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How to Recover After Exercise

How to Recover After Exercise

Should I Stretch?

Before every P.E lesson we were told to warm up in order to avoid injury, to the point where it became a habit. But there is increasing evidence that a cool down is far more beneficial than a warm up.

Research has found that stretching signals ‘relax ‘ to the body, therefore your muscles are actually at an increased risk of injury. Brian Coyne, an exercise physiologist at Duke University believes post exercise is the “most crucial time to exercise” because it ensures that blood does not “pool in the exercised muscle, especially in the legs”. He suggests you take “15 to 20 minutes after the workout to walk around and get some water”.

Is Icing in?

During exercise muscles experience micro-trauma (tiny tears in the muscle fibres). Many elite athletes swear by icing as a technique to prevent muscle pain, soreness and inflammation. Immersing yourself in a 12˚c bath for 5-20 minutes supposedly restricts blood flow to over worked muscles, speeds circulation and encourages healing.

Scientific research, however, is conflicting. The University of New Hampshire found no significant benefit in strength, swelling or soreness in 10 men who iced for 20 minutes after 40 minutes of running, compared to 10 men who did not ice. On the other hand, Dr Robin West is a fan of icing, especially when done in conjunction with heat. The contrast of 5 minutes ice, 5 minutes heat and then another 5 minutes ice “slows blood pooling” and then “brings in the blood” which promotes healing and is “great for swelling”.

Since it is unlikely you’ll run a cold bath and raid your freezer for ice cubes after every workout, a simple ice/heat pack will suffice (if you feel you need it).

What’s the best way to replenish my body?

Whilst exercising your muscles and liver lose glycogen (carbohydrate), fluids and electrolytes. Exercising also heightens the sensitivity of your muscles, so within half an hour completing a workout you should consume nutrient rich foods. These help to repair and refuel your body. Lean protein contains amino acids (the building blocks of muscles) to repair muscle fibres and develop new muscle tissue. Good options include chicken, turkey, fish, eggs and quinoa.

After physical activity you should aim to replace lost fluids by 150%, drinks with a little sodium are ideal to restore lost electrolytes (but don’t drown your body within a minute, drink throughout the day). Try sports drinks, milk, or water and a pretzel.

How long should I leave between workouts?

Light or moderate exercise can be done daily, but vigorous workout sessions should be spaced throughout the week to allow your body time to recover. Having said this, every person and every workout is different. Dr Wright, an orthopaedic surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre, says a person can return to more intense exercise when they “no longer have sore muscles and when their resting heart rate is back to normal”.

Ultimately you know your body best, so listen to it! If it’s a little achy but not painful your probably good to go, but if you are verging on paralysis and haven’t the energy to walk, then you should take a day or two to rest and recuperate.