27 Tips for Good Muscle Recovery
Time to read 12 min
Time to read 12 min
Post-workout stiffness, aches, and tiredness is something that most of us come to accept as a sign that we’ve pushed ourselves and done well in our fitness regime.
But, let’s face it: being sore isn’t fun, even if the reason for the soreness is one with positive outcomes.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the most effective tips and strategies to speed up muscle recovery and make sure delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) doesn’t get you down!
Food is more than just fuel. It’s what your body uses to build the materials to repair itself and build more tissue.
If you give your body the things it needs to repair, regenerate, and refuel, you’ll bounce back from a big workout quicker.
Proteins are the body’s bricks. They repair and make muscle tissue and bone, as well as form enzymes and hormones which tell your organs what to do.
Making sure you eat enough protein ensures your body has the resources it needs to regenerate your muscles and grow new cells.
If proteins are the building blocks of the body, carbohydrates represent the energy source your body needs to utilize the proteins.
Carbs are how your body gets glucose, which is essential for good recovery.
However, not all carbohydrates are beneficial; the more refined the carbohydrate source is, the less useful it is for your body.
White flour contains carbohydrates and not much else. Additionally, wheat flour contains gluten which can trigger IBS and celiac symptoms.
On the other hand, foods made from wholemeal flour (bread, pasta, etc.) have more of the vitamins, minerals, and fiber your body needs to recover and rebuild itself.
Other sources of carbohydrates can include fruits (oranges, bananas, apples), some vegetables such as potatoes and corn, and pulses and grains.
As we’ve already mentioned, food is what your body uses to repair, regenerate, and refuel itself.
Different foods have different nutrients, so you need a balanced diet to make sure you’re getting everything your body needs to function at its best.
However, it’s also true that life would be miserable if we couldn’t have treats.
The great thing is that because berries and fruit are naturally sweet and nuts and seeds are naturally savory, you’ve got great flavor bases to work with without compromising your diet.
Food is only one part of the muscle recovery equation.
You sweat when you exercise, and it’s important to put that fluid back into your body if you want it to work properly.
Pure and simple, water is the best thing for your body in terms of rehydration.
There are plenty of sports drinks that have electrolytes and vitamins in them, but unless you:
your body won’t utilize the added vitamins and electrolytes and they will be excreted instead. Straight, no-frills water is better for you than anything else.
Hydration is extremely important when it comes to life in general – not just muscle recovery.
However, it does have a key role in not only how you train, but how quickly you recover as well.
When you’re dehydrated, you’ll likely feel lethargic, have a headache, and find it hard to concentrate.
This is a fairly common occurrence that happens to many people on hot days, or if they’ve woken up with a hangover after a big night out.
People that train hard often can push themselves into hypohydration.
Hypohydration is the extreme version of dehydration, where the body’s water deficit is greater than it would be on an ordinary day.
While this doesn’t sound so bad, hydration is what keeps your internal organs and muscles from sticking to each other.
It also creates the medium in the spaces between neural synapses in your brain and your nerves for electrical messages to flow.
The symptoms of hypohydration include (but aren’t limited to):
Hypohydration is the best time to use an electrolyte supplement. This brings us to…
Sometimes, an intense training regime pushes your body through more than what it can replace with the food you eat.
This means that you need to give your body additional building blocks to help your muscles recover more efficiently.
As we mentioned earlier, protein is the body’s primary building material. If you don’t consume enough protein, you’ll feel tired and your muscle stiffness will last longer.
You can get protein powder either from animals (whey, egg white, or casein) or from plants (pea, soy, hemp, or rice).
It delivers easily-absorbed protein into your body so it can be used straight away without having to digest too much.
If you have a protein shake straight after your workout, you’ll lower the likelihood of muscle soreness and fatigue as your body can get straight to work on repairs and regeneration.
Creatine is an amino acid that’s naturally created in your muscles as an energy source.
It also regenerates ATP, which is what your muscles use to contract.
As you can probably imagine, an intense workout tends to deplete your stores of creatine quickly.
Taking creatine an hour before you start warming up will add to your body’s stockpile and reduce post-workout fatigue.
Amino acids are the organic molecule compounds that make up proteins. Different amino acids create different proteins, which go on to carry out a variety of processes in your body.
Branched-chain amino acids are the version that creates the proteins that build muscle mass.
They also repair any wear and tear on your skeletal muscles – the muscles you use to move around and control your physical actions.
Branch chain amino acids are most commonly found in eggs, meat, and dairy products.
Magnesium is a natural anti-inflammatory.
Taking magnesium supplements every day can help with muscle tightness and help you bounce back more quickly from a hard workout.
Cannabidiol (CBD) has gained a lot of popularity since it was taken off the restricted substances list for athletes by the International Institute of Sports.
It is an excellent muscle relaxant with none of the potential for addiction or problematic side effects that THC has.
It also has a pain relief element that some sports professionals have used to help recover from chronic injury and improve their sleep.
Active recovery is where light exercise is carried out following an intense workout.
It prevents lactic acid from building up in your muscles and flushes out toxins that contribute to muscle stiffness and soreness.
Active recovery exercises are low or no impact with a light cardio element. You can use it as a cool down directly after you’ve finished your main workout, or as a maintenance activity on your rest day.
In this section, we’ll explore a selection of the most effective active recovery methods:
Yoga and Tai chi both use stretching as a base for all their movements.
This is great for your rest day as not only does it feel good to stretch out your muscles, but it also increases the blood flow in your muscles and helps flush out any toxins that might still be lurking.
When you work your muscles hard, the fascia between them can become tight. This restricts blood flow and can be quite painful.
If you work your muscles hard enough, knots of tight muscle that feel like hard lumps under the skin can form.
Acupressure is a bit like a massage, where you target the area with a foam roller, massage ball, or massage stick.
Leaning the knot into the ball, roller, or stick squashes the knot until it dissipates – leaving the muscle less agitated and allowing your blood to flow through it properly.
Acupressure mats are excellent for increasing blood flow, flushing toxins, and carrying nutrients around the body.
It can take a little getting used to in the beginning because you’re sitting, lying, or standing on countless pointy little discs.
They don’t break the skin, but it can be rather uncomfortable for the first 10-15 minutes or so. After that, it starts to feel pretty amazing!
Swimming and aqua-jogging are full-body, low-intensity, no-impact exercises you can do after a higher-intensity workout.
A study conducted by the University of Western Australia showed that sprinters that swam two 100-meter laps on the same day as an intense training day performed better the day after than sprinters that didn’t.
Jogging and walking are great because you can do it anywhere, any time, and any place you choose.
Even a quick 15-minute walk around the block can ease stiff muscles and get your blood moving.
There are some good habits to get into that will help your muscle recovery, among other things:
It seems like a no-brainer that getting a solid night’s sleep would help with muscle recovery.
According to the CDC, adults between the ages of 18 and 60 need 7+ hours of sleep per night to function properly.
Non-REM sleep is the deep sleep that makes up 70-80% of the time you’re asleep.
When you’re in the non-REM stage of deep sleep, your brain releases hormones that stimulate muscle repair and growth.
I know it sounds indulgent, but having regular massages or working with a massage gun is key for good muscle recovery.
Massage prevents lactic acid from building up in your muscles. In turn, this increases blood flow and healing, loosens up the fascia between the muscles, and reduces your stress levels.
Cold water therapy straight after a workout can speed up muscle recovery by constricting the blood vessels.
This stops any swelling or inflammation you might otherwise incur. The effect is the same as when you put an ice pack on an impact injury to stop it from bruising.
Whole-body cryotherapy is like a more intense version of cold water therapy.
The cold is so intense that it temporarily disrupts the sensory receptors in your body. This means that you literally can’t feel any pain and it decreases your muscle tension.
Additionally, it also provides the same anti-inflammatory action that we talked about in the cold water therapy section.
There are many tools for muscle recovery and they don’t have to be expensive. Here are some of the most effective ones:
Foam rollers are great for massaging tight and sore muscles with myofascial release as its primary purpose. The rollers alleviate the tension from the muscle's fascia (connective tissues), promoting faster recovery. And you can count on improved mobility and flexibility as an added bonus.
They come in all shapes and sizes, so you can find one that fits your needs.
Check out our article on the Best Foam Rollers.
Next in my recovery toolbox: the massage ball. More than just a small sphere, this tool targets the nooks and crannies of my muscles that other devices might miss.
Massage balls come in many variations, such as tennis balls, lacrosse balls, and inflatable balls. They’re great for getting into those hard-to-reach places.
By rolling the massage ball under my feet or against a wall, I can administer targeted pressure, working out knots and releasing tightness. The result? Increased blood flow, better range of motion, and a happier me.
We also have the list of the Best Massage Balls For Tight Muscles and Relieving Tension.
But they're a life-saver when I need deep, localized pressure. With their simple, easy-to-grip design, I can control the intensity, precisely targeting each painful spot.
As I roll the stick over my muscles, it breaks down knots, flushes out toxins, and boosts circulation. There's something deeply satisfying about the feeling of stiffness melting away.
They come in various sizes and textures to give you the best massage possible.
Do check out our list of the Best Muscle Roller Sticks.
Ice bath tubs and cold water plunging tubs are great for cooling down your body post-workout. They can help reduce the inflammation of sore muscles and joints and help you recover faster.
Finally, there's the ice bath tub. Now, I'll admit, stepping into a tub filled with ice-cold water might not sound appealing. But the science supports it.
Submerging my body in cold water stimulates vasoconstriction, narrowing my blood vessels and reducing inflammation and swelling. As I step out, my body warms up, kick-starting vasodilation - a rush of nutrient-rich blood to my aching muscles.
Yes, it's a shock. But oh, is it worth it for the accelerated muscle repair and reduced muscle soreness.
Not all are made the same, so be sure to check out our Best Ice Bath Tubs for Better Recovery.
There are some things that will slow down the recovery process and make your DOMS worse. These include:
Smoking or vaping can really throw a spanner in the works when it comes to muscle recovery.
Nicotine thickens the blood by making the platelets stick together, much like they do when forming a scab on a cut or graze.
Because it’s thicker, your blood doesn’t travel as quickly through the vessels. As a result, lactic acid and other toxins take longer to flush out.
Oxygen and vital nutrients also aren’t delivered into the muscles quickly enough to promote good healing and recovery.
Alcohol is a diuretic. Diuretics are substances that move your blood through your urinary system quicker.
This means your body gets rid of fluids faster than it would ordinarily. This is what dehydrates you and gives you a hangover in the morning.
We’ve already talked about why keeping hydrated is important for effective recovery earlier in the article, so avoiding alcohol the night before a workout is a good idea.
Overtraining is when you don’t have the right balance between training and rest.
If you don’t give your muscles time to rest and regenerate, you increase your risks of wear and tear-type injuries, strains, and fatigue.
It can also ruin your sleep and your appetite, and remove the fun out of exercise.
Overreaching is when you push yourself too hard during a training session.
Not only does it increase your risk of injury, but as the majority of your blood flow is now going through the muscles, your digestive system doesn’t have enough blood to do its job.
This creates a feeling of nausea and can even make you vomit if you push yourself hard enough.
Overreaching also has a significant effect on your mood. Because you’re asking your body to do something that it physically isn’t capable of right now, you’re not going to reach the goals that you’ve set for yourself.
This can make you feel like you’re failing and can be very demotivating (if not downright depressing).
There’s a massive difference between increasing your training load within the limits of what your body can do and overreaching for a goal that’s out of your reach at the moment.
Make sure to consult your trainer if you’re not sure about where the line is!
There’s no conclusive evidence that fast food has an effect on muscle recovery time. That being said, fast food falls into the ‘All things in moderation’ basket.
If you only have fast food occasionally on a rest day, your overall recovery won’t suffer.
On the other hand, if you’re eating fast food for every meal, the amount of low-nutrient ultra-processed food you’re consuming will start to have a negative impact on both your DOMS and your overall physical and mental health.