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3 Easy Ways To Help Your Muscles Recover After Exercise

Last updated March 26, 2015

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Courtesy of Freestock.com

Muscle recovery occurs when the muscles continue to remove metabolic waste products (e.g., lactate and hydrogen ions) after strenuous exercise. There are no ways to speed up the recovery process, but there are techniques to reduce the feeling of soreness.

After a grueling workout, we feel pain and stiffness in our muscles for several minutes to sometimes days. This is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) or muscle fever. If the exercise is repeated, then the muscles adapt quickly to prevent muscle damage and soreness. Anyone who has exercised has experienced this soreness.

Muscle recovery occurs when the muscles continue to remove metabolic waste products (e.g., lactate and hydrogen ions) after strenuous exercise. There are no ways to speed up the recovery process, but there are techniques to reduce the feeling of soreness. Some factors that affect an individual’s recovery rate include the following: the level of muscle soreness and weakness, exercise performance, appetite, quantity of sleep, and stomach abnormalities.

Eccentric (lengthening) contractions of the muscle cause the most soreness. This is followed by isometric exercises (static), then concentric or shortening of the muscles. Scientists are still trying to understand the mechanism of delayed onset muscle soreness, but they believe that the pain is a result of micro-trauma or very miniscule mechanical damage to the muscles being worked.

Here are some ways to help your body recover in a more peaceful manner:

  1. Get plenty of rest

Resting is just as, if not more, important than the exercise itself. Sleep is an active biological activity that you undertake. Your muscles begin to restore themselves during non-REM sleep, when your blood pressure drops and your breathing becomes deeper and slower. The blood supply of oxygen and nutrients to your muscles increases, which facilitates their healing and growth. With the extra nutrients, your body rejuvenates your muscles and tissues, and new cells are formed. The National Sleep Foundation's sleep guidelines suggest seven to nine hours for the average adult.

    2. Keep an eye on what you eat

Carbohydrates and protein are essential for muscle recovery and could help reduce the severity of muscle soreness. Dr. Robert Wolfe and colleagues showed that eating 100 grams of carbohydrates after exercise could modestly improve muscle recovery.  Glucose, fructose, sucrose, and other sugar sources are easily digested in the body. However, you should minimize your fructose consumption because it is absorbed at a slower rate and raises the chances of problems. According to a review in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio post-exercise may promote better restoration of muscle glycogen, the energy stores in the body.

    3. Try massage therapy

Dr. Weerapong and colleagues in 2013 reported that massages do, in fact, reduce delayed onset muscle soreness. Research is still underway regarding this, but there certainly is no harm from a good massage. Also, note that the mental benefits of massage toward recovery are very meaningful to people who exercise.

The amount of recovery time depends on a few variables such as the fitness level, volume, and intensity of the exercise, and familiarity with the exercise. For some people who are novices to the exercise, the recovery time may be longer while more seasoned fitness fanatics may need a much shorter time.

Additional Resources:

Børsheim, E., Cree, M. G., Tipton, K. D., Elliott, T. A., Aarsland, A., & Wolfe, R. R. (2004). Effect of carbohydrate intake on net muscle protein synthesis during recovery from resistance exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology, 96(2), 674-678.

Bishop, P. A., Jones, E., & Woods, A. K. (2008). Recovery from training: a brief review: brief review. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 22(3), 1015-1024.

Dattilo, M., Antunes, H. K. M., Medeiros, A., Neto, M. M., Souza, H. S., Tufik, S., & De Mello, M. T. (2011). Sleep and muscle recovery: endocrinological and molecular basis for a new and promising hypothesis. Medical hypotheses,77(2), 220-222.

Groen, B., Pennings, B. A. R. T., Beelen, M., Wallis, G. A., Gijsen, A. P., Senden, J. M., & Van Loon, L. J. (2012). Protein ingestion before sleep improves postexercise overnight recovery. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 44(8), 1560-1569.

Gleeson, M. (2002). Biochemical and immunological markers of over-training.Journal of sports science & medicine, 1(2), 31.

Kerksick, C., Harvey, T., Stout, J., Campbell, B., Wilborn, C., Kreider, R., ... & Antonio12, J. (2008). Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 5, 17.

Nosaka, K., Clarkson, P. M., McGuiggin, M. E., & Byrne, J. M. (1991). Time course of muscle adaptation after high force eccentric exercise. European journal of applied physiology and occupational physiology, 63(1), 70-76.

Nosaka, K. A. Z. U. N. O. R. I., & Newton, M. I. K. E. (2002). Concentric or eccentric training effect on eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage.Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 34(1), 63-69.

Weerapong, P., & Kolt, G. S. (2005). The mechanisms of massage and effects on performance, muscle recovery and injury prevention. Sports Medicine, 35(3), 235-256.

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: March 26, 2015
Last updated: March 26, 2015