5 Ways to Boost Recovery After a Workout

Mara Santilli
Medically Reviewed
February 25, 2015

You’ve just completed a high-intensity sweat session and you know without a doubt that your body is going to be sore tomorrow, the kind of sore where walking down stairs becomes a challenge and the thought of hitting the gym again feels unappealing. Proper workout recovery will help your muscles bounce back quicker and feel better physically, but also encourage the muscle repair you need to keep the workouts going.

Feeling fatigued, achy, and low-energy after a HIIT, cardio, or strength training workout or a long run? We’ve been there. But don’t worry, you won’t feel sore for days. In fact, you can help speed along your muscles’ recovery process, therefore reducing soreness, in a few ways, like making sure you’re loading up on the right kind of protein , stretching adequately, and taking care of your muscles post-workout (and on a regular basis too). Plus, you can even incorporate self-care practices like getting a massage on your rest day.

To ensure your fitness routine doesn’t lose its momentum, here’s why you need to replenish your body, especially during muscle recovery, and 5 ways to support your body more efficiently as it repairs and recovers.

Why your body needs active recovery

Even though it sounds counterintuitive, lying on the couch after a tough workout isn’t going to help your muscles feel better in the long run. “Active recovery helps to accelerate recovery– sometimes more so than rest–because it supports circulation of blood to these areas, which helps mobilize nutrients to support in speedier healing and recovery of these sore areas,” says Kelly Johnston , RD and lead health coach at Parsley Health .

There are plenty of ways you can encourage active recovery during your rest days. You might want to try foam rolling or percussive therapy instruments, like a Theragun, suggests Johnston. Or, you can take more of a spa-like approach, and do a sauna session, Epsom salt bath, sports massage, or acupuncture for muscle healing. If you have persistent issues with sore areas or tightness, or are training for a sports event or competition, Johnston recommends seeing a physical therapist for guidance on the right exercises to do.

How to help with muscle recovery

Stretch ASAP.

Since your muscles have undergone a lot of movement and contraction, it’s important to stretch them out so they return to their normal length. Stretching each muscle group for 20-30 seconds at a time will also help reduce soreness the following day. Foam rollers or other massage tools could be a nice accompaniment to your post-workout active recovery routine, says Johnston.

Drink water with citrus.

Hydration is incredibly important before, during, and after your workout. Dehydrated and depleted muscles equal pain, so it’s essential to not only replenish the water you’ve lost, but to also infuse your water with electrolytes. The easiest way to do that is by squeezing fresh lemon, orange, or lime juice into your water bottle. “The citrus is in there to highlight the importance of not only water but electrolytes in balancing fluid in the body post-sweat session, where we lose a lot of electrolytes through perspiration,” Johnston explains.

Electrolyte drinks are essential, whether it’s in the form of water and sea salt, or a high-quality electrolyte tab, powder, or liquid drops, says Johnson. It can also be as simple, and tasty, as drinking lemon water or lime water after a workout. “It’s important to remember that electrolytes are just essential minerals (such as sodium, chloride, and potassium) that we can also get through our foods and salt in our foods,” says Johnson. Whenever you have fluid losses of any kind, especially when you sweat, electrolytes are necessary to replenish your muscles and your energy.

Load up on protein shakes or a high-protein meal.

Research has shown that drinking protein shakes or eating a high-protein meal post-workout may reduce muscle soreness. That’s because by supporting quicker muscle recovery with a protein-packed post-workout meal or shake, you encourage the muscles to recover faster, and you’ll be sore for less time, says Johnston.

Protein significantly aids in the repair of your muscles and cells. When you make protein shakes, we recommend sticking to plant-based protein powders , especially if you eat vegan, or grass-fed whey protein powder, which is easy for the body to absorb and a higher quality than other whey protein. In fact, a 2018 study published in the journal Nutrients  found that supplementing with whey protein helped escalate muscle recovery in young, healthy people, as opposed to skipping a protein shake after exercising. Of course, if you’re sensitive to dairy or if dairy causes inflammation for you, choose a plant-based protein powder instead of the grass-fed whey protein powder. If you’re going for a full post-workout meal that involves meat, go for grass-fed, pasture-raised animal proteins.

Get 8 hours of sleep.

Sufficient rest is absolutely necessary to give your body time to repair post-workout. It doesn’t really matter the exact time you exercise; it’s more about what fits well into your lifestyle and allows you to incorporate a healthy pre- and post-workout routine for optimal recovery, says Johnston. The type of workout you choose on any particular day may affect how your body primes itself for rest. For instance, a higher-intensity form of exercise might be better to fit in earlier in the day, so you’re not interfering with your sleep or hyping up your body too much before bed. At night, it may benefit your body, and help you wind down, to choose a more restorative form of movement, like yoga or walking, Johnston adds.

And when it comes to sleep, you’re going to need the full eight hours post-workout. The more sleep you get, the more time your muscles have to regenerate, decreasing the amount of soreness you’re likely to experience in the morning.

Soothe your muscles.

Reduce inflammation the next day with a curcumin-based cream like Curcumin by Xymogen that we recommend here at Parsley. Curcumin is a natural anti-inflammatory that is a better alternative to ibuprofen and aspirin, which both can cause damage to the digestive system. You can also try topical CBD or topical magnesium lotion, both of which help to relax smooth muscle, Johnston recommends. Or, you may choose to kick off your muscle recovery by soaking in a warm Epsom salt bath after your workout.

If you find yourself sore all the time (from your workouts or from chronic pain that may be related to a health issue) a health coach, like those at Parsley Health , can help you adjust your routine to fit your unique health goals or get to the root cause of your pain.

Mara Santilli

Mara is a freelance journalist whose print and digital work has appeared in Shape, Brit+Co, Marie Claire, Prevention, and other wellness outlets.

Most recently, she was a member of the founding team of Bumble Mag, a branded content project for Bumble at Hearst Corporation. She enjoys covering everything from women's health topics and politics to travel. She has a degree in Communications as well as Italian Studies from Fordham University.

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