If your mind automatically goes to stretching and foam rolling when you think "workout recovery," that's great — stretching pre- and post-workout are a key part of any fitness routine for maintaining mobility and preventing injury.
However, if your goal is to work out harder in order to get stronger, there are a few other elements to workout recovery you won't want to skip out on.
"Growth happens during recovery," says exercise physiologist Christopher Mohr, PhD, RD. "It's one of the most important parts of exercise itself. Train hard, but do what it takes to allow your muscles and body to repair to keep you healthy and allow you to get stronger."
According to Mohr three of the essential elements of recovery include nutrition, supplementation and sleep. Keep reading for his advice on how to optimize all three for better workout recovery, as well as the NOW® Sports supplements you can add to your recovery routine today.
Nutrition for Recovery
Food is fuel and a primary driver behind our physical and mental energy levels, but the nutrients we ingest are also closely linked to recovery, Mohr says.
"When we exercise, we break down muscle and use stored carbohydrate, called glycogen," he says. "At the very least we then need to repair and recover by refueling with both of those. Then, the micronutrients we consume — the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and the like — all play a role as well."
His top three tips for prioritizing nutrition to promote recovery? Ensure you're eating adequate amounts of carbohydrates, balance your intake of quality protein (more on this below) evenly throughout the day and make sure your diet includes a colorful array of foods. "Fruits and veggies," Mohr says. "Not Froot Loops and Fruity Pebbles."
Supplements for Recovery
The next element of a good recovery routine is supplements, or, as Mohr likes to call them, complements. "Supplements should complement a quality diet," he says. "They can fill in gaps, and there are some promising supplements that may help with recovery specifically."
The first on that list is protein. Protein helps your body build muscle, so it's essential for recovery if your goal is to get stronger. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adults is 0.8 grams of protein per 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight; however, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends 1.2 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day for athletes, depending on their training modality and their muscle-building goals.
A protein supplement can help if you aren't hitting your daily protein goal, but Mohr notes how important it is to ensure you're taking one that offers a variety of amino acids, such as whey, pea or pumpkin seed protein.
"Whey protein is often considered the 'gold standard' when it comes to protein because of the variety of amino acids within," Mohr says. "However, pea protein offers a dairy-free alternative that is also a complete protein, offers higher levels of the amino acid arginine specifically and has also been shown in research to be just as effective when it comes to building muscle as whey."
In a small study of young men published in 2015 in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, researchers found that supplementation with pea protein led to greater increase of muscle thickness compared to a placebo, and similar amounts of growth were detected among the groups that took whey vs. pea protein, suggesting that the two forms of protein could be used interchangeably to support muscle growth.
If you're looking for a plant-based protein option, NOW® Sports Organic Pea Protein has 15 grams of protein and over 2,700 milligrams of branched-chain amino acids per serving, and NOW® Sports Organic Pumpkin Seed Protein has 10 grams of protein per serving with a slightly smoother texture and nuttier flavor.
HMB (ß-Hydroxy ß-Methylbutyrate) is a naturally occurring metabolite of the amino acid leucine that has been shown to help enhance recovery by reducing exercise-induced muscle damage, reduce post-workout muscle soreness and support increased lean body mass, according to a February 2013 review in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.*
NOW® Sports HMB Powder has 770 milligrams of HMB per serving, while NOW® Sports Double Strength HMB has 1,000 milligrams per tablet. Both are best used in conjunction with a regular exercise program, as the ISSN review concluded that HMB appears to be most effective when consumed for two weeks prior to exercising.
Glutamine is considered a conditionally essential amino acid, which means there are times when the body's need for glutamine is higher than its ability to produce it, typically during illness or when the body is under stress, according to an October 2008 review in the Journal of Nutrition. Mohr notes that people who are involved in intense training regimens (which can also put the body under stress) may also benefit from a glutamine supplement.
NOW® Sports L-Glutamine 1000 mg Veg Capsules are a convenient option for on-the-go, while NOW® Sports L-Glutamine Powder contains the highest grade of the amino acid available, and is designed to mix into juice to drink between meals once or twice daily for best results.
Sleep for Recovery
"Sleep is where the magic happens," Mohr says, but if that isn't enough to get you to add 'sleep for eight hours' to your list of workout recovery to-dos, he elaborates on the importance of sleep in this handy analogy.
"Think of it like plugging in your phone at night," he says. "You recharge your device to make sure it doesn't run out of battery, and the same needs to happen to your body. Without quality sleep, your body will never fully recover and be prepared for the next day."
His top three tips for establishing good sleep hygiene are giving yourself adequate time to sleep (the National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours a night), powering down electronics ("That means not heading to bed with a laptop while staring at the TV and looking at social media on your phone," Mohr says — it's too much blue light and mental stimulation) and creating a sleep sanctuary (a dark, cool, quiet space).
After implementing or improving those three tips, you should start to feel the effects in the gym — even if that just means you aren't as tempted to hit snooze and skip your morning workout.
* This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
- ISSN: "ISSN Position Stand: beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB)"
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: "Pea proteins oral supplementation promotes muscle thickness gains during resistance training: a double-blind, randomized, Placebo-controlled clinical trial vs. Whey protein"
- Nutrition Reviews: "Is glutamine a conditionally essential amino acid?"
- Journal of Nutrition: "Clinical use of glutamine supplementation"