The Post-Workout Recovery You’re Not Doing
Beyond the cool down
You’ve been sticking to regular workouts, and mostly, you feel great. But there’s that nagging side stitch or stomach cramp that happens as you head back to the office after your lunch run, or that irritated feeling that makes you snap at your partner after a serious spin class. Maybe you’ve noticed that, despite your #EatClean healthy lifestyle regime, you’re still breaking out or feeling super-puffy all the damn time.
This probably means that, while your workout is crushing it, your recovery is almost definitely lacking. Even the top pro athletes struggle to dial in that post-training recovery, from a proper cool-down to the right food and drink. Here's what you need to know.
Raise your hand if, after every hard workout or aerobic exercise, you dedicate a few minutes to cooling down by walking or stretching. Okay, now raise your hand if you’ve been *that girl* who tries to quietly roll up her mat during savasana in yoga class and slip out five minutes before class is over. Yeah, I thought so. (I don’t blame you, we’ve all been there.) But take your cool-down seriously. Consider it part of your workout—not just an annoying thing to stack on top of it. Tell yourself whatever you need to hear in order to actually chill out instead of hitting your final sprint and then hitting the showers and sitting back in your office chair for a few more hours. Because if that's what you do, then, Welcome to Sore Legs, population: you. If you hate cool-downs and won't do them naturally, force them into your life by doing things like parking your car a few blocks from the gym so you’re mandated to do a casual walk after a weight session, or stop and grab the mail at the end of your run so you’ve got no choice but to walk the last minute or two.
Yoga Flowing (or Call It Stretching)
I was going to recommend stretching, but, let’s be real, almost everyone would eye-roll and skip this section because stretching is what we were forced to do in gym class. These days, I prefer a stretch while dialing down my central nervous system by doing a chill five-to-10-minute yoga flow. Basic sun salutations and a couple of warrior poses are enough to get your body in a calm state while giving you a dynamic, gentle stretch.
Most of us—and I count elite athletes in this—don’t drink enough in our workouts. Especially ones that involve a lot of sweating, like spin class, hot yoga, or CrossFit. So after your workout, just have a bottle of water (around 20 ounces is ideal); and if your sweat is extra salty, make sure you add some electrolytes to your H2O, either with a pinch of sea salt or with an actual electrolyte tablet like nuun. Post-workout, you don’t need a sports drink packed with sugar or artificial sweetener, you just need something light to restore balance.
In my observations over the years, I’ve noticed that most women—myself included!—are lacking in the protein department, especially when it comes to post-workout intake. Part of this is because we tend to eat low-protein meals during the day, like cereal for breakfast and a salad for lunch, and slam a huge amount at dinner (like a burger or a steak). Really, what our bodies need for the best muscle growth and fat burn is a steady stream of protein throughout the day. You should be aiming for 20 grams with each meal, plus 20 grams post-workout (or time a meal to happen after a workout). You’ll end up feeling fuller longer and less inclined to binge on pastries or chips a couple of hours post-workout.
With athleisure brands pushing the “from bootcamp-to-brunch” agenda, you’re starting to run a serious risk of a gross lady part situation. If you get sweaty, take five minutes to clean up by either quickly showering or, at least, swiping water to your underarms and underpants areas. Otherwise, you’re creating a great breeding ground for bacteria (and who knows what was on the mat you were using at the gym!). As you work out, especially at high intensities, your nether regions may be getting chafed a bit, opening tiny micro-cuts that are then perfect for bacteria to burrow into, creating a gross ingrown hair/breakout situation. Oh, and those breakouts I mentioned earlier? Yeah, most of those are caused by leaving sweat and grime under a layer of dry shampoo and concealer. Just clean up and dry off before heading to that coffee date!
Okay, foam rolling is kind of the worst, but it’s basically a free massage that you can do while you watch Netflix. There are a bunch of athlete recovery/self-massage tools out there, but the simplest and most widely used—largely because it’s hard to fuck up—is the foam roller. It looks exactly like it sounds, and you can find hundreds of videos about the best foam rolling technique for whatever workout you’ve been doing, or you can just get down on the floor, put the foam roller under your back, butt, or legs, and just roll into your muscles. (Trust me, this sounds weird but feels amazing!) It’s great for helping flush out your tissue and for preventing soreness—so if you’re someone who gets puffy legs after your run, this is for you.
You may not work out in the evening, but it’s our sleeping hours that help us get the most recovery and muscle growth and adaptation, so if you’re skimping on the ZZZZs, you’re probably going to find it hard to feel great every morning. If you really don’t have time for seven to nine hours of solid sleep every night, dial down the intensity of workouts—swap spin class for a chill cruiser ride—until you’re feeling less sore and tired, and slowly add back in the tough stuff. Any night where you’re working late and only grab four hours of shut-eye, make the next day’s workout gentle and restorative, like a walk or yoga, versus a CrossFit class.