Building out your Ideal Post-Workout Routine – How to ensure you are maximizing your hard work
Much attention has been paid to the pre-workout routine–what to eat, the best time of day to work out, what supplements and products can give you the energy to get moving in the morning, but how about what happens after your sweat session?
Post-workout routines are important, too. Taking certain steps can ensure you’re making the most of your hard work. In this article, you’ll learn which steps to take (and which to ditch), backed up by scientific evidence plus advice and tips from experts.
A few measures to take when you’ve wrapped up your workout can include incorporating a cool-down, engaging in active stretching, changing your clothes and washing them immediately to protect your skin, hydrating adequately and eating certain foods after your workouts, using muscle-recovery skin products, taking rest days, getting enough hours of high-quality sleep, and taking supplements.
What to Do Immediately After your Workout
It can feel exhilarating to conclude a workout, but don’t forget to prioritize your cool-down in the same way you do your pre-workout stretches. Why is it necessary to cool down after exercising? Stopping a workout too quickly or abruptly can make you feel dizzy, nauseous and faint, which can be dangerous to you and those around you.
Heavy workouts require a more thoughtful cooldown process. In one study, researchers examined a group of nine female volunteers who performed 20-minute Tabata exercises in the water. Tabata is a high-intensity style workout where you push yourself hard for 20 seconds then rest for 10 seconds for eight total rounds. In this study, the participants did a 10-minute cooldown after completing the Tabata workout. Researchers recommend always incorporating a cooldown whether or not you’re doing an intense workout or something more low-impact.
To engage in an effective cool-down, let your heart rate lower while you catch your breath. Feel your heart rate slowing down and your breath settling. Incorporate some active stretching and yoga poses, such as child’s pose, hugging your knees to your chest, cat/cow pose, and others you may need depending on what area of your body you just worked. Go through a few repetitions of each stretch over the course of a few minutes–the key is not to rush through these, but to ensure your body is getting the stretch and recuperation time it needs after getting you through a strenuous workout.
Switch Out your Sweaty Garments
As tempting as it can be to grab a coffee, smoothie or run some errands immediately following a heavy workout, prioritize showering and changing out of your sweaty clothes first. If showering at the gym or studio is not a possibility, use post-sweat refreshing wipes to whisk away sweat, bacteria and odor. There are many variations available on the market, but wipes with natural ingredients are better for those with sensitive skin.
“With shower sheets, you can clean up on the go when there is no time or no shower available. The wet wipe is 10 by 12 inches, so it is large enough to use on the whole body. It is alcohol-free and is infused with Neem extract, an antibacterial plant that deodorizes the skin,” said Emmanuel Rey, founder of Yuni Beauty. “It also contains peppermint and citrus essential oils to refresh the skin. The soft cloth is made out of wood pulp and is biodegradable, compostable, and they are produced in a solar powered facility in California.”
When you don’t shower or use wet wipes after working out, you can inadvertently be creating a breeding ground for bacteria, which can lead to acne on the face and body. To combat this, make sure to wash your face using a gentle cleanser or use facial wipes if running water is not available.
“Carry pads with salicylic and glycolic acid with you in your gym bag. My favorite are ones that I formulated to fight bacteria, clean off sebum and oil, and gently wipe away dead skin cells to keep them from clogging pores. They are called ‘Complexion Perfection Pads’ from SkinMD and you can get them through my office,” said Dr. Monika Kiripolsky, a Board-Certified Dermatologist in Beverly Hills, California.
Experts also recommend not wearing heavy makeup when working out, as this can clog pores.
“Sweat clogs pores and breeds bacteria. Clogged pores lead to inflammation and comedone (pimple) formation,” Kiripolsky added. “Pimples on parts of the body other than the face are called folliculitis. If we don’t remove the sebum, dead skin cells, and bacteria after exercising, our pores become clogged and we get acne on our faces and folliculitis on our chest, back, and buttocks. These conditions can become long-standing and can leave skin discoloration and scarring in those areas, even when the pimples are cleared through effective treatment. I also see quite a few people with red, tender rashes in their groin folds, between their buttocks, and under their breasts from not keeping the skin clean and dry following a workout. The scientific term for this is intertrigo and it is painful, unsightly, and tricky to treat.”
For your body, taking a quick shower is ideal–even if you don’t wash your hair, just your body. If that is not an option, this is where wet wipes can come in handy. Swipe on a fresh coat of deodorant and you’ll be ready to take on the rest of your day.
“Wipe the sweat and grime off of your skin after you exercise and change into clean, dry clothing. Wearing sweaty clothing after your workouts further occludes pores and gives bacteria, yeast, and fungi a perfect breeding ground to thrive, cause or exacerbate acne, folliculitis, intertrigo, and other fungal skin infections,” Kiripolsky added.
Unique Additions to the Wash and Rinse Cycle
In addition to washing your face and body, you’ll also want to make sure you are washing your dirty and sweaty gym clothes soon after you finish your workout. Although it’s easier to just toss your dirty clothes into the hamper to wash later, read on for some reasons why it’s ideal to do your washing right after you exercise.
Depending on the fabric of your exercise clothing, moisture, sweat and odors can be trapped in the fibers. Fortunately, there are some solutions. To get rid of stubborn or recurring smells, wash your gym clothes with half a dose of detergent and add a full cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle. You can also use baking soda if white vinegar isn’t available.
To prevent stubborn odors, turn your workout clothes inside out before washing so that the detergent and water can better penetrate stinky spots. Wash similar fabrics together (like all of your workout clothing), instead of throwing exercise clothes in with your towels, blankets, jackets, and jeans. This helps extend the life of your workout clothes and avoid pesky pilling that can ruin clothes.
Some people think that more is more when it comes to detergent, but it’s important to use the appropriate amount (and not more) when washing your gym clothes. Type of detergent also makes a difference, and some brands have special lines for exercise clothes–look for detergents containing the words “sport” or “active.” Finally, avoid using fabric softeners because they can leave a film on clothing that can actually attract build-up and odors and make detergent work less effectively. For even more washing tips, click here.
How Much Water Should I Be Drinking?
You likely already know the importance of hydrating post-workout (the body is 60% water!), but you may not know how much water you actually need. Some experts recommend eight 8 oz. glasses of water throughout the day, but your individual needs may vary depending on factors like your height and weight, gender, activity level, where you live, and the medications you are taking (Gunnars, 2020).
You can use an online calculator to ascertain how much water you need based on your height and weight, but experts from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences recommend 11.5 cups of water a day for women, and 15.5 cups a day for women. During hot summer months and for people who live in humid climates, this amount may be higher. If you work out or do yard work outside, you’ll need more water since you’re losing water through perspiration.
If you drink caffeinated beverages like sofa and coffee, you may be urinating more frequently and thus need more water intake to make up for it. Medicines like diuretics or others may dehydrate you, so drinking more water is recommended. When in doubt, consult with your healthcare provider.
The color of your urine may give you clues about your hydration level. When you are properly hydrated, your urine may be colorless, or the color of straw or pale honey. On the other hand, if your urine is dark yellow or amber, you are not well-hydrated (Bajic, 2021). Keep in mind that some medications, antibiotics or vitamins may temporarily turn your urine a different color.
If you have a hard time meeting your hydration goals, there are a few ways to make drinking water more fun. Infusing your water with fresh or frozen fruits like cucumber, blueberries, raspberries, strawberry slices and citrus can help add some natural flavor without adding calories. For those who love ice water, investing in a stainless steel bottle or tumbler will keep your water ice cold for hours and may inspire you to drink water more often. Some water bottles even have notches for you to track your consumption or lines on the bottle that coincide with times of the day so you can make sure you’re drinking enough water throughout the day.
Some bottles are collapsible and portable for those who are constantly on the go. When looking for a water bottle, make sure the product you’re purchasing or drinking from is BPA-free, as BPA is a known endocrine disruptor. For this reason, BPA-free plastic, glass or stainless steel bottles are the best depending on your preference.
What Should I Eat After my Workout?
If you want to replenish your body after an intense workout, you can do so through adequate hydration and eating the right foods. Conventionally, you may have been taught to consume food with protein after a workout if you want to build muscle–and this is sound advice. For years, chocolate milk was touted as the ideal post-workout drink, but not all chocolate milk is created equal. Although dairy can be a good choice for building protein, some milk products contain excessive amounts of sugar and should be avoided, especially for those who have insulin sensitivities.
If you are running or cycling, you can afford to eat food that contains higher levels of carbohydrates, think a piece of whole wheat toast with an avocado or a fried egg on top. If you are doing something less strenuous, you can just eat your regular meal or add a small snack. Experts caution against over-eating especially if you didn’t do a high-intensity workout.
If you are on the go, consider healthy protein bars. All bars aren’t created equal, though–many contain artificial ingredients and high levels of salt and sugar. When reading the labels, look out for ingredients you recognize and can pronounce. Food products with less ingredients (more of which are from whole foods) are the best choice.
Now that you have the perfect snack lined up for after your workout, when is the optimal time to consume it? Experts recommend eating your snack right after your workout if possible but you can eat it anywhere from 45 minutes after you exercise (Radcliffe, 2019). Packing portable snacks in your workout bag or stashing them in your locker to eat after your post-workout shower at the gym can help you remember to consume something healthy when your body needs it most.
Pampering your Post-Workout Skin
For minor aches and pains, there are some over-the-counter products you can use topically on the skin to provide relief. Some tried-and-true classics include Bengay, Tiger Balm or Icy Hot, which contain cooling compounds like menthol that then turn warm on the skin. These products help reduce inflammation and reduce pain.
People who lift heavy weights and engage in exercises like CrossFit may have calluses on their hands and feet. You can provide a little TLC to these areas by using callus removers (like scraping devices you can use on your feet), as well as lotions and treatments. For extra moisture, apply a thick cream like Aquaphor onto your dry spots overnight. For hands and feet, wearing socks or gloves can lock in the moisture so you’ll wake up to perfectly soft skin.
Foam rolling is another at-home method that can help you bring relief to tight spots in the body. Foam rolling is a type of self-massage that you can do at home with just a foam roller. Benefits include reduction of soreness, relieving inflammation, opening the muscles and general relaxation. To get started, purchase a foam roller from a sports, fitness or big-box store (or online). There are different shapes and features, so make sure to read up on the various types so you can choose the best one for you. This article provides a breakdown of different types as well as directions for how to get started in foam rolling (Yuen, 2018).
Building an effective and doable post-workout routine can help you maximize the time you spend working out, as well as the time you spend recovering. Before you hit the gym, a few logistical tweaks to your existing routine can make a difference, such as carrying wet wipes for the face and body in your gym bag, bringing along a dry change of clothes, and packing healthy snacks to consume right after your workout.
When you’re not in the gym or studio, there are simple things you can do in the comfort of your own home to recover from your workouts, which may involve skin products, stretches, foam rollers, and more.
Your body is responsible for so much–helping you move through your day and get things done, helps you take on challenging workout classes, do your favorite activities such as swimming, walking, biking and lifting weights. It’s crucial to spend some time thinking about how to build healthy habits for nourishing your body whether you’re inside or outside of the gym.
Author Bio: Nicki Karimpour, PHD
Contributor and Health Advisor
Dr. Nicki Karimipour is a communications expert and experienced researcher. She obtained her master’s degree and Ph.D. in Health Communications from the University of Florida. She has previous experience in writing and editing for both print and online publications, and almost a decade of experience in teaching health writing, public health, and public relations at the undergraduate and graduate level. She is based in Los Angeles, California and currently works at the University of Southern California as a director of communications and clinical research. Follow her on Twitter: @NickiKPhD
Bajic, P. (2021). What the color of your pee says about you. Retrieved from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-the-color-of-your-urine-says-about-you-infographic/
Gunnars, K. (2020). How much water should you drink per day? Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-much-water-should-you-drink-per-day
Miller, L.J., D’Acquisto, L.J., D’Acquisto, D.M., Roemer, K., & Fisher, M.G. (2015). Cardiorespiratory Responses to a 20-Minutes Shallow Water Tabata-Style Workout. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 9(3). https://scholarworks.bgsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1327&context=ijare
Radcliffe, S. (2019). What are the best foods to eat after a workout? Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health-news/what-are-the-best-foods-to-eat-after-an-intense-workout
Yuen, C. (2018). 8 Foam Rolling Moves That’ll Remove Every Bit of Stress in Your Body. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/foam-roller-benefits