Working out is a way of life for millions of people across the country. Whether you get in a good cardio routine a few times a week or you go for intense training sessions at the gym, no matter your workout routine, there really isn’t a “wrong way” to do things when you’re staying physically active.
But, most healthcare professionals and scientists suggest taking a rest day every three to five days if you’re working out throughout the week. If you haven’t taken one in a while, you might start to notice things like excessive soreness, exhaustion, and cramping muscles.
Recovery days also help you to stay motivated. Working out every day with no breaks can be gruelling, and you might eventually end up resenting your workouts. Recovery days give you the break you need to keep showing up.
You can make the most of your workout recovery by making small adjustments to your lifestyle. From what you eat to how you sleep, changing your daily habits will speed up your recovery process and can make your workout more effective.
Let’s look at some of the adjustments you can start making today to maximize the effects of your rest day.
You probably have no problem guzzling down water during a workout. But, it’s important to keep yourself hydrated every day, even when you’re not doing anything more than sitting at your desk. If you’re working out regularly, it’s easy to get dehydrated from excessive sweating.
Staying hydrated every day will give you more energy and help you fight fatigue, but it will also make it easier for your body to recover.
You could be dehydrated if you regularly experience things like dry mouth, constipation, dizziness, or fatigue. Aim for just over 15 cups of water a day if you’re a man and just over 11 if you’re a woman. On days you work out, you should increase your water intake throughout the day to help your body replenish some of what it’s lost.
There are also some beverages you should regularly avoid. Alcoholic and caffeinated beverages aren’t great for rehydration. Alcohol, for example, is a diuretic, and that means it pulls liquid from the body. When you’re trying to stay hydrated, you can’t afford to lose a drop.
Another “bad” choice is fruit juices. Unless you can find 100% natural juice, many of them have tons of carbohydrates and not much sodium, and they won’t give your body what it needs aside from a quick sugar burst. Stick to water, the occasional sports drink, and decaffeinated tea whenever possible.
Practice Proper Nutrition
If you work out frequently, you likely already know the importance of fueling your body beforehand. Working out on an empty stomach can make you feel sluggish and tired, and you won’t perform as well.
But, fueling your body the right way after a workout is just important. Eating lean protein will help with muscle repair right away and jumpstart the recovery process. A sports drink will also help to replenish sugars you’ve lost and speed up repair instantly.
Keep it simple immediately after a workout. Some of the best things to snack on include:
- Yogurt and fruit
- Nuts and seeds
- Low-fat chocolate milk and pretzels
- A fresh fruit smoothie
When it comes to lifestyle adjustments, you should be practising proper nutrition every day to optimize your workouts and heal faster. Your daily diet should consist mostly of complex carbohydrates, lean protein, healthy fats, and as many fruits and vegetables as you can eat.
There are many myths that you can’t get enough protein in your daily diet if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, and that isn’t true. Plant-based protein is becoming increasingly popular and widely available, and you can also choose to boost your protein intake with a handful of nuts, soy milk, spinach, or tofu. No matter what dietary restrictions you might have, making these nutritional changes will make a big difference in your recovery time.
Make Sleep a Priority
The average adult should be getting around 7 hours of sleep each night, and unfortunately, only 1 in 3 Americans gets the amount of sleep they need. If you’re someone who stays up all hours of the night or has an irregular sleep schedule, changing your sleep hygiene habits will help to maximize your workout recovery.
If you have trouble sleeping or you’ve never given it much thought, it’s time to develop a nighttime routine. That starts with going to bed simultaneously each night and waking up at the same time each day. You should also change a few “unhealthy” sleep habits throughout the day to positive ones, including:
- Avoiding digital devices for an hour before bed
- Not drinking caffeine or alcohol in the afternoon
- Giving up naps
- Creating a calming sleep environment in your bedroom
Many factors can affect your sleep health, from the room’s temperature to the mattress you’re sleeping on. Treat yourself to a memory foam mattress if you’re putting in a lot of hard work with training. Not only will it help you get enough sleep, but memory foam contours to your body to relieve pressure in your joints. It also provides strong support, which can help with spine alignment. The last thing you want is to feel even sorer after a workout, and a memory foam mattress can help with that.
If you’re still having trouble sleeping and you haven’t been able to drift off for a few nights in a row, consider talking to a therapist or sleep specialist. Many people with insomnia have other underlying issues, and a professional can help you get to the bottom of those issues while providing suggestions on how to get better sleep.
Don’t Stop Moving Completely
Recovery days are meant to repair and relax your body. But, that doesn’t mean you need to be completely inactive. Resting is important, and getting enough sleep should be your top priority. But, a day or two after a strenuous workout, start to introduce low impact workouts into your daily routine, including:
- Easy walks around the neighbourhood
- Yoga or pilates
- Leisurely swimming
- A family bike ride
Your goal should be to get anywhere from 30-45 minutes of light exercise each day of your recovery. Not only will staying active on these days make it easier to reach your long-term goals, but you’ll be developing healthy lifelong habits that will encourage you to stay active forever.
Stretching and foam rolling are also great options for your recovery days. Whether you do some light exercise or stretching, your muscles will thank you. They won’t tighten or stiffen up, and you’ll build up your stamina for future workouts. Plus, foam rolling or stretching will make your muscles feel great after an intense workout. You’ll feel like you’re pampering yourself!
Finally, staying active, even a little bit, will reduce your risk of getting injured. You’re still working your muscles and getting light cardiovascular work in, so you won’t be going in totally “cold” to your next intense workout.
If you frequently work out, keep these ideas in mind and consider implementing them into your daily routine. Working out regularly is a great way to take care of your body, but don’t burn yourself out by not recovering properly. These changes will be a turning point for you and the way you exercise in the future.
Photo by Alora Griffiths