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Exercise Recovery: Why It's Important & 3 Tips for Doing It Right

April 6, 2021 - Katie McCallum

Some people dread exercise. Other people crave it. Then there are the athletes who exercise for a living.

Regardless of how you view it, you know physical activity is important for your health. What you may not know, however, is how important recovering after exercising is.

"It might seem counterintuitive, but the recovery period between workouts is just as important as the workouts themselves," says Carina Nasrallah, athletic trainer at Houston Methodist who works with Houston's elite athletes.

And proper exercise recovery isn't just something athletes have to worry about.

"Anyone who exercises needs a recovery plan in order to get the most out of their workouts, as well as prevent overuse injuries," explains Nasrallah.

Whether you're new to exercising or have a weekly exercise routine you've been following for years, you can benefit from the same recovery tips Nasrallah gives the elite athletes she trains.

Give your body a break

It's not always realistic for athletes to take a day off. But, between performances or games, Nasrallah recommends they get at least one day of rest every week.

And you should, too.

"The amount of rest needed varies from person to person, but I recommend taking about two days off per week," says Nasrallah. "Also, if your workout regimen is particularly intense, I recommend taking a full week off every 3 or 4 months."

Without proper rest, you may not be fully benefiting from your workouts and you might actually be overtraining.

"Even if you're working different muscle groups, the processes your body uses to build muscle can become overtaxed if you don't give them time off," explains Nasrallah.

But taking a rest day doesn't mean you have to just sit on your couch all day. In fact, it's quite the opposite.

"Rest days should include what's called active recovery," says Nasrallah. "This is light activity that helps stave off muscle soreness, but doesn't put the same strain on your body that exercise does."

Active recovery includes:

  • Foam rolling
  • Gentle stretching
  • Low-intensity cycling
  • Swimming
  • Trigger point release
  • Walking
  • Yoga

Don't skimp on sleep

Just like pretty much everything else in your life, sleep plays an important role in how well your body recovers from an exercise.

Take muscle growth for example, which doesn't happen while you're exercising. It happens after.

"Exercise stresses your body, and it actually causes damage to your muscles. This damage is okay. In fact, it's what helps build muscle — but your body needs time to recover and grow stronger," explains Nasrallah. "When we rest, and especially while we sleep, this damage is repaired, leading to muscle growth.

Plus, sleep replenishes the energy lost while exercising.

Even for the busy athletes she trains, Nasrallah recommends getting between 8 and 10 hours of sleep every night.

Eat a balanced diet

You may already know that certain nutrients (like carbohydrates and fats) help fuel a workout. But did you know that what you eat affects how you recover from your workout as well?

Carbohydrates help replenish the energy you used up during your workout and eating protein helps promote muscle repair.

"After exercising, your body is craving the building blocks it needs to refuel and recover," says Nasrallah. "Within 30 minutes of finishing a workout, I usually recommend a quick protein-carb snack, like chocolate milk. In addition to that, a full recovery meal should be eaten within 2 hours after you finish exercising."

Carb-rich foods to include in your post-workout recovery meal include:

  • Oatmeal
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Quinoa
  • Fruits, such as berries or bananas

Protein-rich foods to include in your post-workout recovery meal include:

  • Eggs
  • Cottage cheese
  • Greek yogurt
  • Salmon
  • Chicken
  • Tuna

So, whether it's for the elite Houston athletes you see on your TV to the person working out next to you at the gym, rest and recovery are critical components of any exercise plan.

 

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