If you want to stay healthy, improve your performance, and prevent injuries, workout recovery is an essential part of your overall approach to fitness.
Most of the benefits of exercise — like strength gains, adding lean muscle, and toning up — occur during rest days, not at the gym.
Training hard but neglecting the recovery process is a common mistake made by fitness beginners as well as advanced athletes. Your rest and recovery routines impact your progress and performance and can enable you to exercise more effectively and efficiently.
In this article, you’ll learn how to achieve the proper balance of physical activity and recovery time for optimal results, plus the top tips to optimizing your recovery.
The stress of training isn’t enough to make you stronger or fitter by itself. Intensive training is just the start of the process that improves your physical performance.
Exercise is a form of controlled stress. When you expose your body to stress, a biological adaptation process occurs. As you recover from each workout, your fitness improves slightly.
Scientists and coaches call this process the supercompensation cycle, the stress adaptation cycle, or the stress-adaptation-recovery cycle.
The real progress from your workouts happens during rest and recovery, when your body repairs your muscle tissue and prepares you for another round of exercise.
Post-exercise recovery is vital for your body to build strength and repair damage to muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The harder you train, the higher your recovery needs become.
Typically, a muscle group needs about 24-48 hours of rest to repair and rebuild after a training session. If your exercise program involves high levels of volume or intensity, it can take even longer.
But your muscle recovery isn’t the only thing impacted by your training.
Physical activity also affects your central nervous system, hormones, and immune system — that’s why excessive exercise paired with insufficient recovery can be counterproductive for your overall health, not just your performance.
If you aren’t focusing on recovery, there’s a significant chance you’re on your way to overtraining.
Overtraining refers to the mental, physical, and emotional consequences of exercising too much without enough rest and recovery.
During overtraining, excessive exercise volume or intensity paired with insufficient recovery impairs your performance over time instead of making you more fit.
Here’s what to look for if you suspect you might be overtraining:
- Performance reductions
- Workouts seem unusually difficult
- Excessive soreness
- Lack of appetite
- Mood problems
- Poor quality sleep
If you’re overtraining, it’s necessary that you address the issue to succeed in achieving your fitness goals.
Overtraining isn’t caused exclusively by exercise that’s too intense; it’s caused by intensive exercise and neglecting workout recovery.
Proper recovery starts with your mindset. The harder you train, the more you need to emphasize recovery in your fitness journey.
If you are a naturally active person or have perfectionist tendencies, remember that you’ll ultimately get stronger, fitter, and healthier by focusing on rest and other smart methods for recovery.
#1: Rest the Right Way
Sometimes rest is a passive process, but for proper recovery, you need to rest the right way. Time off from training, stress management techniques, and sufficient deep sleep are mandatory to recover after exercise.
Instead of exercising every day, schedule at least one or two days of full rest each week.
Sometimes taking time off is the only way your body can recover from physical activity, especially if you’re training hard. Even elite athletes benefit from time off[*].
If you’re feeling fatigued or burnt out, a week off from your usual routine may be necessary to allow your body to reset — you’ll come back stronger, guaranteed.
#2: Banish Stress
Excessive stress in your life can be a massive problem for your recovery. Try to minimize life stressors if you’re training hard.
You can also use stress management techniques like deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, and yoga to lower your cortisol levels and improve your recovery.Poor sleep quality or quantity is also a huge stress on your body. Many people “get by” on six hours or less of sleep per night, but if you’re working out regularly, aim for eight to ten hours of sleep each night.
#3: Plan for Active Recovery
Active recovery is low-intensity physical activity that helps you recover from training. You can schedule active recovery after your training sessions or on days off.
Use walking, yoga, light aerobic exercise, easy resistance training, mobility drills, foam rolling, or post-exercise cooldowns as your active recovery.
One advantage of active recovery is that it reduces your insulin levels and increases fat-burning compared to passive rest[*].
But remember that intense exercise doesn’t count as active recovery, and you should still take a day or two of full rest each week for optimal recovery from your workouts.
#4: Train Smarter, Not Harder
When it comes to training, intelligent program design wins over pure intensity every time. You can train smarter by periodizing your workouts and deloading from time to time.
Periodization is a strategy for structuring your training methods, volume, and intensity over time in a way that’s compatible with your long-term goals.
When you periodize your workout plans, you’ll focus on building just a few fitness qualities at a time, which improves your results.
Compared to lifting hard every workout, every week, for months on end, periodization makes you stronger by allowing your body to recover better and acclimate to your training program.
While there are several types of periodization (traditional or linear, block, conjugated, and undulating), all of them involve planning four to 16 weeks ahead as well as gradually increasing volume or intensity for better fitness.
For example, if you wanted to get better at squats, you could use undulating periodization for eight weeks or longer on lower body day:
- Week 1: Warm up, then perform 3 sets of 8 squats (moderate weight)
- Week 2: Warm up, then perform 3 sets of 5 squats (heavier weight)
- Week 3: Warm up, then perform 5 sets of 3 squats (even heavier weight)
- Week 4: Warm up, then perform 3 sets of 10-15 squats (deload with easy weight)
The second month of squat training would resemble the first month’s schedule, with the same number of sets and reps, but with additional weight on “moderate,” “heavier,” and “even heavier” days.
Whether or not you use periodization, deloading can help you avoid overtraining. Deloading is a planned period, usually a week, during which you reduce intensity, volume, or both.
If you lift weights, you can do a similar number of reps with a reduced weight, cut your reps in half and keep the weight the same, or both.
For endurance activities, you can reduce distance, slow the pace, or choose a combination.
Include a deload week once every four to 12 weeks and you’ll see your performance skyrocket as your recovery improves.
#5: Listen to Your Body
Listening to your body is critical to recovering from exercise and increasing your physical fitness. If you’re paying attention, your body will tell you almost everything you need to know about the proper balance between activity and rest.
If you’re feeling tired, sore, or noticing that your workouts seem more difficult, it’s time to prioritize your recovery — or even take a few days or a week off from training.
On the other hand, if you feel energized, strong, and motivated to train, your body is giving you the green light to push intensity higher.
If you’ve ever trained through tiredness or pain from injuries, you may have felt pretty tough, but odds are you didn’t improve your performance the way you had hoped.
Take the time to listen to your body’s rhythms and it will reward you with top-notch results.
#6: Add Stretching
Stretching can help you relax, reduce your soreness, and speed your post-workout recovery.
Low-intensity static stretching (what most people think of when they think of stretching) after exercise increases the activity of your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps you attain a restful state[*].
However, static stretching temporarily reduces your explosive performance, so don’t use it before exercise like sprinting or strength training[*].
Dynamic stretching, another form of stretching that involves moving your joints actively through a range of motion, offers similar benefits to static stretching without adversely affecting your performance[*].
Perform dynamic stretches before or after your workouts to help prevent injuries, enhance performance, and speed your recovery[*].
#7: Consider Massage
For best results, visit a massage practitioner who works with athletes and offers sports massages. You can share your training methods and goals with them and request an individualized approach.
Good news if you don’t want to shell out for weekly massages: research shows a form of self-massage called self-myofascial release (SMR) may be more effective than static stretching, dynamic stretching, and sports massage for improving your mobility, mitigating muscle soreness and speeding up your recovery[*][*].
You can use SMR before or after exercise, or on rest days. SMR allows you to target sore muscles and “release” the tightness at your own pace.
Thanks to the fantastic results in peer-reviewed literature, you can choose from a wide variety of tools and gadgets designed for SMR. If you haven’t tried SMR yet, an inexpensive foam roller and a tennis ball or a lacrosse ball are excellent ways to begin.
Remember: you don’t have to limit yourself to one style of stretching or massage — experiment and mix-and-match to learn what works best for your body.
Food is the raw material your body needs to fuel exercise performance and repair after training. Along with rest and relaxation, you need adequate nutrition to optimize your recovery.
On days you train, match your food intake to the volume and intensity of your exercise.
If you’re on the keto diet, you’ll need to consume plenty of fat on days you exercise. Eating a keto diet high in healthy fats can help you recover by reducing inflammation and allowing your body to use fat for fuel[*].
If you aren’t fat-adapted yet, or if you’re training intensively, you can use exogenous ketones like Perfect Keto Perform Pre-Workout to improve your performance and recovery without going off keto[*].
Perfect Keto Perform contains beta-hydroxybutyrate and other ingredients formulated to boost your athletic performance.
Fasting works well for goals like weight loss, and it’s okay for light to moderate aerobic activity, but fasted training isn’t a good idea if you’re pushing the envelope. If you’re lifting weights or exercising hard, eating a meal or two pre-workout is wise.
Eating post-workout enables your body to heal as you rest. But what you eat is just as important as how much.
Be sure to consume enough protein on days you lift. The amino acids in protein are necessary for your body to build muscle and repair the damage from working out.
Research shows that consuming about 0.8 to 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight (120 to 150 grams of protein for a 150 pound individual) per day can improve your strength, boost your performance, and enhance your recovery[*].
Eat a large meal with plenty of protein within one to two hours of finishing your exercise session, especially if you’re lifting weights. Timing your protein intake in this way enhances your muscle protein synthesis and speeds your recovery[*][*][*].
You can also use a protein drink like Perfect Keto Whey Protein if you’re on the go or want a convenient way to increase your protein intake after exercise. Perfect Keto Whey Protein is a high-quality keto-friendly protein powder made from grass-fed milk with added MCTs.
You can use nutritional supplements to augment the repair process, reduce inflammation and soreness, and improve your performance.
The best supplements for recovery are:
- Amino acid supplements (like whey protein and targeted amino acids)
- Anti-inflammatory plant-based phytonutrient supplements
- Adaptogens and other supplements that reduce cortisol in your body
Amino acids can improve your muscle recovery and immune function during and after exercise. Hard training depletes glutamine, a conditionally essential amino acid[*].
Taking branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) before workouts can also improve your recovery and reduce your muscle soreness[*][*]. Try taking about 0.04 grams of BCAAs per pound of bodyweight (6 grams of BCAAs for a 150-pound person) before you train[*].
Perfect Keto Perform Pre-Workout Formula has BCAAs and is designed to enhance your training performance and recovery.
Dried ginger powder can have an anti-inflammatory effect in your body, reducing pain and improving your post-workout recovery[*][*][*]. To harness ginger’s anti-inflammatory effects, consume two to four grams of dried ginger powder daily.
Supplementing three grams per day of dried cinnamon powder has a similar effect to taking ginger[*].
Plant-based adaptogen supplements like rhodiola rosea, ashwagandha, ginkgo biloba, and echinacea can increase exercise stress tolerance and reduce muscle damage and fatigue after heavy exercise[*][*][*][*].
Phosphatidylserine, a phospholipid supplement, reduces your cortisol levels, improves your stress response, and enhances your performance and recovery during and after intensive exercise[*][*]. For best results, take 600-800 milligrams of phosphatidylserine per day in divided doses[*][*][*].
Some delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is normal, but it usually goes away within one to two days of training.
If you find yourself very sore after exercise, your body may be sending you a message. Post-workout soreness can occur due to starting a new training program, excessive training volume or intensity, under-recovery, or insufficient protein or calories.
The keto diet is unlikely to slow your recovery or exacerbate your soreness, with one exception: if you’re new to keto, you may not be fat-adapted yet, so consider temporarily reducing your training intensity as you transition to keto[*].
An exogenous ketone supplement can also help you recover as you get used to keto[*].
You can make keto work for you by consuming plenty of protein and fat on days you exercise. The payoff is that keto helps you recover, reduces inflammation, and allows your body to burn more fat[*][*].
Studies show keto has a wide range of benefits on performance, fatigue, and other aspects of exercise. The effects of keto vary depending on whether you participate in explosive or strength activities, endurance sports, or team sports.
If you do anaerobic activities like sprinting or strength training, you may experience a short-term decline in performance as you begin your keto diet[*]. However, restricting carbs doesn’t seem to have any effect on soreness, so if you’re feeling sore, there’s no probably no good reason to eat a carb meal[*].
Eating a low-carb keto diet reduces inflammation in your muscles after resistance training compared to a high-carb diet[*]. That’s excellent news for your recovery, performance, and long-term health.
One way a very-low-carb keto diet can help your muscles recover from damage is by increasing levels of growth hormone[*].
Ketones (produced during ketosis) and ketone supplements both help reduce levels of ammonia, a byproduct of physical activity, in your bloodstream and muscles[*]. Ammonia is associated with soreness and fatigue in muscles, so reducing it benefits your recovery and performance.
Exogenous ketones also provide your body with an alternative fuel source that’s keto-friendly. They reduce muscle protein breakdown and improve other markers of recovery, especially if you train hard[*][*].
For collision sport athletes, a keto diet may help reduce the adverse effects of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), also called concussions[*].
In a study of endurance athletes, a ten-week keto diet allowed them to shed unwanted fat, speed up their recovery, and even improved their skin quality and sense of wellbeing[*].
The Takeaway: Recover From Exercise For Better Performance
If you really want your hard work to pay off, it’s time to prioritize recovery.
While training hard every day may seem like a bright idea to the average gym rat, elite athletes know that recovery is the time when progress actually occurs.
Taking enough time off, minimizing stress, and listening to your body are the most important recovery fundamentals, but stretching and massage can provide a much-needed boost.
When it comes to your diet, pre- and post-workout nutrition are essential for enabling your body to repair itself, which will enhance your recovery and overall performance. Supplements can play a role, too, but they aren’t a substitute for a solid approach to eating.
As you balance your activity with proper recovery periods and other measures, you’ll take your fitness game to a whole new level.