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Whether you’re an occasional runner or a total gym rat, workout recovery can be uber-uncomfortable. But fear not, fit fam. There are lots of productive ways to help you bounce back.
Here are 18 science-backed tips to help your body feel better faster.
Before we dive into the deets, here’s a quick list of the 18 best ways to speed workout recovery:
- Get more sleep
- Take a daytime nap
- Listen to music
- Reduce your stress levels
- Eat protein in the morning
- Have some protein before bed
- Eat a little protein before your workout
- Eat something with protein post-workout
- Drink chocolate milk
- Skip the booze
- Try tart cherry juice
- Drink lots of water
- Rest your muscles
- Take an anti-inflammatory medication
- Try compression garments
- Use a foam roller
- Take a cold bath
- Get a massage
Get more sleep
TBH, the exact relationship between sleep and exercise is still unclear. However, research suggests that not getting enough shut-eye can have a negative effect on performance and recovery.
After all, sleep affects your whole body and all its systems — including your brain, heart, and lungs. It also plays a major part in metabolism, immune function, mood, and disease resistance. So getting extra Zzz’s after a tough workout might do more than you know to speed your body’s recovery.
Take a daytime nap
An excuse to nap? Sign us up.
Taking a nap after a workout can help support muscle recovery. As you sleep, your pituitary gland releases a growth hormone that helps build and repair tissue. Not only is this essential for muscle growth, but it can also help speed up recovery.
Listen to music
Music can be great for helping us power through a tough workout, or at least distracting us from that “My legs are on fire!” feeling 🔥. But there’s also a chance that listening to relaxing tunes can aid in exercise recovery.
Slow-tempo songs can help reduce your heart rate faster and get your blood lactate — the stuff that causes the pain in the first place — back down to resting levels more quickly after exercise.
Reduce your stress levels
When you’re under stress, your body can’t prioritize muscle recovery as well. In fact, researchers in a 2014 study found that periods of high stress were associated with slower recovery times. Meanwhile, lower stress levels were linked with faster recovery times.
It may not always seem possible to reduce the amount of stress in your life. Many people find mindfulness activities like yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises helpful for coping with stress, but that doesn’t mean you have to try them or that they’ll always work. You can opt for any activity (or lack thereof) that helps you relax.
Eat protein in the morning
After a hard workout and a good night’s rest, your body can use some nutrients to recharge.
Breakfasts that are high in protein can keep the muscle rebuild chugging along. They might also reduce cravings later in the day and put the kibosh on evening snacking.
Have some protein before bed
Your body uses protein to repair the tiny tears in your muscles that occur when you work out.
Unless you’re doing some serious sleepwalking, you prob don’t usually ingest a lot of protein when you sleep. That’s why it might be a good idea to have a light protein-filled snack before bed. Studies show that this can help you bounce back better after exercise.
In one study, participants took 40 grams of casein protein 30 minutes before sleep after resistance training. The researchers found that the protein increased amino acid levels and whole-body protein synthesis while improving protein balance. All this had a positive effect on muscle recovery.
Eat a little protein before your workout
Research shows that eating a little protein can speed up recovery. This is because protein contains amino acids — the building blocks of tissue — which help repair the tears caused by working out. Yeah, science!
Here are some foods that are solid sources of amino acids:
Eat something with protein post-workout too
Sensing a trend here? While protein helps your body do its repair work, eating something containing both carbohydrates and protein is a good idea immediately after exercise.
Consuming milk, yogurt, or a peanut butter sandwich within 2 hours after your workout can help your muscles recover and restore the glycogen they’ve lost.
Drink chocolate milk
Looking for a convenient and delicious post-workout snack on the go? Down some chocolate milk.
The protein it contains will kick-start said muscle recovery. Also, actual studies have found that those chocolaty carbs can decrease muscle soreness and the amount of time it takes for the body to get ready for its next challenge.
Skip the booze
Those of us who enjoy a post-workout happy hour might want to be careful of getting too much of a boozy thing.
According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, anything with 4 percent or more alcohol can increase how much you pee. This can delay rehydration after exercise, which might lead to cramping and delayed recovery.
Try tart cherry juice
Stiff as a board from yesterday’s cycling class or lifting session? Tart cherry juice or supplements might help reduce the swelling that occurs when muscles are damaged, allowing your body to recover faster and with less pain.
A research review that looked at the benefits of tart cherry supplements in athletes found that they reduced inflammation after exercise.
BTW, curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, may offer similar anti-inflammatory benefits.
Drink lots of water
Better recovery could be just a glass (or two, or three … ) away. Among its many other functions, H2O helps remove the metabolic waste a heavy workout produces.
In the heat, it’s possible to lose up to 4 liters — or almost 9 pounds — of fluid per hour. That’s a lot of liquid.
According to the American Council on Exercise, you should drink 8 ounces of water 30 minutes after exercise plus 16 to 24 ounces for every pound of body weight lost during exercise.
Rest your muscles
Lots of peeps suggest taking 2 days between workouts involving the same muscle group — but there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for recovery time. Factors like age and fitness level are important in determining how much rest we really need between weightlifting sessions.
Schedule a few extra rest days if you notice that your performance is deteriorating from workout to workout.
Take an anti-inflammatory medication
Anti-inflammatory medications have been found to speed up muscle recovery and reduce soreness, at least in the short term. But they might not be great for your muscle development over time.
A small 2018 study suggests that high doses of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (like ibuprofen and aspirin) may hinder exercise’s ability to increase muscle strength. So you might want to opt for natural anti-inflammatories (like turmeric and willow bark) instead.
Try compression garments
For many athletes, it’s important to quickly regain the energy (and willpower) to run, jump, or throw. Research suggests that wearing compression garments can help decrease muscle recovery time, especially strength recovery, between intense bouts of exercise.
Use a foam roller your friend
Much of the soreness that goes along with exercise occurs when our muscles and fascia — the connective tissue that runs throughout your body — become “knotted.”
Rolling out muscles with foam or semi-rigid rollers can help remove those knots (aka myofascial adhesions). It may also prevent muscle imbalances from forming. While foam rolling is not exactly known for being comfortable, the benefits are worth it.
Take a cold bath
While it might be a scary prospect, it’s a common assumption among some athletes that taking a cold, full-body plunge after working out can significantly reduce soreness and inflammation.
However, research suggests that while cold water immersion may be helpful for reducing muscle inflammation after resistance training, it’s not any more effective than active recovery (in this case, low intensity cycling).
Get a massage
Recovery back rubs, anyone? As though we really needed randomized controlled studies to tell us, research suggests that massage helps reduce post-exercise muscle soreness.
Scented candles and relaxing tunes optional.
If your goal is bigger biceps, a little soreness might be part of the process. But there are lots of effective ways you can bounce back fast. Make sure you give your bod enough time to recover after each workout, especially if you’ve really pushed your muscles to the limit.
You can also try strategies like taking a cold bath, taking anti-inflammatories, or eating more protein. Also be sure to get a good night’s sleep, drink enough water, and avoid drinks that can dehydrate you.