The Importance of Rest and Recovery After Exercise

Jul 31, 2020 | Gym, Nutrition

Are you as intentional about your recovery as you are your workout? If you’ve been exercising for any length of time, you’ve probably dealt with issues such as motivation, workout design, cross-training, and endurance. It’s easy to focus on those because they are the most pro-active…leading you one step a time toward your goals. 

But you may not have thought much about your post-workout plan and the time it takes for your muscles to repair and your body to recover. Without recovery after exercise, your muscles won’t be ready for the next set of challenges you want to put them to. 

Your muscles need one to two days to repair after an intense workout, especially if you’re doing weight training. With that in mind, here are some proven pillars to add to your post-workout plan.

Passive Recovery

During passive recovery the body is completely at rest. Passive recovery allows both the mind and the body to heal. You can get enough passive recovery by doing the following:

  1. Adding intentional rest days to your workout routine to rest your muscles.
  2. Sleeping for at least 8 hours a night.
  3. Working in a daytime power nap.

Active Recovery

Active recovery consists of gentle activity after your workout and on your scheduled rest days. You can incorporate active recovery into your fitness schedule with some of these activities:

  1. Cool down completely after your workout. Gradually lower your heart rate and gently stretch your muscles.
  2. Take a leisurely walk to improve circulation. Include your dog if you have one.
  3. Take a yoga class.
  4. Perform light functional exercise.
  5. Engage in regular stretching on your non-workout days.

Food and Nutrition

High quality food is fuel for the body. Eating enough protein and high-quality carbohydrates will ensure you’re ready for your next strenuous session at the gym. Here are some ideas that other athletes have found helpful.

  1. Eat protein before bed and in the morning.
  2. Have protein before and after your workout.
  3. Add chocolate milk or a smoothie to your diet.
  4. Make sure you get enough branched chain amino acids (BCAAs): Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine. BCAAs may increase muscle mass and reduce muscle soreness. They may also reduce mental and physical fatigue. Read more about BCAAs here


The American Council on Exercise has suggested the following basic guidelines for drinking water before, during, and after exercise: 17 to 20 ounces of water 2 to 3 hours before you start exercising, 8 ounces of water 20 to 30 minutes before you start exercising or during your warm-up, 7 to 10 ounces of water every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise, and 8 ounces of water no more than 30 minutes after you exercise.


Complete recovery is more than just stretching, eating well, and getting enough sleep. Paying attention to how the mind and body work together increases your body’s ability to heal itself. Here are some mind/body activities you can add to your recovery plan.

  1. Cold water therapy after exercise, including taking a quick plunge in an ice bath.
  2. Or conversely, taking a long, hot bath.
  3. Settle in with a good book and no screen interruptions.
  4. Listen to soothing music.
  5. Get a massage.
  6. Meditate.
  7. Use foam rolling to relax tight, knotted muscles.

Exercise damages your muscles. As they heal, they become stronger. If you don’t have a recovery phase in your workout plan, or if it’s not robust enough, your muscles won’t have time to heal properly between workouts and you’ll notice it when your progress begins to stall. Sometimes moving forward means taking a break to rest and repair.

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