I actually love the feeling of aching muscles and joints after an intense workout. It makes you feel like a warrior just walking home!! 😀 But–to an extent. Post-workout pain can be extremely debilitating if you are not careful. It can literally put you in bed rest for a day or two, and make you feel generally miserable.
My clients at Pure Barre often ask how to minimize post-workout pain, recover faster, and just “help it” at home. Here’s how you can speed recovery after intense workouts so you feel energized and pleasantly relaxed (rather than tense and sore).
1. Drink more water than you think you need.
The #1 cause of extremely sore muscles (called Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS) is dehydration. You can lose up to an astonishing 6-8% of your body mass in perspiration during intense exercise in hot environments. (Think Bikram Yoga, marathons, some people who do back-to-back workout classes). Make sure you drink water before, during, and after exercise. I like to take my time with my water rather than just chugging it, so that it gets absorbed into the body better.
2. Look for hydrating foods and veggies.
Try coconut water, which is full of potassium for reducing soreness. Cucumbers and watermelon are also cooling and ultra-hydrating. For more potassium, which regulates fluids in your body, try bananas, avocados, almonds, peanuts, and leafy greens.
3. Do an Epsom salt bath.
This is one of my favorite ways to reduce muscle and joint pain after workouts. In warm bath water, dissolve 1-2 cups Epsom salt, perhaps a drop of lavender essential oil (or another favorite scent), and let your tired body soak! Epsom salt is actually not a salt, but a natural mineral containing magnesium, and it is said that this is why it is so relaxing and rejuvenating. All I know is that this stuff really works. 🙂
4. If the exercise was truly strenuous, do an ice pack immediately afterwards.
You’ve just done a non-everyday workout (think Iron Man). Make sure you do an ice pack immediately afterwards to speed strength recovery by about 20%. Heat packs are also effective in reducing pain and speeding recovery, though less so than cold packs. This makes instinctive sense: when your muscles are extremely fatigued, they feel inflamed and hot to the touch. The point is to reduce inflammation as much as possible.
5. Try anti-inflammatory foods.
DOMS feels like an inflammation of your entire body, and so filling up on colorful, antioxidant-rich veggies and fruits is a must. Try all berries, cherries, acai, bell peppers, beets, dark leafy greens, walnuts, almonds, carrots, and pomegranate, etc.
Other anti-inflammatory superstars are ginger and turmeric. I love putting fresh ginger in many of my foods when I feel the need for healing. Fresh turmeric is now widely available at health food stores. Try grating either ginger or turmeric into your recipes, making it into a tea, or even applying it topically as an herbal compress.
6. Keep moving and stretching.
It’s not the most appealing thing to keep moving after an intense workout, but this really does help speed rec
overy. Go for a stroll, or do a yoga session at home. I prefer calming hip openers (Pigeon), easy poses on your back (like Happy Baby) or stomach (Frog). Some suggested poses:
You can also try foam roller stretches if you have one at home.
7. Get enough protein.
Why did I wait til #7 to talk about protein? For most none-figure-builders, competitive or elite athletes (re: most of us), I truly believe water, not protein, is the most crucial thing to remember to speed post-workout recovery. Having said that, getting enough high quality protein after workouts mends your tissues so you can keep building those long lean muscles!
But the important thing to remember also is that it’s not just protein that you need, but enough calories, glucose (exercise depletes glucose in your muscles), vitamins, and minerals that are lost through perspiration, and fat to keep your organs protected and humming. So basically, you need everything, and not just isolated protein, in order to optimally fuel yourself post-workout. (Though I’m not opposed to vegan protein powders to help us meet our goals–see our list of best vegan protein powders).
Protein-rich smoothies are a great way to get all of those in. Try these smoothie recipes below. I also do a chia pudding almost every day.
Remember to get plenty of rest!
Please let me know if you have any questions or your own post-workout tips!
Photo: lifesjules via instagram; Peaceful Dumpling; Jessica Renae; Mary Hood Luttrell