5 Ways to Recover Faster from a Hard Workout

The sooner your body bounces back from exercise, the sooner you can get after it again—and the faster you’ll notice fitness and strength improvements.

But while many recreational athletes take the active portion of their training seriously, they don’t put the same effort into planning and executing proper recovery.

That’s a problem, because recovery is just as important as training, says Zach Scioli, a certified personal trainer and fitness coach at San Francisco’s Diakadi Fitness Performance. Hit the same muscles again too soon, and not only will you feel weak or fatigued during your workout, but you may lose some of the benefits of your prior training sessions, he says.

Did you know? Researchers at Ohio State extensively studied NuBound and found that it decreases levels of cortisol and inflammation after exercise, which means you recover more quickly and get stronger faster.

Also important: differentiating a “hard” workout from a mild one. “A 30-minute run or 30 minutes on the Precor do not meet the definition of a hard workout,” says Todd Astorino, Ph.D., a professor of kinesiology at California State University, San Marcos.

Assuming you’re in decent shape, you could engage in those or other moderate aerobic workouts every day, and your body will bounce back without much trouble, he says.

But if you’re really busting your butt during your training sessions—engaging in high-intensity interval training, say, or serious resistance-based strength workouts—you need to give your muscles the time and tools they need to recuperate. Here’s your five-step plan:

Step #1: Refuel Within a Few Hours

“Ingestion of adequate amounts of carbohydrate and protein is critical in the hours after a workout,” Astorino says. The first few hours are especially important—that’s when your muscles are the hungriest—but they’ll continue to refuel for roughly 24 hours.

You could fill a university library with all the books written about post-exercise nutrition, so it’s worth doing some research to find a plan that’s right for you. But here are a couple of general guidelines:

After serious aerobic training, your muscles are likely to be low in a form of stored energy called glycogen, which your body derives from carbohydrates, Astorino explains. Over the next 24 hours, consume at least 3 grams of carbs, and 1 gram of protein, for every pound of bodyweight.

Following hard resistance-based training, your greatest need is protein, which fuels muscle recovery and growth, Astorino adds. Add a bit more protein into the mix to give your body the building blocks for new muscle.

Taking NuBound can help accelerate this process as well: A 2016 Journal of Strength and Conditioning study found that the nucleotide-based supplement reduces exercise-related inflammation by 27 percent in the 2 hours after a hard workout.

Fruit and whole grains are healthy carb-rich foods, while lean meats are complete protein sources. And remember: You can never go wrong with a Greek yogurt immediately following any workout.

Step #2: Belly Down from the Bar

One post-exercise activity that won’t help your recovery: boozing.

Research has shown alcohol, when consumed heavily following a workout, can lower rates of muscle protein synthesis by 24 percent. In a study published in the journal PLOS One, researchers found that heavy post-exercise drinking led to lower strength and size gains after resistance training, and reduced fitness improvements following a cycling workout.

The good news: A single drink probably won’t mess with your recovery—at least according to this study. But if you’re planning a big night out, understand that your workout recovery will suffer for it.

Step #3: Roll Your Muscles

There’s a growing body of evidence that post-exercise foam rolling—also known as self-myofascial release—can help reduce soreness and improve recovery times.

A Journal of Athletic Training study found that rolling after a workout improved sprint performance, muscle power, and strength endurance. In one of that study’s experiments, foam rolling allowed weightlifters to repeat the same number of reps 48 hours after a hard training session—compared to 72 hours for men who didn’t roll.

Did you know? NuBound has been tested by NSF to ensure it’s free from performance-enhancing drugs, making it safe for athletes at all levels. In fact, many pro athletes already swear by NuBound.

Meantime, a study published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy found rolling could shorten the amount of time required for muscles to bounce back after training.

While it’s not clear just how foam rolling provides these benefits, the authors of those studies say that—like a massage—foam rolling may increase blood flow to a muscle, which could accelerate recovery.

Just 45 seconds spent rolling a tired muscle should provide benefits, the studies concluded.

Step #4: Sleep at Least 7 Hours

Adequate sleep—at least seven hours, preferably eight—is one of the best things you can do to aid rapid and full physical recovery, Astorino says.

Why? Researchers in Brazil found that the cell repair and regeneration processes that help your weary body bounce back go into overdrive while you sleep.

In addition, stress hormones like cortisol—which spike when you’re sleep deprived—can interfere with muscle recovery, studies have shown.

One reason NuBound is effective at shortening post-workout recovery time: The Journal of Strength and Conditioning study found that it reduces cortisol levels by 32 percent in the hour after a hard workout.

Step #5: Know When to Give Yourself a Break

Rest and recovery go hand in hand. Without one, you won’t achieve the other, Scioli says.

For this reason, he recommends training the same muscle group no more than two to three times a week. Astorino agrees, and says 48 hours is the minimum amount of time a muscle group needs to rest after a hard bout of training.

Finally, listen to your body, Scioli says. If you’re feeling wiped out early in your workout, or you find you can’t perform at your usual level, that’s a good sign you need more rest between sessions.