Having a solid recovery routine is essential for helping your body get the most out of every workout. From replacing depleted energy stores to giving yourself adequate time to rest, what you do (or don’t do) after a workout can make or break your results.
In this guide, we’ll dive deeper into the best science-backed ways to recover post workout —from why it’s so important to the most effective ways you can help your body recover to help you maximize your gains and get more out of your workouts.
First, it is important to understand the key physiological changes that happen when you exercise that make post-workout recovery essential, so let’s start there.
Why is recovery important after exercise?
During a tough workout, muscle fuel stores become depleted, and your body loses fluid and electrolytes in sweat [1
]. It can also damage muscle fibers, increase inflammation, and depress your immune system, which may put you at greater risk for soreness, injury, and illness [3
]. Unfortunately, the longer, harder, and more frequently you work out, the more you become susceptible to all of these effects [1
This is why recovery is so important after exercise. Research shows that having a good recovery routine can help your body to repair damaged muscles, boost muscle recovery and improve strength and body composition, all while mitigating exercise-induced inflammation and immune suppression [5
Science-backed strategies to help you recover post workout
Studies continue to show that having a good recovery routine can greatly help improve your performance, since failing to do so can have detrimental effects on your body and performance. But what should you include in your recovery routine to make the most out of your workouts? Here are six of the best ways to recover post workout, according to science.
1. Refuel and rehydrate
After a workout, your body immediately goes into repair mode, as it is rebuilding muscle tissue and replenishing depleted glycogen stores. To do this, it needs carbohydrates, protein, and fluids, so here are some tips to help you optimize your post-workout nutrition.
Start replenishing fluids and fuel within 1 hour of a workout.
Research shows the optimal time to start replenishing fuel and fluid is 15-60 minutes after you finish exercising, since delaying carbohydrate ingestion by as little as two hours can reduce the rate of muscle glycogen synthesis by 50% [5
Consume 45-90 g of quick-digesting carbohydrates following a moderate- to high-intensity workout lasting >45 minutes.
Carbohydrates replenish depleted muscle and liver glycogen stores. For intense, high-volume training (3-6 hours/day, 5-6 days/week), experts recommend getting 1.2 g/kg/hr for the 4-6 hours into recovery [5
Consume 20-40 g of high-quality protein.
Dietary protein jumpstarts muscle protein synthesis (MPS). Interestingly, research shows that post-workout protein intake (20-40 g) within two hours of finishing a workout stimulates robust increases in MPS that can benefit both recovery and future performance [5
Consider protein supplementation.
The more active you are, the more protein and carbohydrates you will need to support the physical demands of training and recovery. Evidence has shownthat a post workout recovery supplement like protein powder can boost physical performance and recovery and increase lean body mass, muscle hypertrophy, and strength [9
Personalized protein supplements, like Elo Smart Protein, can be a convenient and cost-efficient way to boost protein intake after exercise to deliver the perfect amount of nutrients to help you recover post workout.
Pair carbs and protein in a 3:1 ratio.
Getting enough carbs and protein is top priority, but evidence suggests pairing carbs and protein in a 3:1 to 4:1 ratio may further enhance protein synthesis [5
Rehydrate with water or a sports drink.
Fluids are vital for maintaining normal body function, delivering key nutrients to tired muscles, and removing metabolic byproducts and toxins from the body [5
]. Studies also show that dehydration worsens muscle soreness in the days following exercise [7
To adequately rehydrate, research shows you’ll need about 3 cups of water (24 fluid ounces) for every pound of body weight lost [6
]. If weighing yourself pre- and post-workout isn’t convenient, drink enough fluids so that your urine is pale yellow or lighter. You may want to consider an electrolyte-enhanced sports drink if you’re working out for longer than 45 minutes, exercising in a hot and humid environment, or if you’re a salty sweater [7
2. Consider supplements for workout recovery
After prioritizing carbs, protein, and fluids, you may wonder what else you can include in your post-workout nutrition plan to optimize recovery. As it turns out, a handful of supplements may have some post-workout perks. Here are some supplements for workout recovery
(a dietary amino acid found in muscles) is one of the most widely studied supplements for athletic performance. In addition to boosting speed and strength, and improving body composition, studies show creatine may also enhance recovery by increasing glycogen resynthesis and muscle protein synthesis, while reducing delayed onset muscle soreness [10
]. Creatine may also play a role in reducing muscle damage and inflammation [10
To start supplementation, look for creatine monohydrate and begin with a loading dose of 20 g/day for 5 days, followed by 3-5 g/day thereafter [10
]. You can obtain creatine through supplements or dietary sources like fish, meat, and other animal products.
Tart cherry juice
Tart cherries are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. A growing body of research shows that tart cherry juice can improve performance, reduce pain, soreness, and inflammation, and accelerate strength recovery after both strength and endurance exercises [12
Most studies that have shown benefits have used 8-12 ounces (1 ounce if in concentrate form) twice a day, 4-5 days leading up to an event or strenuous exercise, and 2-3 days after to promote recovery [13
Like creatine, glutamine is a naturally occurring amino acid naturally found in muscles. Research shows supplementation with glutamine can reduce strength loss, accelerate strength recovery, and reduce muscle soreness more quickly than a placebo [14
Glutamine supplements, also commonly labeled as L-glutamine, are available in powder and capsule form. Daily dosages ranging from 0.21 - 0.42 g/kg are safe and effective for enhancing recovery in athletes [14
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids (specifically DHA and EPA) have anti-inflammatory benefits that may reduce soreness, enhance recovery and repair from muscle-damaging exercise, and help with injury prevention [10
Studies in healthy adults show that 2 g/day of omega-3s is safe and effective for reducing inflammation while taking 3 g/day of combined EPA and DHA can reduce muscle soreness after exercise [10
Curcumin, the main compound in turmeric
, has an array of anti-inflammatory benefits that may also be beneficial to recovery.
Studies indicate that 150-1,500 mg of turmeric per day may improve post-exercise recovery and reduce muscle soreness. One study found that ingestion before exercise could attenuate acute inflammation, and after exercise, it could reduce muscle damage and facilitate faster recovery [16
Combining turmeric with black pepper, or taking supplements that contain a form of black pepper, can enhance the absorption of curcumin by up to 2,000% and increase its effectiveness [16
In addition to personalized protein, Elo Health also offers smart supplements that can be personalized to your unique recovery needs through 1:1 dietitian support. Learn more about how Elo Health can help you optimize your post workout nutrition routine.
3. Take a cold bath
Cold water immersion (CWI) is a popular recovery strategy among athletes aimed at enhancing recovery from strenuous exercise.
CWI is associated with several short-term benefits related to post-exercise recovery, including reduced muscle soreness, perception of fatigue, and markers of inflammation and muscle damage after strenuous exercise, as well as faster recovery of muscle strength [19
Studies also show that reductions in muscle soreness, inflammation, and pain from cold water immersion can lead to improved sleep quality, another key factor in workout recovery [20
In studies, typical CWI protocols involve the submersion of the limbs and/or torso for 5–20 min in water cooled to temperatures of between 46–59°F (8-15°C) [19
If you’re big into weight lifting, you should know that CWI may have certain drawbacks for strength athletes, including smaller gains in muscle hypertrophy, strength, and force. However, these effects haven’t been seen in endurance athletes, and the benefits of CWI may still outweigh the potential drawbacks for strength athletes who are chronically trained, undergoing high-frequency training, or who are acclimated to the cold [21
4. Massage and foam roll
Many athletes make massage part of their regular recovery regimen —and for good reason. Evidence shows massage decreases DOMS and promotes small but significant improvements in flexibility [22
If you can’t splurge on a sports massage after every workout, there is a more affordable and convenient alternative. Research shows daily foam rolling can also be effective in reducing soreness and increasing the range of motion in athletes [23
One study found just two minutes of foam rolling increased athletes’ quadricep range of motion by ten degrees, whereas the control group, given two minutes of rest, had increases of less than one degree. The increase in range of motion in the foam rolling group also lasted significantly longer than the almost negligible increase in the control group [23
]. These findings show that you can experience benefits by rolling for two, one-minute segments per muscle group every day, especially after a tough exercise session [23
5. Get enough rest
The importance of sleep and taking rest days cannot be overemphasized when it comes to recovery and improving performance.
Poor sleep quality is associated with poor mood, impaired motor skills, decreased alertness, pre-training fatigue, impaired performance, prolonged recovery, and increased perceived exertion during exercise [24
In studies, sleep-deprived athletes had significantly reduced levels of human growth hormone (HGH), a hormone that stimulates muscle growth and repair, as well as bone building and fat burning. On the contrary, deep sleep and longer sleep seem to encourage more HGH production.
For optimal performance and recovery, experts recommend getting between 7-9 hours of sleep nightly [27
]. Elite athletes are encouraged to get at least
nine hours of sleep every night and to treat it with as much importance as athletic training and diet [27
Adequate rest days are also key for recovery as they give your muscles time to heal, get stronger, and help prevent injury.
Signs you might need more rest days include persistent muscle soreness, difficulty completing a workout, frequent feelings of sluggishness following exercise, reduced weight loss or muscle gain from working out, and increased irritability, insomnia, or mood swings [28
A rest day can be a day of complete relaxation or a lightly active day that incorporates gentle movement such as walking, yoga, or housework.
6. Open your mind to sports psychology
While exercise is predominantly good for our mental health, it can also have a negative effect. From overcoming injury to managing performance anxiety and expectations, mental health struggles are common and enduring among athletes and everyday exercisers alike.
Sports psychology can help you improve mental toughness, reduce fatigue, cope with the pressures of competition, stick with an exercise program, and even overcome injuries — all of which may correlate with better performance and recovery [29
A sports psychologist can help you improve your psychological and physical health, and may use techniques like visualization, goal-setting, positive self-talk, attentional focus, relaxation, motivation, and team building to help individuals cope with mental stressors associated with exercise and athletic competition [30
]. They can also help you implement these techniques in your everyday life to improve your athletic performance and recovery.
Other articles and FAQs about post-workout nutrition
If you want to learn more about post-workout nutrition and recovery, here are some other articles we think you’ll enjoy.
Working out is tough on the body and can leave you feeling sore, low on energy, and make you more susceptible to getting sick. From replenishing depleted energy and fluid stores to boosting muscle synthesis and recovery, what you do (and don’t do) after a workout can profoundly affect your recovery and overall health.
Science shows the best way to recover from workouts is to prioritize post-workout nutrition and supplements and incorporate cold water immersion, rest, massage, and sports psychology into your recovery routine. Learn more about how Elo Health
can help you optimize your post workout recovery routine with personalized protein
, smart supplements
, and 1:1 dietitian support.
Disclaimer: The text, images, videos, and other media on this page are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended to treat, diagnose or replace personalized medical care.