for a sports drink of some sort with low sugar and electrolytes that can help you avoid muscle cramps.
You don’t need to chug a huge bottle of water or do anything so dramatic: you can only process fluid intake so quickly, so trying to fully rehydrate as quickly as possible is a mistake that will likely upset your stomach and leave you feeling unwell. Instead, pay close attention to your level of thirst over the following hours, and drink more whenever you deem it necessary.
Additionally, it’s obviously essential to eat after a tough workout: eating before a workout will leave you sluggish, and you need to replace the nutrients you’ve lost and get some protein to help your body repair muscle. But simply eating something won’t cut it. Many people today suffer from digestive issues because of their dietary choices, and those bad choices have compounding effects in the context of working out.
So what does healthy food look like here? You should aim to take in a strong combination of healthy carbohydrates and protein. Many protein bars can strike this balance well, or if you’d rather avoid anything supplemental, you can opt for lean meats, fruits, eggs, dairy products in general, legumes and/or whole grains. Throw in some vegetables for nutrients if you can, but those can wait if you have limited time to eat.
We build our muscles through creating tiny tears in our existing muscle tissue, so a tough workout will leave you in a vulnerable state while your body seeks to rebuild what’s been damaged. As a result, it’s not uncommon for someone to suffer an injury after some taxing exercise, taking a misstep while their muscles are still tense.
What you need to do is relax your body, allowing your muscles to lose their tension and your body to begin the rebuilding process in earnest. How you do this is up to you, though, as there are many viable routes. Gym-goers tend to follow their workouts with periods of light stretching: it slackens the muscles, lowers the heart rate, and helps to calm the mind.
If you’d like to try something more impactful, though, you could try temperature treatment. Plenty of people swear by some post-workout time in a sauna. What are the benefits of a sauna? Well, if you use it well (Seeking Health offers guidance on safe sauna use), it reduces stress and loosens muscles while keeping your heart rate to squeeze more cardiovascular benefits from your session. Since your heart rate will go down afterwards no matter what you do, this can be a great way to go.
Elite athletes, though, often take the opposite route of taking cold showers or even getting into ice baths to reduce inflammation and allow their bodies to heal faster. Many actually enjoy the process and find that it also helps them to sleep well (more on that later). In the end, it comes down to your personal preferences. What makes you feel good?
You don’t need to sleep immediately after your workout is done, obviously: it’s possible that you like to exercise in the evening (in which case the Daily Burn has some good tips for you), but it’s also possible that you wrap up your workout with hours left in the day. Regardless, when you do sleep that night, it’s imperative that you do what you can to improve the quality of your sleep. Sleeping poorly is bad for your health at the best of times, and bad sleep plus a rigorous exercise regime can easily lead to injury.
Aim to cool down before you get to bed: you can relax and read a book (in low-light conditions, though) or even take a slow walk around the block. Stay away from electronic devices: the blue light they put out will trick your circadian rhythm and prevent you from feeling as sleepy as you should at the end of the day. And if you can install blackout blinds, do so: even a small amount of light during the night can make it harder for you to stay asleep.