When you're finally hitting your stride in a workout routine, it's tempting to want to keep up your momentum and fit in some form of exercise every single day. But while being consistent is crucial for reaching your goals, taking time to rest and recover is also essential for getting the most out of your workouts.
"Most people think the magic is in the workout, when in reality the magic is in the recovery," Autumn Calabrese, a NASM- and ACE-certified trainer and creator of several Beachbody programs, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "The workout is when you break your body down. You tear your muscles on a microscopic level — this is a good thing. It's in the rest and recovery that the muscle repairs itself and gets stronger."
What you do and what you eat on your days off affect how quickly and effectively your body repairs itself and grows stronger, according to the American Council on Exercise, which is why we're focusing on recovery during our fourth and final week of the LIVESTRONG.com January Fuel-Your-Fit Challenge.
Your Goals for Week 4
Psst — new to the challenge? Click here to get all the details on the four-week program, which pairs different types of workouts with the optimal nutrients to "fuel your fit."
Click here for a printer-friendly version of this week's plan!
How to Join the Fuel-Your-Fit Challenge
- Step 1: Download the MyPlate App. Meal and activity tracking is linked to successful weight loss and is an effective way to stay on top of your goals, which is why we'll be using MyPlate to log our progress throughout the challenge.
- Step 2: Join Our Challenge Facebook Group. A supportive community of fellow Fuel-Your-Fit challengers, the LIVESTRONG.com Challenge Group is where you'll find tips, motivation, expert Q&As and enter to win prizes throughout the month.
- Step 3: Fuel Your Fit! Follow the food and fitness plans each week, being sure to log your food intake and fitness activity in MyPlate. At the end of each week, comment in the Challenge Facebook Group with a screenshot of your MyPlate Food Diary to be entered for a chance to win MyPlate’s premium Gold membership or a $250 gift card! (Get more details on the prizes and sweepstakes here.)
Get Fuel: Why Macros Matter for Recovery
Eating to fuel exercise recovery requires getting all three macros (carbs, protein and fat) to replenish nutrients and heal from the wear and tear of training, says Cynthia Sass, RD, a Los Angeles-based performance nutritionist and plant-based eating expert.
- Refuel with carbs: "Eating high-quality, whole-food carbs helps replenish both the fuel and nutrients that have been 'used up' during workouts," Sass says. Complex carbs like oatmeal, quinoa, bananas, potatoes, beans and legumes take longer to digest than refined carbs like white rice or bread, which means you'll get longer-lasting energy with complex carbs.
- Strengthen muscles with protein: Exercise causes micro-tears in your muscles, so you need protein to help them rebuild. "Falling short of your protein needs can lead to getting weaker with training rather than stronger," Sass says. Pick plant-based proteins like lentils or quinoa or lean animal proteins like chicken breast, salmon or eggs.
- Don't forget your fats: "Fats supply fatty acids, which are unique building blocks for maintaining and building tissues in the body," Sass says. Prioritize healthy sources of fat like nuts and avocado.
Maintaining Your Macros
The average person should aim for 45 to 65 percent of their total calories from carbs, 10 to 35 percent from protein and 20 to 35 percent from fat a day, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Meals for Recovery
"I recommend including a nutrient-rich, whole-food source of carbs, protein and fat, in addition to a generous portion of non-starchy vegetables and plenty of herbs and spices, which up the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capacity," Sass says.
That's especially important because exercise naturally causes some inflammation and stress in the body; it's a controlled way to make your body get stronger. Antioxidants and anti-inflammatory foods support the recovery process.
Sass recommends these easy post-workout recipes:
1. Smoothie: spinach or kale + plant-based protein powder + almond milk + almond butter + frozen banana + berries + fresh ginger
2. Stir-Fry: colorful veggies (like broccoli, yellow onion, red bell pepper, purple cabbage) + lean protein (like chicken breast, salmon, black-eyed peas) + brown rice + pistachios
3. Salad: dark leafy greens + oven-roasted or sautéed veggies (like tomatoes, mushrooms, onion, zucchini) + whole-food carb (like roasted fingerling or baby potatoes or quinoa) + lean protein (like chicken breast, salmon, lentils) + fresh avocado
More Recovery Recipes to Try
Let MyPlate Do the Heavy Lifting
Get Fit: How to Recover Properly
The activity portion of recovery (because recovery isn't just rest) occurs in two distinct ways: immediately after every single workout and on rest or active-recovery days.
"Immediately following a workout, you should take time to stretch the muscles [you] just worked," Calabrese says. It helps cool your body down, loosen up tight muscles and return your breathing and heart rate to baseline. "Take 10 minutes after your workout to stretch."
Follow along with the video from Calabrese below for the perfect stretch after a lower-body workout.
More Stretches We Love
"You can even add in foam rolling to help with releasing the fascia and muscles," Calabrese adds.
Think of it like a self-massage that breaks up knots in muscles and eases soreness, she says. Use the roller to target your IT bands, glutes, calves, quads, hamstrings, inner thighs or any other muscle group that feels especially tight or sore.
Get Started With Foam Rolling
On top of stretching and foam rolling, work in one active-recovery day and one full rest day this week.
"On my active-recovery day, I'm doing some form of light exercise, something like taking a long walk, yoga, dance or Pilates," Calabrese says. "The key is to plan an activity that lets you use your body without putting extra stress and strain on it like weight lifting does."
Active-Recovery Workouts Worth Trying
- Tai chi
Full rest days are just that — rest. Walking, stretching and foam rolling are still OK, but this is your chance to give your body a break.
"This is also a great day for a massage," Calabrese says. No arguments here!
Tips for Making the Most of Your Active-Recovery Workouts
- Warm up first. Always prep your muscles before you do static stretching. "Do some jumping jacks, jog in place, shuffle side to side," Calabrese says. "The key is to get the muscles warm before you begin to stretch them."
- Take it easy. Aim for 20 to 60 minutes on active-recovery days and don't push too hard. Keep the intensity level low. You should be up and moving but not pushing yourself.
- Listen to your body. "If you're following a workout program and it calls for a recovery day on Sunday but on Wednesday you're so sore you can barely move, take your recovery day on Wednesday," Calabrese says. "It's important to listen to your body and what it needs."
For more information on the MyPlate + LIVESTRONG.com January Fuel-Your-Fit Challenge Sweepstakes, click here.