Anyone who’s ever experienced the pain of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness – commonly known as DOMS – will attest that getting off the couch and conducting a workout is only half the battle. It’s what happens afterwards that requires some attention.
While we typically associate “recovery” with a sports injury, post-exercise recovery is a different concept entirely, referring to the process by which muscles repair themselves following a period of strenuous physical activity.
An entire industry has sprung up around the concept of post-workout, with nutritional supplements and sports bars promising the expedite the process by replenishing glycogen and protein stores, refuelling muscles with amino acids, providing much-needed electrolytes – and on and on.
Post-exercise recovery is big business, and supplements can certainly play their part. But they should be part of a joined-up, evidence-backed approach encompassing things like stretching, rest and hydration. In this blog, we’re going to take a look at several elements of the post-exercise recovery process, to help you get the most out of your workouts.
The merits of taking a lot, hot bath have been extolled by grandmothers for aeons. And if there’s one truism you can take to the bank, it’s that granny knows best!
In all seriousness, taking a warm, post-workout bath with a sprinkling of Epsom salts is a terrific idea.
Epsom salt is comprised of magnesium and sulfate, and bathing in them is known to help address symptoms of muscle soreness by targeting inflammation and swelling.
If muscles or joints are pained or stiff following a big session, soaking in an Epsom bath can have a relaxing, restorative effect. It can also help to soothe blisters – something worth noting if you’re pounding the streets or accustomed to running on a treadmill.
Although Epsom baths are a popular solution among athletes, others swear by cold therapy, concluding every session by jumping into a freezing ice bath or stepping into a nitrogen-cooled cryo-therapy chamber or cold shower. It really depends on the individual.
Omega-3s are known as some of nature’s best anti-inflammatories. Deriving mainly from fatty fish such as mackerel, salmon and anchovy, these powerhouse nutrients have also been shown to help improve muscle recovery following taxing workouts, attenuating losses in muscular strength and even reducing damage to skeletal muscle.
In one 2020 study published in the journal Nutrients, and involving work by no less than seven universities including California State University Long Beach and the University of New Mexico, it was suggested that “exercising individuals undergoing vigorous or unaccustomed exercise consume a higher dose of 6G per day (2,400 mg EPA, 1,800 mg DHA) in order to reduce perceived soreness and improve acute power production in the recovery period.”
The large study was placebo-controlled, randomised and double-blind, considered the gold standard in clinical medicine.
Needless to say, those looking to up their omega-3 intake should look first to food and then to supplements.
Where the latter is concerned, we recommend UnoCardio 1000, which has been independently validated as #1 for quality by Labdoor since 2015. UnoCardio 1000 provides 675mg EPA, 460mg DHA per softgel, plus 1,000 i.u. of Vitamin D. By taking one or two softgels every day, plus omega-3 from food sources, you’ll reach the 6G daily recommendation advised by the universities.
Higher carb intake
Although many people are understandably wary about eating a high proportion of carbohydrates, research suggests that a higher intake is required for those pursuing high-endurance workouts – typically those are preparing to run marathons or triathlons, or people who are training for mass and strength.
A generous carb intake has been shown to forestall neuromuscular fatigue and even improve physical performance.
Consuming 0.5-0.7g of carbs per pound of body weight within a half-hour of training also appears to improve glycogen resynthesis and regulate insulin secretion.
Whether it’s enhancing glycogen re-synthesis or attenuating muscle tissue breakdown, the value of post-workout protein cannot be understated.
Protein is far and away the best-selling nutritional supplement in the multi-billion sports industry, and certainly the one most associated with “post-workout,” largely due to its association with the bodybuilding industry and the belief that protein powder enhances muscular development.
While not everyone is interested in building muscle, protein should be a post-workout staple for most people. Protein is a valuable nutrient source that can itself help to decrease muscle soreness while helping individuals lose body fat.
Alkaline water benefits from a higher pH than regular tap or bottled water, which tends to be neutral. But what does that have to do with post-exercise recovery, you might wonder. Well, according to a double-blind, placebo-controlled 2018 study, “drinking alkalized water improves hydration status, acid-base balance, and high intensity anaerobic exercise performance.”
Moreover, athletes who drank alkaline water for three weeks enjoyed benefits such as “greater muscle buffering capacity and enhanced removal of protons, resulting in increased glycolytic ATP production.”
The results supported the conclusion of a study conducted a year earlier, which found that drinking four litres of alkaline water per day engendered “a positive effect on urine pH during the anaerobic test protocol, and much more efficient lactate utilization after high-intensity interval exercise.”
Stretching and massage
It’s well known that stretching improves circulation. What’s less well-documented is that it can actually help your muscles recover more quickly after a challenging workout.
Moreover, post-workout stretches help to slow down your breathing and heart rate, improve range of motion and strengthen connective tissue. Adding some dynamic and static stretching to your post-workout routine is an undeniably good idea.
As for sports massages, they are geared towards reducing muscle tension and aiding flexibility, two endpoints supported by an extensive meta-analysis published in 2019.
As an added benefit, sports massages – like Epsom baths – can result in a better night’s sleep, pre-relaxing muscles and nerves and triggering the release of serotonin to engender a feeling of calm.
Related: Top Tips for Restorative Sleep
As outlined, there are much better ways to manage post-workout stress than popping a painkiller and soldiering on. We haven’t even covered all of them; in addition to the above, you should factor in sleep, pain-management tools such as foam rollers and magnesium (which helps move blood sugar into muscles).
Developments in this field play a big part in ensuring today’s elite athletes are, in the main, faster, stronger and less injury-prone than their predecessors.
Whether you’re training for a world championship or simply looking to shed a few pounds, make sure you’re backing up your gruelling workouts with a sensible, science-backed recovery protocol. With adequate nutrition and habits in place, you’ll ensure minimal downtime between intense sessions, leaving you free to focus on an arguably tougher task: maintaining motivation!
Water for Health Ltd began trading in 2007 with the goal of positively affecting the lives of many. We still retain that mission because we believe that proper hydration and nutrition can make a massive difference to people’s health and quality of life. Click here to find out more.
Post-exercise recovery is big business, and supplements can certainly play their part alongside things like stretching, rest and hydration.