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How to Recover After Exercise

Getting fit hurts, but here's how to make it better

How to Recover from Exercise

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Sore muscles need TLC after an intense workout.

A neighborhood boot camp sounded like a grand idea. After all, your doctor advised you to exercise more, and that boot camp instructor assured you the routines were for all levels, even a beginner like you.

But the morning after the first class, it hurts to get out of bed. Every muscle aches.

You might feel like quitting. Don't do it. Instead, learn how to soothe those aching muscles so that you can make it to the next class. Here are some of our favorite recovery methods to try.

Take a candlelit bath

As you're running the water, pour in one or two cups of Epsom salt. It's an oldie-but-goodie remedy often used for postexercise soreness, arthritis, swollen feet and more. It looks like table salt, but it's really magnesium sulfate, a mineral compound. Find it at your local pharmacy and grocery store for just a few dollars. Does it work? Opinions are varied, but a hot bath can help relax sore, tight muscles. Go for it, and don't forget the candles!

Give yourself a massage

You've probably seen log-shaped foam rollers at the gym and ignored them. But after your next workout, pick one up. Much like a massage, foam rollers aid in breaking up the tightness or knots that form in heavily stressed muscles. What experts call "self-myofascial release" works by allowing the exerciser to apply direct pressure to sore points. "It is a beneficial way to help maintain mobility along with regular exercise, strength training, yoga and stability exercises," says Aaron LeBauer, a physical therapist in Greensboro, N.C. The technique helps muscle recovery by promoting blood flow, which carries muscle-building nutrients and flushes lactic acid and other toxins away. Foam rollers come in various sizes, colors and textures. Beware: Some are more gentle on your muscles than others.

Try supplements

Most experts will tell you that a well-balanced diet and a daily multivitamin are all you need. But older athletes' bodies are less efficient in using amino acids for muscle protein synthesis. Whey protein provides an excellent source of the amino acids, helpful for rebuilding muscle tissue. According to a study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, whey protein supplements that include hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate and a slow-release protein "improve recovery from highly demanding resistance exercise." Varieties of whey protein are available at most pharmacies, grocery stories and nutrition supplement companies. Once you've found a brand you like, try a protein shake after an intense workout to combat soreness.

Eat the right foods

Many nutritionists and trainers suggest that a combination of complex carbs and protein within an hour or two of heavy exercise are important to the recovery process. Support for such nutrient timing is not definitive. Either way, your goal with a post-recovery meal is to replenish energy stores and repair muscles. Choose foods that will help, like grilled chicken on salad greens, or tuna and spinach on whole wheat bread.

Finally ... restore with rest

Recovery is night work. Numerous studies, including one by the Washington University School of Medicine, have shown that human growth hormone restoration begins within the first two hours of sleep. Some fitness experts even advise that an afternoon nap after a heavy morning workout can jump-start the recovery process. But all agree that six to eight hours of REM sleep allows the body to maximize the benefits of a strenuous workout. A side benefit of strenuous exercise is that it is a natural treatment for insomnia.

At the very least, just remember three Rs: rest, refuel and rehydrate.

Elmer Smith is a former columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News who lives in Mount Laurel, N.J.

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