Post-workout Routine and Nutrition: Dos and Don’ts to Remember
Establishing healthy and effective habits that supplement training is important to ensure that training-related muscular and physiological adaptations are maximized. Thus, instead of randomly throwing things together to see what works, you should aim to create a sound post-workout routine based on empirical evidence to maximize training benefits. Let’s look at the do’s and don’ts of what to do post-workout, along with post-workout nutrition and recovery strategies.
There is a consensus that post-workout protein is important for muscle growth and repair. After resistance training, the muscle becomes primed and there is an increase in muscle protein synthesis (ie, increased sensitivity to amino acids). Thus, early hypotheses circled around the concept of an “anabolic (growth) window” post-workout, whereby there was a limited time (of around 45 to 60 minutes) to ingest protein after a workout to maximize muscle adaptation processes.
However, in the past decade, there has been considerable work done in this area, which has refuted many early beliefs. Currently, the research indicates that post-workout protein intake may not be as crucial compared to total daily protein intake for promoting exercise-induced muscle development.
In fact, the closeness for post-exercise protein consumption following a workout will depend on the timing of the pre-workout meal. If the main training goal is to maximize muscle growth, then consuming high-quality protein (at a dose of approximately 0.4g/kg-0.5g/kg of lean body mass) is important during both pre-exercise and post-exercise meals, within about four to six hours of each other, depending on meal size. Overall, research indicates that consumption of around 1.6g/kg of protein per day (with an upper limit of 2.2g/kg per day) is needed to optimize training benefits.
Post-workout recovery techniques are solely designed to decrease delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and improve muscle tissue repair processes, with the overall goal to improve physical performance outcomes over time. Considerable evidence exists that explores and contrasts the benefits of post-exercise recovery strategies, including the effects of passive stretching, massage, cryotherapy, contrast water therapy, and self-myofascial release techniques.
Overall, there is good evidence that massage and self-myofascial release techniques (ie, foam rolling) are effective methods for reducing pain associated with DOMS, as well as perceived fatigue levels.
Furthermore, active recovery strategies (ie, swimming, walking, cycling etc), contrast water therapy (ie, using short-burst periods of interchanging cold and hot baths), and cryotherapy (ie, using extreme cold) may offer some positive effects on DOMS. The evidence though is mixed across different population groups, and so, further exploration is needed on these recovery strategies.
Also read: Stretching: Does It Have Any Benefits?
What not to do post workout
From a scientific perspective, there is really no such thing as “things you should not do”, but rather point to activities that are considered less effective. Therefore, all pre and post-workout strategies may have their respective place across varying levels of ability and age etc.
However, certain activities may be considered less fruitful in terms of optimizing recovery in contrast to the methods outlined above. For example, passive (static) stretching undertaken either before or after a workout, is not considered optimal for reducing DOMS or improving performance outcomes. In fact, there is some evidence that static stretching may actually increase the severity of DOMS.
So, where does static stretching fit in, exactly? Well, some may claim that static stretching is important for improving range of motion, which is an important quality when undertaking resistance-based exercises. However, recent evidence has proposed that resistance training in itself may be equivalent to static stretching for improving range of motion. That is, resistance training using elongated muscles under tension (ie, eccentric contractions) may actually increase muscle fascicle lengths comparable to static stretching. More evidence is needed comparing the two modes though. For now, static stretching may well have some therapeutic/ perceived benefits, but it does not seem to improve performance outcomes or decrease DOMS.
Moreover, since fluid losses (through sweat and urine) continue during the post-exercise period, effective rehydration requires the intake of a greater volume of fluid (ie, 125%-150%) than the final fluid deficit. If the water deficit is not made up during the post-exercise period, there may be negative effects associated with reduced aerobic and anaerobic exercise performance and muscular strength. Therefore, it is recommended that 1.25l-1.5l of fluid (water, or water + electrolytes) is ingested for every 1kg body weight loss post-workout.
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