Whether you want to lose weight or build muscle, what you do after your workout is finished matters almost as much as what you do during your training sessions.
If you want your workout to be as effective as possible, avoid making any of these five mistakes.
1. Not Cooling Down
If you don’t cool down properly after your workout, you’re setting yourself up for a significant amount of soreness the next day.
After your workout is finished, take an extra five minutes to do some low-impact cardio (like treadmill walking) to lower your heart rate and blood pressure. Then, spend five minutes stretching the muscles that you worked the most during your training session.
For long-term muscle recovery, it’s best to spend some time rolling out your muscles. You can use a foam roller for large muscle groups, or you can use some therapy putty to work out smaller muscles in the hands, forearms, or feet.
Rolling out your muscles encourages lymphatic drainage and speeds up the recovery process.
2. Rehydrating with Sports Drinks
Post-workout hydration matters, but, unless you just did a ton of sweating, you should stick to plain water instead of sports drinks like Gatorade or Powerade. These drinks are full of sugar (almost as much as soda), and the average gym-goer doesn’t need them for rehydration.
Staying hydrated will help stave off feelings of fatigue post-workout, and it will also help your muscles recover faster. Dehydration can also make muscle soreness worse, so you definitely should chug water after you’ve finished hitting the gym.
If you have a hard time getting enough water in, you can try adding fruit slices or herbs like mint to give it some extra flavor without adding unnecessary calories.
3. Eating Too Much
You should definitely eat something after your workout to speed up recovery. But, it’s important to watch your portion sizes and avoid undoing all your hard work with a calorie-dense meal.
Most people overestimate the number of calories they burn and then “treat” themselves to a huge meal.
Even if your meal is comprised of healthy, nutrient dense foods, if you’re eating too much, you’re going to slow your progress. This is especially true if fat loss is your main reason for working out. You need to make sure you’re maintaining a calorie deficit (burning more calories than you consume).
4. Eating the Wrong Foods
It’s also important to pay attention to the types of foods you’re eating after a workout. Certain types of foods can hinder your progress.
For example, high-fat foods like avocados are definitely healthy, but they also slow digestion, which will hinder your muscles’ ability to absorb the nutrients they need to recover.
High-fiber foods also have the same effect, which makes them a less-than-ideal choice for a post-workout meal.
Make sure your post-workout meal consists mainly of simple carbohydrates and protein. A protein shake is a great option, as are lean proteins like chicken or turkey. Pair them with rice and/or vegetables to get some carbohydrates in as well.
5. Not Sleeping Enough
Getting a sufficient amount of sleep not only lowers your risk of developing heart disease, hypertension, and dementia, but it also is essential for muscle recovery.
Adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep every night. If you’re not getting this much (or if your sleep quality is lacking and you’re waking up frequently throughout the night), you’re hindering your body’s ability to repair the damage you caused in the gym.
When your body enters non-REM deep sleep, the pituitary gland releases growth hormone to encourage tissue growth and muscle repair. Without these hormones, you’re more likely to lose muscle mass, have trouble performing in the gym, and your risk of becoming obese increases.
Lots of gym-goers make one or more of these five post-workout mistakes. Luckily, they all have simple solutions.
If you’re guilty of any of these mistakes, it’s time to switch things up to maximize the effect of your workouts. Make the changes today so you can start seeing the gains you’ve always wanted!