The first thing to do after any workout is one of my favorites, and that’s contrast therapy. Essentially you expose a limb, or your entire body, to hot temperature for a period of time, and then you immediately expose it to very cold temperature for a while, repeating this process several times.
In a fascinating study a team of researchers compared contrast therapy to things like cold water immersion, hot water immersion, passive recovery, stretching, and active recovery (1). These things were believed to be helpful just with reducing soreness and speeding up recovery.
But researchers found that contrast therapy led to greater improvements in the areas of muscle soreness and post recovery strength levels than every other recovery method. It also reduced muscle inflammation, improved mobility, and muscle range of motion significantly.
This means that contrast therapy can help you recover from workouts faster than almost any other method. Now the easiest way to perform contrast therapy that anyone can do starting today is by switching between a very cold and hot shower. You can switch back and forth, doing a minute of each for a total of ten minutes.
However, my personal favorite way to do this is by using a sauna in combination with an ice plunge. You would get your body really warmed up in a sauna, by staying in there for at least a few minutes, and then once you’re really warmed up you would jump into the ice plunge, which is basically freezing cold water.
If you don’t have access to an ice plunge you can do something similar by using the sauna at your gym, and then immediately taking a cold shower for at least a minute and then doing that back and forth for a few rounds. If, on the other hand, you do want to try an ice plunge you can find one in most traditional Russian and Korean bath houses.
#2 Drink Tart Cherry Juice
The next thing you’ll want to do after a workout is, instead of having a sports drink like vitamin water, drink some Tart Cherry Juice because it specifically reduces post-workout muscle soreness.
Multiple studies show that consuming tart cherry after resistance training reduces muscle protein breakdown and muscle soreness while speeding up recovery rate. (2) One of these studies was specifically focused on eccentric exercise.
For those of you who don’t know, the eccentric portion of an exercise is when you extend and elongate the muscle as opposed to the concentric portion which is when you contract and shorten the muscle. For example, with exercises like bench press, bicep curls, and squats the eccentric portion would be when you’re lowering the weight down.
Although both concentric and eccentric ranges of motion will break down muscle tissue, the eccentric portion is believed to do the most muscle damage in the form of microscopic tears. This study was especially interesting because it aimed to find whether tart cherry consumption before and after eccentric exercise would have a protective effect on muscle damage symptoms. (3)
So the researchers had college students either drinking twelve ounces of a tart cherry juice blend, or a placebo, twice a day – once in the morning and once at night – for eight days straight.
The scientists found that the placebo group had a strength loss of 30% at 24 hours after finishing the eccentric exercise. After 96 hours, they still had a 12% reduction in strength in the muscles targeted with the eccentric exercise.
On the other hand, the group taking the tart cherry juice only experienced a 12% strength loss after 24 hours and after 96 hours they actually had a 6 percent strength boost above baseline.
In other words, the tart cherry juice reduced strength losses after their workout and helped them recover faster. Tart cherries provide these benefits because they contain special flavonoids and anthocyanins, which are a group of substances that have antioxidant effects in the body.
#3 Engage in Active Recovery
The next thing that I highly recommend doing after the gym to reduce muscle soreness is Active Recovery. While you might not feel like doing anything after your workout, it’s much more beneficial to stay active, not only for your overall health and well-being, but also to aid recovery from your gym session.
We have a number of studies proving evidence of this. For example, one study on cyclists found that active recovery removed lactic acid build up in the muscles, helping cyclists recover from their workouts. (4)
In another study, 26 athletes performed high-intensity workouts for four weeks (5) and they were split into two groups. One group engaged in passive recovery at the end of each of their workouts, which basically means they just rested. Meanwhile, the other group engaged in active recovery, which consisted of 15 minutes of jogging at a moderate pace after their workouts.
At the end of the four weeks, both groups had similar increases in their cardiovascular endurance. However, the active recovery group also increased their anaerobic lactate threshold, which is the amount of intense physical activity they could do without a rise in blood lactate levels.
Essentially, this means that the active recovery group was able to increase their work capacity, and they did that without harming other aspects of their performance. In other words, the study shows that doing light cardio on off days or after a workout can help benefit recovery and performance. It’s important, however, to keep the intensity low.
It should not be a mini workout. Instead, a very slow jog or a walk is enough to reap the benefits without having detrimental effects on your strength and performance.
Another excellent way to reduce muscle soreness after your workout is foam rolling.
A study found that athletes that foam rolled their hamstrings after performing multiple sets and reps of deadlifts experienced significantly less muscle soreness during the following days when compared to the athletes that didn’t foam roll at all. (6) One potential reason why foam rolling can help reduce muscle soreness is because it helps stimulate blood flow to the targeted areas. This increased blood flow is believed to help deliver nutrients to the muscle tissue.
Research also indicates that foam rolling increases the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system. (7) Unlike the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for high stress “fight or flight” situations, the parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for rest and digestion. When the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, your body is placed into more of a recovery mode.
So, if you want to add some foam rolling after your workouts, simply roll over the muscles that you want to target slowly. And if you find a tender spot, hold that spot for twenty to thirty seconds before moving on.
#5 Take Creatine After your Workout
If you’re looking for something to take after your workout to help boost muscle growth, creatine should definitely be on top of your list of choices.
And most of you already know that there are plenty of studies showing that creatine is excellent at improving strength, power, and muscle growth. (8) But what most of you don’t know is that creatine also reduces exercise-induced muscle damage and soreness, as shown by a study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology. That’s why it’s a great post-workout recovery supplement. (9)
On top of that, research indicates that creatine is more effective for improving body composition and athletic performance when taken after exercise instead of before exercise. (10) For example, in a meta-analysis, the researchers concluded that creatine supplementation immediately after resistance training was better at increasing muscle mass when compared to creatine supplementation immediately before resistance training.” (11)
So you may want to consider taking creatine after your workout, and if you choose to, you only need about five grams of creatine monohydrate per day to see the benefits.
#6 Take Protein After your Workout
Moving on you definitely want to ensure that you get some protein post workout because protein is the most important macronutrient to consume after exercise.
That’s because it’s essential for producing a positive muscle protein turnover rate, which refers to a state where more proteins get built up in a muscle than the amount that is broken down. When that happens, a muscle grows in size.
According to a 2016 paper, only 20 grams of a high-quality protein source like whey is enough to produce a significant protein synthesis response after a workout. (12) However, the researchers also found that increasing the amount of whey protein to 40 grams also increased muscle protein synthesis by another 20%. (13) So for maximum muscle-building benefits, you might want to aim closer to 40 grams of a high-quality protein source post-workout.
Also, keep in mind that the “anabolic window” doesn’t exist. So if you already had some form of protein a couple hours before your workout, it isn’t that important to quickly consume a fast-acting protein source. In fact, slower-digesting protein sources like casein, cheese, or meat would be totally fine as well.
But if you trained fasted or didn’t have any protein within two to three hours before your workout, then you would be better off trying to take in a protein source sooner rather than later, or at least going with a faster-digesting protein source post-workout, like whey protein.
Other than taking in creating and protein, you’re also going to want to ensure that you hydrate after your workout.
Replenishing the water that you lost through sweat is not only essential for your health but it’s also crucial if you want to see results.
That’s because dehydration prevents muscle growth by lowering muscle protein synthesis while raising muscle protein breakdown. And it does make a lot of sense that staying hydrated is crucial for muscle growth since your muscles are made up of about 79 percent water.
It also lines ups with studies like this one that found that just a 5 percent dehydration significantly reduced testosterone production after weight training while increasing cortisol and norepinephrine. (14)
This is problematic because testosterone is involved in muscle protein synthesis, while cortisol and norepinephrine exert catabolic effects, which means that they increase muscle protein breakdown.
So, make sure to drink enough water after your workout, just by simply downing one or two glasses of water after your workout you can ensure that you stay pretty well hydrated.
#8 Shower and Change your Clothes
Last but not least, this one is more or less common sense, but you definitely should shower and change your clothes after a workout.
I know you probably just want to take it easy and rest after a workout, but you shouldn’t be spending too much time lingering around in your sweaty clothes.
If you don’t shower and change your clothes, continuing to wear your gym clothes can cause fungal and bacterial infections. And on top of that, not taking a shower post-workout can cause acne.
That’s because it increases the likelihood that an oily substance known as sebum along with dead skin cells will clog your hair follicles leading to acne. So do your best to take a shower, especially after workouts that make you sweat a lot.
So there you have it – the 8 best things to do after a workout to maximize your gains and speed up recovery. Now on a final note, if you’re looking for a streamlined approach that eliminates all the guess work and trial and error, and you want to drop twenty pounds or some stubborn body fat while packing on muscle, then click the link below. By joining one of my programs you’re immediately challenged with a goal and we make sure to hold you accountable to that goal the whole way through. So you’re guaranteed to get a recipe book, a customized diet plan, a full workout plan, and an accountability coach to mentor and guide you through the whole process.
- In one study, researchers compared contrast therapy to cold water immersion, hot water immersion, passive recovery, stretching, and active recovery. And contrast therapy came out on top.
- Multiple studies show that consuming tart cherry after resistance training reduces muscle protein breakdown and muscle soreness while speeding up recovery.
- One of those studies assessed if tart cherry consumption before and after eccentric exercise may have a protective effect for related symptoms of muscle damage. Tart Cherry consumption led to fewer strength losses after working out and sped up recovery.
- In a study on cyclists researchers found that active recovery consisting of moderate cardio removed lactic acid build up in the muscles, helping them recover from their workouts. (11)
- In another study, 26 athletes did high-intensity interval training sessions for four weeks. These athletes were split into two groups. One group engaged in passive recovery after the training session while the other group did active recovery consisting of 15 minutes of moderate jogging. At the end of the four weeks, both groups had similar increases in their cardiovascular endurance. But the active recovery group also increased their anaerobic lactate threshold, which is the amount of intense physical activity they could engage in without a rise in blood lactate levels. Essentially, the active recovery increased their work capacity… and it did that without harming other aspects of their performance.
- One study found that athletes who foam rolled their hamstrings after a session of ten sets of ten reps on the stiff-leg deadlift experienced significantly less muscle soreness during the days after their training session than the athletes who did not foam roll.
- “Increased parasympathetic nervous system activity acutely, which could be useful in recovery.”
- Creatine is well-known for benefiting strength, power, and muscle growth, as backed by many studies.
- Creatine can also reduce exercise-induced muscle damage and soreness, as shown by a 2010 study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology. That’s why it’s a post-workout recovery aid.
- Better yet, research indicates that taking creatine after a workout compared to before is more effective for improving body composition and athletic performance.
- “Meta-analyses indicated that creatine supplementation immediately after resistance training was superior for increasing muscle mass compared to creatine supplementation immediately before resistance training.” https://www.researchgate.net/publication/328075908_Timing_of_Creatine_Supplementation_and_Resistance_Training_A_Brief_Review
- As shown by a 2016 paper, 20 grams of a high-quality protein like whey is enough to produce a significant protein synthesis response after a workout. (keep in mind 40 grams of protein, yielded 20% better results, so at least get 20 but aim for 40g.)
- Researchers also found that increasing the amount of protein to forty grams of whey increased muscle protein synthesis by another 20%.
See figure 5B
- Dehydration is very bad, for example one study found that a 5% dehydration significantly reduced testosterone secretion after resistance training while increasing cortisol and norepinephrine.