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The best ways to bounce back after a tough workout

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 22, 2020.

You can log the miles, do all your sets and reps, push your limits, and sweat buckets. But it doesn't stop there. The recovery period is crucial to maximizing the healthy changes your body goes through in response to a workout.

It takes more than binge-watching a new show to do recovery right. Here's what you should be doing after your cool-down.

Keep a water bottle within reach

Most people finish exercise at least somewhat dehydrated, so replacing those fluids is the first order of business. To get back to baseline, you'll need to consume more fluid than what you sweated out.

But there's no need to chug. As long as your next workout is at least a day away, sipping water regularly and eating normal meals is typically enough to restore balance.

Just skip the alcohol, which can worsen dehydration and slow muscle repair.

Get some fuel

While it's a good idea to eat something with both carbohydrates and protein after training, there's no need to add extra calories — especially if you're trying to lose weight. Timing a regular meal or snack so you eat soon after your workout may help your body fill its tank and get to work on recovery.

Replacing your muscles' energy stores is an essential part of recovery. It takes both time and fuel to get back in balance, so the hours after a grueling workout aren't the time to overly restrict eating. Try to incorporate both healthy carbs and protein to optimize muscle rebuilding.

Don't skimp on sleep

You probably already suspected that you don't perform at your best when you're tired. It turns out you may not recover as well, either.

In one study, researchers found that even a single night of partial sleep deprivation impaired recovery from a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) session. Cyclists' who only slept half their usual amount after the workout had as much as five times the decrease in their power output the next day compared to those who did the workout and slept normally.

Less next-day power may not seem like a big deal if you aren't an elite athlete with back-to-back competitions or training sessions. But feeling sluggish the day after won't speed your recovery — and could rob some of your workout momentum.

Keep moving

Speaking of maintaining momentum, a light next-day workout can do just that and more. Instead of getting into a boom-and-bust cycle — that is, going all-out and then waking up so sore the next day that you can't think about exercising again for a week — make sure to schedule easy sessions just like hard ones.

"Easy" varies from person to person, but it might mean walking or jogging with a friend at a conversational pace, going for a casual bike ride, stretching or doing a light yoga class.

Getting off the couch to undertake a lighter activity the day after a hard one increases blood flow, loosens up tight muscles and can ease soreness (albeit temporarily).

Plus it's a good reminder that healthy physical activity doesn't have to leave you gasping for breath.

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