How to Boost Your Post Exercise Recovery [& Relieve Your Sore Muscles]

Improving your fitness requires three things: smart exercise, good nutrition, and proper recovery.

It is a perfect trinity, and all three components are absolute requirements.

Of the three, most people understand that exercise and nutrition are important, but they tend to ignore the massive role recovery plays into the equation. 

To quote some great fitness experts, "It’s not what you do inside the gym, but what you do outside of the gym that will determine your success."

As a busy professional, optimizing your recovery can be quite daunting, and often difficult to focus on.

Fortunately, you are about to learn the best methods to recover from your demanding work life, as well as your demanding training sessions.

This is the fourth installment of the WCT muscle building series, where we teach you efficient ways of exercising to build muscle despite your busy schedule. 

In Part 1, How to Build Muscle Naturally Using Scientifically Proven Methods we discuss the 3 step method you need to do in order to build muscle. If you don’t do these three things, then you are simply wasting your time.

In Part 2, Harness The Power Of Your Body Type [Ectomorph, Mesomorph, Endomorph] we discuss the different body types, and how each one builds muscle differently. It is important to determine which body type you are so that you could plan your diet and training accordingly.

In Part 3, The Ultimate Guide to Natural Muscle Building we discuss the optimal amount of work you need to do to build muscular size and muscular strength.

I highly recommend that you read through those articles first.


Today's post is going to cover:

  • The Importance of Recovery After Exercise

  • How Long Does it Take to Recover From a Workout

  • Active Recovery vs Passive Recovery

  • What Foods Help You Recover From a Workout


The Importance of Recovery After Exercise

Exercise is a catabolic process. This means that your muscles have to break down and use up their resources extensively, in order to perform the physical activity.  The harder you exercise, the higher the catabolic demand on your muscles.

If you only exercised and didn't recover, you would actually just waste away.  Fortunately, our bodies have built-in mechanisms to prevent us from 'over-training.'

This process isn't exclusive to exercise. 

It is important to recover from the physical and mental demands of your work as well!

Optimizing your recovery is what will allow your body to go into anabolism or a state of rebuilding and repairing.  This is how your muscles get stronger, your body becomes more "fit," and your brain recharges for another day of work.

Just as we describe in How to Build Muscle Naturally Using Scientifically Proven Methods, your body must go through a three-step process. In order to adapt to the stimulus/stress of exercise and life, you must allow recovery to occur.


If you ignore your recovery, then you are not optimizing your fitness, and you could very well be wasting your time.


Best Case Scenario: You do not achieve your fitness goals

Worst Case Scenario: You wind up injured, burned out and unmotivated.


How Long Does it Take to Recover From a Workout?

Depending on your physical capabilities, and the workout that was performed, recovery takes approximately 48 hours.  

The more untrained you are, the quicker you can recover from a workout, and the more experienced you are, the longer it will take.

Here's why: 

An untrained individual is not yet strong enough to fatigue or stress their body/muscles sufficiently to a level that requires a significant amount of recovery. 

For example, trainee A has been lifting for 3 months and can only accomplish a 100 lb squat for 3 sets of 5 repetitions.  Compare that to trainee B, who can squat 500 lbs for the same amount of volume (3 sets of 5). All other things being equal, trainee B will need a longer time to recover.


Either way, we recommend that you do not train the same muscle group on consecutive days. With this strategy, you can still train the same muscle group twice in one week as we discuss in The Best Workout Template for Busy Professionals.



How Long Does it Take for Muscle Soreness to Get Better?

Muscle soreness is one of the most common complaints I hear trainees make when they start to exercise. I don't blame them.

Muscle soreness sucks.

We don't fully understand why it happens, and it can affect your ability to perform activities of daily living (Raise your hand if you ever struggled to sit down or go up/down stairs after a squat day.)

With that said, the rate of recovery from muscle soreness is highly variable.  For some, it'll last 1-2 days (if you optimize your recovery) and for others, it can last up to a week.

Understand that it is OK to exercise while you are still sore, provided you have waited at least 48 hours from the last time you trained that muscle group. 


Active Recovery vs Passive Recovery

OK great- now you understand that recovery is important. Now let's talk about the best workout recovery strategies. 

There are two main methods that you can use. Active Recovery and Passive Recovery.


Let's start with Active Recovery.


Active Recovery is exactly what it sounds like. Rather than waiting for your body to repair itself, you continue to remain active on the days you are not training.  This includes walking, swimming, using a stationary bike, stretching, and even self-massage with foam rollers etc.

It is important that the stress during active recovery is of low intensity so that it won't interfere with the actual repairs that are happening. 

Low intensity could be defined as an activity that requires minimal effort and does not cause a significant increase in your heart rate.


Why Would You Use Active Recovery?

Active recovery is meant to help your muscles recover by improving their circulation. More blood flow to your muscles means a huge influx of oxygen and nutrients which allows for a higher outflow of metabolic waste products.

In addition, keeping your body in motion on your rest day is full of other benefits, particularly psychological benefits, as we described Walking For Weight Loss [The Most Underrated Way To Lose Weight].

My absolute favorite method of Active Recovery and the one that we recommend to you is walking.  Brittany and I do our best to take 10,000 steps or more on our rest days and at least 7500 on our training days. The more you move, the more energy your body creates. 


DO NOT underestimate walking. This is one key strategy you can use to de-stress and recharge from a tough day at work.

The return on investment is disproportionate. If you need ways to increase your step count, check out The Detrimental Effects Of Prolonged Sitting [And 8 Ways To Combat It].  As a busy professional, it should be easy to include more walking into your routine. 

Get creative, do not dismiss this.


What about Passive Recovery? 

The other technique you can use, (which is by far the most common) is passive recovery. This is simply letting your body heal as you rest from physical activity.

However, it is important to not misinterpret this.

Passive recovery does not mean for you to just sit back, watch tv, and let the cows come home!  It is important to give your body the building blocks to allow recovery to occur-  this means paying close attention to your nutrition (especially post-workout), and your sleep.

Again, if you do not recover appropriately, you may be doing more harm than good!


What to Eat After a Workout: Post-Workout Nutrition

So what are the most important components of a post-workout meal? 


Carbohydrates, Protein and Water


It is absolutely necessary to consume protein and carbohydrates following your training to help replenish the glycogen stores in your body and begin the process of muscle protein synthesis. We go over the three macronutrients and their importance in The Importance Of A Balanced Diet [3 Key Principles You Need To Know].

It is often debated what the optimal post-workout nutrition window is. There is no hard and fast evidence, but to be safe, consume this meal within 45 min -1 hour of your workout.


Aim for ~35 grams of protein post workout

You can use

  • Protein powder (whey or plant based)
  • Lean chicken breast or Grass Fed Beef
  • Wild Caught Salmon and other high-quality Fish
  • Legumes (Chickpeas, Green Split Peas)
  • Cage Free Eggs


What about Carbs?

This is your chance to eat free carbohydrates.  Your body is starving for energy and it will quickly use up the calories from carbohydrates to rebuild itself immediately following a workout.

This is why exercise is so important for Diabetics. During exercise, the body up-regulates carbohydrate receptors, which results in lower than normal blood sugar spikes. The more you workout, the more free carbohydrates you can consume.

So how many carbs should you consume post workout?

The more aerobic your workout was (think fast HR, and heavy breathing) the more carbohydrates you can consume.


Aim for 50-100 grams of Carbs depending on your size and activity level


You can consume

  • White or Brown Rice
  • Quinoa
  • Oats
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Vegetables


Hydration and Recovery

Lastly, you must consume enough water. Aim to drink at least half your body-weight every single day. (I.e if you weigh 150 lbs, you should consume 75 oz of water).

Also, do your best to drink at least 16 ounces of water immediately post workout.

If you are ever thirsty throughout the day, then you have waited far too long.


What About sleep and muscle recovery?

Sleep is the equalizer. It will contribute to at least 33% of your entire fitness progress. It is so important, we have written a three-part series on how to maximize your sleep. Here they are:

The Amazing Benefits Of Deep Sleep [3 Tips To Help You Fall Asleep]

7 More Ways To Increase Deep Sleep [Even With A Busy Schedule]

Caffeine: Is It Healthy? Proven Tips On How To Stay Awake [For 24 Hours]


Are There any Good Muscle Recovery Supplements?

I prefer that you keep supplements to an absolute minimum.  Whey or Plant-based protein powders (with minimal ingredients) are going to be the main muscle recovery supplement that you may need.

Protein powders are simply a convenience. They aren't absolutely necessary. If you can maximize your protein intake post workout with natural food, then protein powder is just a commodity.

There has been a lot of mixed research on supplements like Creatine, Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs), Glutamine and L-Carnitine.  In my honest opinion, all of these supplements are crap and just a waste of your money.

If you focus on quality nutrition like we discuss on How To Lose Weight Naturally Using The Incredible Power Of Food, you will be more than fine.  


Final Words

Training must be composed of a yin and a yang- a catabolic stimulus, followed by an anabolic recovery.  You should utilize both active and passive recovery methods, but make sure that you don't skimp on the passive stuff. 

Without a proper recovery, there is no progress.


In a Nutshell

  • Recovery is necessary for muscle repair and muscle protein synthesis
  • It can take approximately 48 hours to recover from a workout
  • You can decrease muscle soreness by being more consistent
  • You can use Active recovery to help the repair process: especially walking
  • Passive methods include proper post-workout nutrition, adequate nutrient intake, and sleep


Post your comments and questions below.  



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Alex & Brittany Robles are the founders of The White Coat Trainer, a site dedicated to improving the health and wellness of busy individuals. Learn more about them here and connect with them on instagram and Twitter. Feel free to send them a message here