You’ve nailed the workout, now reap the benefits of recovery. Post-workout recovery consists of cool-down exercises, nutrition, hydration and rest. A cool-down following your workout will allow your heart, blood, and muscle processes—and your hormones—to gradually return to resting levels. Proper nutrition allows you to replenish muscle fuel used during exercise, while hydration, especially important when exercising in hot temperatures, is critical for replacing lost body fluids. Rest, in the form of lighter exercise, and plentiful sleep is equally important for full muscle recovery and reducing the build up of lactic acid, a chemical associated with muscle fatigue. Here’s how to incorporate all four components:

  1. Cool down. Slow jogging, walking and stretching are good ways to cool down after intense exercise.
  2. Eat right. After your workout, eat balanced meals and snacks that contain protein, fat, and especially carbs, which provide fuel for muscle replenishment and recovery. A slice of whole-grain toast with nut butter and a glass of orange juice, or whole-grain cereal with chopped nuts, sliced banana, and milk are good examples of quick, easy meals that are high in carbs and contain a little protein and fat. Many studies have found consuming protein along with carbohydrates improves muscle restoration. Examples include foods like lentils and yogurt, which are high in carbs but also contain significant amounts of protein.
  3. Hydrate. Drink plenty of fluids to rehydrate your muscles. Besides water, sports drinks and 100-percent fruit juices are a quick and easy way to combine fluids and carbs and get important electrolytes (important minerals in the blood, such as calcium and magnesium). Chocolate milk has been singled out in a number of studies as a post-exercise beverage for muscle recovery that is as effective as commercial sports drinks.
  4. Rest. Take it easy for at least 8 to 24 hours between strenuous workouts. This allows your muscles to store carbs before you exercise again. During this period, get plenty of sleep or participate in “active recovery” in the form of light exercise. Active recovery, as opposed to rest only, significantly helps decrease lactic acid build-up in muscles from endurance exercise.

Although sports massage is a popular post-exercise recovery tool, there is limited evidence that it reduces lactic acid in the muscles or otherwise aids in muscle recovery after intense exercise.

Ben Greenfield reviewed this article.


Best TM, R. Hunter, A. Wilcox and F. Haq F. "Effectiveness of Sports Massage for Recovery of Skeletal Muscle From Strenuous Exercise." Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine18, No. 5 (2008): 446-60. 

Lunn WR, SM Pasiakos, MR Colletto, et al. "Chocolate Milk and Endurance Exercise Recovery: Protein Balance, Glycogen and Performance." Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 44, No. 4 (2012): 682-91. 

Pritchett, K and R Pritchett. "Chocolate Milk: A Post-Exercise Recovery Beverage for Endurance Sports." Medicine and Sports Science 59 (2012): 127-34. 

Res PT, B Groen, B Pennings, et al. "Protein Ingestion Before Sleep Improves Postexercise Overnight Recovery." Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 44, No. 8 (2012): 1560-9.

"Nutrition for Optimal Exercise Recovery." University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Last updated 2008.

"The Importance of the Recovery Process in Repetitive Exercise Training." University of Michigan Medical School. Last updated October 2005; accessed February 2014.