Science Says These After-Exercise Recovery Strategies Work

Exercise Recovery

After a tough workout, do you feel like plopping into a chair and taking a nap? Can’t blame you! Exercise is exhausting and places a significant amount of stress on your body, especially if you do high-intensity workouts. Therefore, your body needs effective recovery strategies to avoid pushing your body too hard.

Recovery is even more important if you exercise in the morning and still have a full day of activities ahead. When you don’t have time to take a nap, here are five recovery strategies you can use to recover faster after a workout.

Sip Some Coffee

A cup of caffeinated coffee does more than boost alertness and motivation, but there’s more. Consuming caffeine can cut after workout soreness, also known as DOMS. Delayed onset muscle soreness is the stiffness and muscle discomfort you feel 24 to 48 hours after engaging in a workout your muscles aren’t accustomed to. It can make exercise or even getting out of bed a challenge! By reducing the degree of DOMS you experience, drinking coffee helps with muscle recovery too.

The best time to get your cup of Joe to prevent delayed onset muscle soreness is an hour before a workout. An added perk: research shows caffeine improves exercise performance for submaximal endurance exercise. How much coffee do you need to get the benefits? Two cups of brewed coffee are enough to offer benefits.

Plus, research also shows that consuming caffeine, combined with carbohydrates, after a workout helps muscles rebuild glycogen, the energy they use for muscle contraction. Skip the costly, high sugar drinks from Starbucks and brew your coffee at home. You’ll avoid the sugar surge you get from high sugar, calorie-rich frou-frou beverages.


A hot sweaty workout can seriously deplete your fluid stores. Even if you drink water before an exercise session, you’ll likely need further hydration once the workout is over. Not hydrating properly after a serious sweat session can lead to brain fog, fatigue, and a lack of motivation.

How much should you drink? Weigh yourself before a workout and again afterward. For every pound your weight is down, drink 16 ounces of fluid. If you’ve exercised for more than an hour or worked out in a hot environment, an electrolyte-rich beverage, like a sports drink, is a better choice. These beverages contain the electrolytes you lose when you sweat.


After a workout, especially a high-intensity one, muscle fuel stores of glycogen are low. How can you correct this? Grab a healthy snack. Most fitness experts recommend enjoying a snack with a ratio of carbohydrates to proteins of 3 to 1. The carbohydrates will help replenish your muscle glycogen stores, while the protein helps your muscle repair after all of those muscle contractions. Examples of after-workout snacks include:

  • Yogurt with fruit
  • Almond butter on an apple
  • Oatmeal with protein powder
  • A turkey sandwich
  • Baked salmon with quinoa
  • Protein smoothie

The worst thing you can do to help your body recover is eat nothing. Your muscles need to repair and replenish their energy reserves.

Foam Roller

A foam roller could be worth the investment if you’re serious about working out. Using a foam roller allows you to target specific muscle groups, release tension, and increase blood flow to areas of your body after a workout. People use these firm rollers to loosen up before or after a workout, but their benefits go beyond lengthening tight muscles.

A small study published in the Journal of Athletic Training found that using a foam roller on the muscles you worked helps decrease delayed-onset muscle soreness and can improve muscle performance in subsequent workouts. It’s a small study and the final verdict is still out as to whether foam rolling speeds up muscle recovery or reduces muscle soreness, but it looks encouraging. Many people are avid fans of foam rolling.

Cold Bath

Most people take a hot shower after a workout, but a cold bath might be better for muscle recovery. When you immerse your body in a cold bath, blood vessels tighten, which reduces muscle swelling. Once you step out of the bath and your muscles warm, blood flow increases again. The increase in blood flow helps move metabolic products created during a workout into the lymphatic system, helping your muscles recover faster. Cold also reduces inflammation within the muscle tissue.

How cold do you have to go? A water temperature of between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 to 15 minutes is enough to offer recovery benefits. Cold baths are best for muscle recovery after endurance workouts. Some research suggests that dunking your body in a cold bath after a strength-training session could interfere with muscle adaptations to strength training. So, your muscles may not get as strong of a stimulus to grow.

The Bottom Line

Keep exercising, but make sure you’re giving your body enough quality recovery. If you’re looking to maximize your training and get the most out of your workouts, then it’s important to consider recovery as an integral part of your routine. As with most things in life, there’s an optimal balance, so make sure you’re giving your body enough resources for it to recover fully. Using these strategies can make the difference between feeling sore and exhausted after a workout, getting your mojo back, and feeling your best for the rest of the day.



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  • com. “Which Is Better for Recovery: Ice Baths or Heat Therapy?”
  • The Journal of Physiology. “Volume598, Issue 4. 15 February 2020. Pages 755-772.
  • Cochrane Library. “Cold‐water immersion (cryotherapy) for preventing and treating muscle soreness after exercise’ Chris BleakleySuzanne McDonoughEvie GardnerG. David BaxterJ. Ty HopkinsGareth W Davison.
  • com. “Post-exercise Caffeine Helps Muscles Refuel”
  • Fradkin, Andrea J1; Zazryn, Tsharni R2; Smoliga, James M3 Effects of Warming-up on Physical Performance: A Systematic Review With Meta-analysis, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: January 2010 – Volume 24 – Issue 1 – p 140-148 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181c643a0.
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Related Articles By Cathe:

Exercise Recovery: Can the Way You Recover from Exercise Impact Your Fitness Gains?

Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS: What Causes It and Can It Be Prevented?

Do Cold Showers and Baths Interfere with Strength Gains?

Strength Training: 5 Rules for Training to Failure

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