After a 40- to 60-minute intense workout (such as an extreme hill workout), it can take anywhere from 3 to 7 days to fully recover.¹
For an extreme event such as an Ironman, triathlon or marathon, the recovery time is 10 to 14 days.² After an Ironman triathlon, it can take more than 19 days for your body to recover!³
And "recovering" doesn't just mean "not feeling sore."
Recovery means your red and white blood cells normalize, inflammation subsides, muscle fibers heal, hormones and neurotransmitters are restored, mineral balance is replenished, etc.
Unfortunately, if you understand the bodily functions necessary for recovery, there are many scientifically proven ways to accelerate and support this process.
If you don't pull out all the stops to recover quickly, you'll lose out on the number of extra training days you can complete in a year, the quality of your workouts, the amount of performance gains you make, and even your day-to-day well-being and, in turn, the fun of your favorite sport.
Instead of staying below your potential or suffering from annoying aches and injuries, support your body's recovery process with these proven techniques and discover what your body can really do.
12 scientifically proven ways to recover faster from exercise
These techniques range from very simple to advanced methods - so you can choose your own "recovery adventure"
Most dietary advice on exercise advises you to go into your workout well-fed and have protein shakes or a meal immediately afterward.
However, there is ample evidence that fasting can have a recovery effect.
In a study of cyclists, three weeks of overnight fasting was found to increase post-exercise recovery while maintaining muscle mass, body fat percentage, and performance.⁵
Another study of endurance athletes suggests that fasting training activates muscle protein conversion or repair more rapidly, especially compared with athletes who ate carbohydrates before training.⁶
Fasting also has benefits during strength training.
A 2009 study found that subjects who lifted weights while fasting showed a stronger anabolic response to a post-workout meal.⁷ This was shown by the fact that levels of p70S6 kinase, a signaling mechanism for muscle protein synthesis that serves as an indicator of muscle growth, doubled in the fasting group compared to the fed group.
When you deprive your body of nutrients and go into a workout sober, the workout is more taxing on your body, leading to greater adaptations.
2. Proteolytic enzymes
Enzymes aren't just responsible for digesting your food
They perform a variety of functions in the human body by making certain chemical reactions happen faster, including those involved in recovery after exercise.
In the book "Enzymes & Enzyme Therapy," author Anthony Cichoke describes how recovery from sprains and strains can be shortened from eight weeks of inactivity to an impressive two weeks by taking enzymes.
A study titled "Protease Supplementation improves muscle function after eccentric exercise" found that protease supplementation attenuated loss of muscle strength after eccentric exercise by regulating leukocyte activity and inflammation.⁸
Another study found that protease supplementation reduced strength loss immediately after eccentric exercise and promoted short-term strength recovery.⁹
In studying karate fighters, it was found that certain proteolytic enzyme mixtures reduced recovery time for hematoma, swelling, limited range of motion, post-exercise inflammation, and overall inability to train by over 50% for each parameter.¹⁰
That's why our ultimate recovery formula, Kion Flex, contains a blend of proteolytic enzymes and other research-backed, natural ingredients that have been shown to support recovery during exercise.
In another study, hydrolytic enzymes were found to help people recover from ankle injuries up to 50% faster.¹¹
3. Natural anti-inflammatory foods
At least two dozen factors are considered when assessing a food's anti-inflammatory effects, including the amounts and proportions of various fatty acids, the amounts of antioxidants and other nutrients, and a food's glycemic effect-that is, its effect on blood sugar levels.¹²
But it's not as clear-cut as it may sound.
Some foods have both pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory factors.
An orange, for example, contains antioxidants that can fight inflammation, but also natural sugars that can have a mild inflammatory effect. Beef is another good example. A good steak contains mildly inflammatory saturated fats, but also lots of anti-inflammatory monounsaturated fats.
Some convenient anti-inflammatory foods are:
Pineapple: Pineapple is rich in a proteolytic enzyme called bromelain, which produces substances that fight pain and inflammation.¹³
Blue, red and purple fruits and vegetables: they all contain antioxidant flavonoids that curb inflammation, prevent tissue breakdown, improve circulation and promote a strong collagen matrix.
Sour cherry juice: The anthocyanins in sour cherries have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce the severity of exercise-related muscle damage and associated pain and swelling.¹⁴ One study found that runners who consumed sour cherry juice seven days before and during a strenuous run had significantly less post-run muscle pain compared to the control group.¹⁵
Ginger: Possesses many powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. One study showed that daily consumption of raw and heat-treated ginger resulted in a moderate to severe reduction in muscle pain after exercise-induced muscle injury. This confirms the hypoalgesic effect of ginger in osteoarthritis patients and is further evidence of ginger's efficacy as an analgesic.¹⁶
Turmeric: Curcumin is often touted as the "golden child" of turmeric, but new research shows that there are polysaccharides in turmeric, called curcumosaccharides, that have even greater healing potential than curcuminoids (read more here).
While anti-inflammatory foods and antioxidants are an important part of a healthy diet, athletes should be aware that high doses of antioxidants can weaken the body's adaptive response to exercise.
A study examined the effects of relatively high-dose vitamin C and E supplementation on adaptations during endurance training.¹⁷ The supplements had no significant effects on performance tests compared with the control group, but markers of new muscle mitochondria production were increased only in the group not taking supplements.
Another study looked at replicating these effects when adapting to resistance training with the same supplementation regimen-1,000 mg of vitamin C and 235 mg of vitamin E daily.¹⁸ Supplementation had no effect on the amount of muscle growth, but some measures of muscle strength were lower in the supplement group compared with the control group.
With this in mind, it is advisable to take high-dose antioxidants several hours before exercise.
4. Essential Amino Acids
Most athletes are familiar with branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). While there have been a number of studies on the ingestion of BCAAs as a source of energy and to reduce exercise-induced muscle damage.
However, there are some disadvantages to taking BCAAs compared to essential amino acids (EAAs)¹⁹
Because EAAs are a more complete amino acid source and keep your body from using your own muscle tissue for energy during exercise, they are a better option for workout recovery than BCAAs alone.²⁰
A study has shown that taking an EAA blend after strength training increases muscle protein synthesis and net muscle protein balance, suggesting that taking EAAs after training may accelerate muscle repair, recovery, and growth.²¹
5. Deep tissue work
Deep tissue work includes anything that engages the fascia, such as Rolfing, Muscle Activation Technique, Advanced Muscle Integrative Therapy, Graston Technique, Trigger Point Therapy, Deep Tissue Sports Massage, Foam Rolling, and even using a tennis ball, lacrosse ball, or golf ball to penetrate tight or sore areas.
Fascia is a tightly woven sheath made primarily of collagen that permeates all the muscles, bones, nerves, arteries and veins in your body.²²
Trauma, inflammatory reactions (like those that can occur after a hard workout), and surgical procedures can lead to what are called myofascial restrictions. These restrictions can exert a tensile pressure of up to 1000 kg per square inch on the damaged tissue!
This type of pressure can block blood flow and lead to pain, inflammation, and limited mobility. When this type of pressure builds up, it needs to be released through a procedure called myofascial release.
Myofascial release involves applying gentle, sustained pressure to restrictions to restore full range of motion.²³ Self-applied release of trigger points has been shown to significantly reduce pain and improve quality of life.²⁴ It can be achieved with all of the above tools and techniques.
If you want to do it yourself, all you have to do is find a tight area, lie down on the floor and work the sore area with the deep tissue tool, loosen the fascia, pull the skin away from the muscle a little, put some pressure on the muscle and basically try to tear some of the fibers that are tightening up and hindering recovery.
These recovery tools come in all different shapes and sizes, but no matter what shape they are, they are an important addition to your toolbox.
6. inversion or inversion
If you've recently completed a hard workout or have been on your feet all day, an easy way to recover is to invert.
Inversion has been shown to help with lymphatic fluid, back pain, blood flow and circulation, and misalignments of the spine or hips caused by a strenuous workout.Using an inversion table lengthens the spine and mobilizes the hips.²⁵
You can get an inversion table or a yoga swing, but you can also just lean your feet against the wall and let the blood flow from your legs to the rest of your body for 2 to 5 minutes.
7. Compression garments
Research shows mixed results when it comes to how compression affects athletic performance, but there are promising findings about how compression garments can improve recovery during exercise
In this study, wearing compression garments during the 24-hour recovery period was found to improve several psychological, physiological, and some performance markers of recovery compared with noncompressed control conditions.²⁶
Another study found that wearing lower-limb compression garments for 12 hours after exercise-induced muscle damage in young, active women improved all recovery markers except creatine kinase, with recovery measured by self-reported muscle soreness, creatine kinase levels, knee extensor strength, and vertical jump height.²⁷
With this information in mind, compression garments are definitely worth a try if tough workouts have you out of commission for longer than you'd like.
Acupuncture is one of the oldest healing practices in the world and helps recover from muscle fatigue, overtraining and adrenal fatigue, muscle pain and many other ailments that physically active or overtrained people have.²⁸ ²⁹ ³⁰
In the actual treatment, hair-thin needles are inserted into specific points along your meridian, the pathway through which your Qi flows. By needling these points, called acupuncture points, the body's natural healing mechanisms are stimulated - as certain points are associated with specific diseases.
There are many theories about how acupuncture works, but its true mode of action remains a mystery.
The ancient Chinese explanation is that acupuncture corrects the flow of qi, our life energy. The Western explanation is that acupuncture stimulates blood flow, the release of endorphins, and other physiological processes that temporarily relieve pain.
Regardless of how it works, millions of people have used acupuncture successfully, and research continues to discover more and more of its benefits.
9. Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS)
Electric muscle stimulation uses a device that sends electrical signals to the muscles, causing them to contract. And depending on the type of electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) device you use, it can activate muscles in a therapeutic way.
EMS therapy can also go far beyond simple exercise recovery. Critical Illness Polyneuromyopathy (CIPNM) is a complication of critical illness that results in muscle weakness.
A study concluded that daily EMS training prevents the development of CIPNM in critically ill patients, preserves muscle mass, and shortens length of stay in the intensive care unit.³¹
The loss of muscle mass in critically ill patients has been attributed in part to sepsis and multiple organ failure, as well as immobilization. Therefore, the use of EMS as an alternative to conventional exercise may aid in the recovery of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and chronic heart failure.
You can also enhance the effects of EMS by spraying the skin with magnesium or arnica gel or another anti-inflammatory beforehand and simply taping the electrodes over the oil or lotion. Tour de France cyclists have been known to cover the electrodes with ice to enhance the effect.
10. Vibration therapy
Whole-body vibration therapy (WBV), in which you stand or move on a vibration platform, has been shown not only to increase strength, power, and speed, but also to have hormonal, immune, and anti-inflammatory effects.
Postmenopausal women are familiar with the risk of fractures due in part to lower hip bone density and overall osteoporosis. A study of postmenopausal women found that a 24-week WBV training program not only improved isometric and dynamic muscle strength (+15% and +16%, respectively), but also increased hip bone density, a combination of benefits not observed in women who participated in traditional resistance training.³³
While high-frequency vibration in the workplace (the type of vibration that pilots and truck drivers are exposed to) has negative effects on blood flow and muscle strength, low-frequency vibration as an exercise tool increases both muscle strength and muscle blood flow by increasing blood flow velocity and decreasing resistance.³⁴
There are a variety of vibration devices, from rods to platforms to larger devices that cover a large area of the skin. The idea is the same as a massage therapist: The vibrations draw blood to the muscle and surrounding tissue. The blood flow to the tissues delivers oxygen, nutrients and growth hormones for regeneration, while stimulating the lymph to remove waste and excess fluid.
You can use various forms of vibration therapy anywhere to help you recover quickly and eliminate sore muscles or tension.
11. Far infrared light
Far infrared light is radiant heat, similar to the heat we get from sunlight. Radiant heat is a form of energy that heats objects directly through a process called conversion, without the need to heat the air.
Exposing the body to infrared light has been shown to increase white blood cell counts and boost the immune system, warming tissues and increasing blood flow to injured or recovering muscles.
A study found that far-infrared heat improved recovery of neuromuscular performance during five days of intensive training, with improved recovery associated with increases in the testosterone-to-cortisol ratio.³⁵
Another study found that a 30-minute sauna bath in far infrared after exercise was beneficial for recovery of the neuromuscular system after maximal endurance performance.³⁶
Most infrared saunas use ceramic or metallic elements to emit energy. Unlike a regular sauna or steam room, this energy penetrates the skin and heats it from both the inside and outside, so the heat penetrates deeper.
12. Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (PEMF)
PEMF uses electrical energy to conduct a series of magnetic pulses through injured tissue. The tiny electrical signal from each pulse stimulates cell repair by upregulating a tissue repair protein called "heat shock protein" and increasing the uptake of oxygen and nutrients into the tissue.
Numerous studies have shown that PEMF is effective in healing soft tissue wounds, reducing inflammation, relieving pain, and increasing range of motion.³⁷
By stimulating ATP production through a process called myosin phosphorylation, PEMF can also shorten the time it takes to replenish energy stores after a workout. PEMF can also speed up bone repair, which can be helpful for stress fractures or broken bones.³⁹ PEMF also reduces the symptoms of delayed-onset muscle soreness.⁴⁰
PEMF devices can be lightly held or moved over an area of damaged tissue or healing bone for ten to thirty minutes
Interestingly, the magnetic signal emitted by a PEMF device is very similar to that emitted by grounding mats. Unlike those mats, however, a PEMF device doesn't need to be plugged into an outlet with a three-prong plug and grounded - so you're actually exposed to less power pollution.
Believe it or not, this is just a small sample of the various ways you can speed up your body's recovery processes
Experiment first with the tools or techniques that are most accessible or applicable to you. After that, you can go as deep as you can into the more advanced techniques.
Whatever you do, make sure you prioritize recovery so that you can perform at your best during your workout and realize your body's true potential.