4 Workout Recovery Essentials for a Healthier Body

We focus intently on our workouts. We spend much time finding new ways to challenge our bodies and burst through plateaus. We sink money into races and events aimed at showcasing our progress and athletic prowess.

But one aspect of exercise often slips through the cracks and that is: recovery. And it's essential for keeping our muscles, bones, and minds healthy. (Related: 5 Easy Ways to Avoid Exercise Injury)

The good news? Most of these post-workout recovery tools and methods are low cost. They can also keep injuries at bay, helping to save on doctor bills.

1. Water, Water, Everywhere

Hydration is one of the cornerstones of recovery. So much that you should even start drinking before your workout is complete. Water will help cool off your body's systems and keep you from getting dehydrated. I tend to stay away from sugary sports drinks and go straight for plain water. If I'm particularly parched, I try a homemade mixture of 2 cups water, ¼ to ½ cup juice (lemon or lime works well), a couple tablespoons of honey, and a pinch of sea salt to replenish electrolytes.

But how much fluid is enough? You should certainly start drinking before you're thirsty. Immediately following a workout aim for 8 to 24 ounces or enough to make you use the bathroom within 60 to 90 minutes after a sweat session. (Related: Save Money With These 10 Homemade, Healthy Energy Drinks)

2. Smart Sustenance

Restoring lost calories might sound counterintuitive, especially if you're trying to lose weight. Still, food and calories are critically important post-workout because they help to balance the glycogen that you depleted. The coolest part? Muscles store glycogen best right after activity so they can heal faster.

Consuming protein and carbs in combination can bring a powerful punch, so good mini-meals include eggs with whole wheat toast, banana with peanut butter, pita bread or crackers with hummus, and chocolate milk with trail mix. Smoothies are another way to do the trick if you don't feel like eating solid foods, just keep them simple. (Related: 15 Grab-and-Go Post-Workout Breakfasts)

3. Ice, Ice, Baby

If you're into running or cycling, two activities that regularly tax leg muscles, you might want to consider taking ice baths after your longest or hardest workout of the week. The cold penetrates sore muscles, fighting inflammation, easing soreness, and flushing waste products out — all at the same time. In fact, they're so soothing, professional athletes consider ice baths critical to their overall routines. And you need not purchase an expensive cryotherapy tub to enjoy these benefits at home.

Simply pour ice in a tub of cold water. The temperature should be at 50 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit (make sure it isn't colder by checking with a thermometer) and immersion time should fall somewhere between 10 to 20 minutes (just remember to be safe). You can get a similar, though less intense benefit, by soaking in a cool lake or stream.

4. Get On a Roll

Foam rollers are immensely popular with the running club where I live. They can provide relief for ailing IT-bands and tight muscles. You can get similar self-massage (called self-myofascial release, if we're being technical) benefits from everyday objects like golf and tennis balls, a can of beans, or even your own two hands. Avoid applying pressure to actual bone and joints (particularly the spine).

Otherwise — find knots and apply simple pressure, perhaps rolling or rocking gently for a few minutes. Whatever feels best. A little rolling each day is better than one long session only once a week for maintenance. If you have a persistent or sharp pain, visit your doctor.

What are your recovery essentials? Please share in comments!

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