One common question from people new to fitness and exercise is why they need a post-exercise routine in the first place. The norm is to spend a lot of time crafting the perfect workout routine for muscles to grow. But, you could be wasting your efforts without considering muscle growth after your workout.
In this article, we answer these questions and more. In fact, you should leave with a new appreciation of the importance of growing muscle after working out or exercising. Here’s what to expect:
- Why You Need a Post-Exercise Routine – 5 things you should do after each workout
- Muscle Recovery – How proper muscle recovery assists in the muscle repair and building
- Eating Right – The two things you need to eat to best recover from a workout
- Equipment That Can Help with Post-Workout Recovery – Four small pieces of inexpensive equipment you will want to have on hand to assist with your post-workout recovery
One area commonly overlooked, but is so important with post-workout recovery, is sleep. While we sleep, our body is repairing itself to include muscles. But if you do not get enough sleep, your body will take longer to heal from the damage done during your workout. Plus, you will have less energy for the next workout.
Why You Need a Post-Exercise Routine
For most people, the workout ends when they stop their cardio or strength training. But the fact of the matter is they are missing out on an opportunity to give their body some much needed TLC.
Here is what you should do after a workout:
Cooldown – Its purpose is to get your heart rate back down into a more normal range. Otherwise, you can feel lightheaded or even dizzy when you stop exercising abruptly.
So, instead of merely shutting down what you’re doing and walking off, spend a few minutes doing what you were doing, only slowing down the pace gradually to a full stop.
Stretching – From exercising, your muscles are warm, pliable and stretched. As they cool, they will start to become less flexible and shorter.
Without properly stretching post-workout, this can bring on muscle soreness the next day, however, stretching minimizes this undesirable after-effect and helps put your muscles into a recovery mode.
Rehydrate – The intensity and duration of your exercise routine determines how much water weight you lose. Post-exercise, you need to rehydrate with 2 to 3 cups of water for each pound lost. To know this amount, of course, you must know your weight before and after working out.
Change Clothes – While this seems like a commonsense thing to do, it is a step many people overlook. However, wet underwear and clothing is a breeding ground for bacteria, fungus and yeast which if left unchecked can create unwanted skin conditions.
Shower – Another no-brainer, but for a different reason. Yes, you want to wash off the bacteria mentioned in the above tip, but also taking a cool shower reduces muscle inflammation and can reduce the soreness that can develop the next day.
Refuel your body – There is a 30 to 60-minute window after exercising that is the best time to refuel your body after working out. Eat a healthy snack like non-fat Greek yogurt with some fruit or granola , or one of these best protein bars for muscle growth.
Post Workout Muscle Recovery and Growth
Muscles would rather stay the same and dislike different routines.
As long as you exert the same resistance day after day, muscles will remain the same and grow very little. But when you exert them outside of their norm, they start to react and grow.
They adapt to this new load through a process called muscle hypertrophy which is nothing more than muscle building.
You bring the extra exertion by adding resistance. Resistance can be more weight, repetitions, intensity, duration, etc.
And we are not only talking about weighted strength training. Even going for a longer run than normal puts additional resistance on the muscles used.
Muscle growth requires two distinct processes: 1) damage to the tissue 2) repair of the tissue.
As you add extra, or uncommon, resistance to a muscle or muscle group, muscle fibers are broken down and damaged with micro-tears. After the fibers are damaged the repair process begins and with the repairs come growth.
The muscle recovery, repair, and expansion happens after the workout while the muscles are at rest. The process is known as muscle hypertrophy.
Muscle hypertrophy starts with micro-tears of muscle fibers due to the additional resistance they are forced to overcome., therefore building muscle mass.
The size of the tears is in direct relation to the resistance exerted by the muscle. And while a “tear” doesn’t sound good, it is perfectly normal if you don’t overdo it.
You will know if you exerted enough to start hypertrophy because you will experience some muscle soreness the next day. How much soreness will depend on how much you exerted those muscles?
And of course, if you go way beyond your limitations, you can experience more than micro-tears. You could strain or even rupture a muscle and that will put you on the sidelines as far as using that muscle for a while.
When you experience micro-tears, what happens is it damages something called cell organelles in the muscle. This damage is detected and satellite cells from outside the muscle rush in to help repair the damage.
Eventually, these satellite cells fuse to your existing muscle fibers and the muscle grows in size. Now that same muscle is stronger and can support comfortably the additional stress put on it.
As long as that stress doesn’t change, neither will the muscles size.
So if you want to continue to build muscles, you must continue rachet up the resistance little by little over time.
Hypertrophy starts almost immediately after a workout, but you most likely won’t see a noticeable physical change for weeks or even months.
Eating Right and post-workout recovery
Even though it’s usually overlooked completely by most novice weight lifters, or anyone else attempting to grow muscle, nutrition must be a key component of any post-workout routine. Here’ why:
Before you work out, your muscles are filled with glycogen used for energy. However, as you exercise and exert yourself, these glycogen stores are quickly used up. Now, your body starts to tap the liver for its glycogen stores.
Once that stored energy source is used up, it starts converting body fat into glycogen and you lose weight, even if you’re only walking.
So, it is easy to see that after a workout, you will need to eat foods that help re-fill the glycogen in your liver and muscles. Your muscles also need protein to use in their muscle rebuild/repair process. So, your post-workout foods should concentrate on carbs and protein.
While this would take place naturally over time, eating good recovery foods at the right time after working out speeds up the process.
Consuming protein is vital to muscle growth and gives your body the amino acids it needs to begin muscle repair and building. As a general rule of thumb, you should eat from 0.14 to 0.23 grams (0.3 to 0.5 grams/kg) of protein per pound of body weight soon after a workout.
That would mean, for example, a 140-pound person should eat between 20 and 32 grams of protein post-workout.
As far as carbs, our same 140-pound person should eat 70 to 90 carbs post-workout. The guidelines are 0.5 to 0.7 grams per pound of bodyweight or 1.1 to 1.5 grams per kg. This works out roughly as a 3:1 carbs to protein ratio.
As mentioned earlier, timing as to when you eat post-workout is important. To get the best glycogen synthesis, consume carbs and protein within 45 minutes of a workout.
Equipment That Can Help with Post-Workout Recovery
Let’s talk about some equipment that can help with your post-workout recovery. A few products that will make you feel better physically after a workout can help you achieve your goals.
At the top of the list is a foam roller. Foam rollers come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and are made specifically to work out muscle kinks and loosen up tight muscles. Called self-myofascial release, it works by massaging your quads, hamstrings, IT bands or any other muscles that hurt or are tight before or after a workout. The harder you sink into the roller, the better it works.
One of the most overlooked areas of the body, but one that gets worked the most, are your feet. With over 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments, they get can tired and sore from a workout too. Fortunately, there is a “foam roller for your feet” in the form of a foot massager.
Epsom Salt Bath
There is something about a nice warm to hot bath that is relaxing not only for your body, but your mind also. However, to make that hot bath even more effective, add in some Epsom salts. The mineral in the salts are absorbed into your skin thus soaking into the muscles and providing some much-needed relief.
Sometimes ice is needed to reduce the swelling of muscles in the case of overuse or even injury. While ice in a plastic bag wrapped in a light towel can work, many of the newer ice packs made from gel mold better to the body part you are icing down. The beauty of these gel packs is they can be refrozen and used again and again, whereas ice is a “one and done” type of material.
Ice works to reduce swelling by reducing internal bleeding in the tissues, reduces muscle spasms and of course, minimizes pain. However, leave the ice pack on for only 20 minutes out of each hour.
When you are laboring to get your muscles to grow, what you do after each workout can make or break your efforts. I would say the two most important things to remember is nutrition and rest.
The proper nutrition gives your muscles along with the rest of your body what it needs for growth. Because building muscle requires tearing it down first, rest is imperative after a workout. Eat right, and never work the same muscles two days in a row for success.