Skip to content

A complete guide to improving your recovery after training

Ein Vollständiger Ratgeber für eine Verbesserung Deiner Regeneration nach dem Training

This guide will teach you the following:

  • How to improve your muscle building results by optimizing every aspect of recovery.
  • What steps you can use to achieve better quality sleep.
  • How each of the 3 macronutrients can improve your recovery process.
  • How you can support your recovery process with the right supplementation.

In our hectic lives, we are surrounded by numerous stressors. These range from the foods we eat to the places we live and the lifestyles we lead. In a world where we are constantly trying to achieve more in less time, it is crucial that we examine how we can maximize these short periods of rest that we have in our daily lives - especially when it comes to regeneration.

Inadequate recovery can take different forms which can include prolonged delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), sore joints, restlessness, insomnia, oversleeping, a low mood, excessive fatigue, a lack of motivation in the gym and even a weakened immune system. Fortunately, there is something you can do - use the following tips on sleep hygiene, nutrition, meditation, supplementation and the various techniques described below that will improve your recovery in and out of the gym.

Improve your sleep hygiene

Good sleep hygiene is crucial for muscle recovery, memory performance and improving short-term alertness.

Although caffeine can increase short-term alertness, anaerobic capacity during sprints and power release in healthy people, it can also increase blood pressure, heart rate and cortisol levels. We all know the guy or gal who drinks a cup of coffee or pops 3 caffeine pills, then works out and can fall asleep an hour later. Most of us mere mortals should focus our caffeine intake on before physical activity and preferably consume the last caffeinated product 6 hours before going to bed. This will help maximize the performance-enhancing benefits of caffeine while minimizing the potential side effects of caffeine such as habituation and insomnia. I would recommend starting conservatively with the amount of caffeine and timing and making adjustments based on your individual reactions.

You should also avoid staring at a digital screen for the last 1 to 2 hours. Artificial light interferes with your body's natural day-night rhythm and your body's own melatonin secretion. If you need to work on the computer in the evening, consider using software like f.lux( that adjusts the color of the computer display to the time of day - warm in the evening and like sunlight during the day.

Establish a ritual before going to bed. All too often I talk to people who use their bed to read, study, work and browse the internet on their smartphone and then wonder why they can't fall asleep. By doing all these activities in bed, you create a kind of mental connection with that location. I have found that using my bed only for sleep and sex helps me to create a positive association with my sleeping environment, which in turn helps me to relax and fall asleep faster. You might be wondering what a bedtime ritual might look like. I tend to use the following steps:

  1. I read a book, preferably a non-digital version, finding that reading on a black and white Kindle display doesn't affect my sleep in the same way as reading on a smartphone or computer screen.
  2. I meditate for 5 to 30 minutes to clear my mind, lower my heart rate and lower my perceived stress levels.
  3. It can be helpful to take a warm shower, which activates the body's cooling mechanisms to reduce your core temperature, which helps most people fall asleep faster and get a deeper and more restful sleep.
  4. It makes sense to pay attention to the temperature and darkness of your bedroom and the comfort of your mattress. Most people sleep best at 12 to 24 degrees. I find a room temperature of 20 to 21 degrees optimal for me.
  5. You should switch off all possible light sources, including nightlights, to ensure a natural release of melatonin. If there is still light coming into your bedroom, get opaque curtains to cover the windows or wear a sleep mask.
  6. Use earplugs or a so-called white noise machine. Earplugs are cheap and portable, but they can fall out of your ear during the night. A white noise machine provides constant noise cancellation, but it requires electricity to work and is also significantly more expensive than earplugs.
  7. The optimum mattress firmness is an individual thing, but if your mattress becomes too soft and saggy over time, then you should consider buying a new mattress as soon as possible - the benefits will far outweigh the financial cost.

Aim for at least 7 to 8 hours of uninterrupted, quality sleep per night. If your schedule allows, try to take a 15 to 30 minute nap at lunchtime. Most of us have a 9 to 5 desk job and therefore can't do this during the week, but should do this on the weekend for at least 15 to 30 minutes. These naps will improve your muscle recovery, memory performance and short-term alertness. I don't know about you, but these benefits have me looking for the nearest couch for a nap!

The crucial importance of nutrition

Proper nutrition is crucial for recovery in and out of the gym. Sure, you can make up for a lousy diet in the short term with your training, but I would encourage you to look at the bigger picture. If your training and rest periods are fine, but your nutrition is inadequate, then you can expect inadequate recovery and diminishing progress in your activity of choice.

Protein, which provides 4 kcal per gram, is the most talked about macronutrient in the fitness industry. I don't want to ride the topic to death here, so I'll keep it simple - protein is made up of amino acids, which are used for protein synthesis and muscle recovery. If you are an athlete or a highly physically active person, then you should aim for a protein intake of 1.5 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

At significantly more than 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, the law of diminishing returns comes into play in terms of body development benefits, but no significant side effects are expected from a protein intake in the range of 2 to 4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. The excess protein is typically converted to glucose which the body uses as an energy source and protein is the most satiating of the three macronutrients.

Adequate fat intake is critical for optimal hormone production and prolonged low-fat diets can lower serum testosterone levels and 4-androstenedione levels, which can affect libido, mood and muscle recovery. At first glance, my female readers might misinterpret my last sentence, thinking that they should eat a low-fat diet because testosterone will make them bulky and muscular. But nothing could be further from the truth. Even if testosterone levels are in the optimal range, and assuming my readers are steroid-free female athletes, these levels will only be a fraction of their male counterparts.

Prolonged low-fat dieting can also negatively affect the menstrual cycle of female exercisers, which can result in irregular periods. Alan Aragon, a popular and respected voice in the fitness community recommends a minimum of about one gram of fat per kilogram of body weight to ensure proper hormonal function. Don't be afraid of fat, it is very important for your recovery, mood, energy and libido.

Carbohydrates, which provide 4 kcal per gram, are an exceptionally good source of short-term energy and can help you replenish your glycogen stores after intense training sessions. Carbohydrates can increase endurance capacity, restore endurance capacity and improve nitrogen balance after resistance training. There is no precisely defined formula for determining the ideal amount of carbohydrate for you. Carbohydrate intake should be based on your age, gender, training history, activity level and goals. I would recommend that you start with a reasonable amount of carbohydrate and adjust it based on how your body responds.

From a psychological point of view, it is much more comfortable to start with a more conservative intake and adjust it upwards than to exceed your needs and then have to reduce carbohydrates. Personally, I find that eating the majority of my (starchy) carbohydrates before, during and after training optimizes my energy levels throughout the day, my performance in the gym and my recovery after training. When I increase the volume in my training program, I typically increase my carbohydrate intake while keeping my protein and fat intake constant.

Alcohol, which provides 7 kcal per gram, has been part of a great deal of research and discussion in the fitness community regarding its role in a healthy diet. Alcohol in its purest form provides no macronutrients, no vitamins and no minerals, which is why it is often labeled as a source of empty calories. However, one study suggests that it has not yet been convincingly shown that alcohol has a negative impact on performance. Based on my experience, it is no fun to train with a hangover, but I have also achieved personal bests after a boozy night out.

Acute alcohol consumption, for example, does not seem to have a significant effect on exercise-induced muscle damage. However, I have found that consuming 3 or more drinks after a training session with weights results in significantly more delayed onset muscle soreness than a normal workout followed by sober sleep. This sensation could be due to the fact that acute alcohol consumption reduces muscle protein synthesis by suppressing the mTOR pathway.

If you don't want to give up all alcohol consumption and still want to optimize your recovery, then I would recommend avoiding or minimizing excessive binge drinking, minimizing alcohol consumption before bedtime and choosing low-alcohol or non-alcoholic beverages. Not following these guidelines could reduce your recovery and performance in the gym due to reduced REM sleep, reduced overall sleep quality and increase your waist size.

Meditation - the forgotten recovery tool

Meditation is an excellent technique to improve physical and psychological recovery. Several studies have shown that meditation can help lower blood pressure and cortisol levels, reduce perceived stress and improve immune system function. The aim of meditation sessions is to disperse our thoughts, help us clear our minds and focus our concentration on the present.

The most common types of meditation include guided meditation, mantra meditation, Qi Gong, Tai Chi, transcendental meditation and yoga. I would advise you to try all variations at least a few times to find out which one works best for you.

As for the duration of the meditation sessions, recommendations range from 5 to 60 minutes of meditation once or twice a day. I recommend starting conservatively and increasing the time if you find it comfortable. I aim to meditate for 15 minutes every morning before I check my emails. I've found that the earlier I meditate in the morning, the more I feel clear-headed, feel like I'm living in the present and relaxed.

If you're worried about losing track of time, you can set an alarm and meditate in a different room or a different corner of the same room to resist the temptation to get up and look at the clock. For most people, 15 minutes will feel like hours for the first few meditation sessions, but once you get used to it, 15 minutes will fly by.

Supplementation and regeneration

Without exception, the first question many exercisers ask me about recovery is "what supplements do I need to use to improve my recovery?" I can't help but shake my head: supplementation is designed to support a sensible training, nutrition and recovery program.

Avoid prescription sleep aids unless you have a medical condition such as insomnia, restless leg syndrome, etc. Relying on sleep aids will lead to addiction. Sleep aids are typically prescribed for short-term problems and if the sleep problems are prolonged, then it is in your best interest to consult a sleep specialist as additional factors may be at play. If you absolutely refuse to eliminate prescription sleep aids from your regimen, at least consider using them as a last resort before those stressful days of long work hours, deadlines, meetings and other stressful events.

Instead of sleeping pills, try natural sleep aids such as ZMA, melatonin, 5-http, valerian and/or L-theanine. These sleep aids are prescription-free supplements designed to help the user relax, cope better with stress, fall asleep and maintain a normal day-night rhythm. The dosage of these supplements depends on the product, but here are some general recommendations:

  • 1 serving of ZMA (magnesium - 200 to 400mg and zinc - 5 to 45mg)
  • Melatonin - 0.3 to 5mg at bedtime
  • 5-HTP - 300 to 500mg (consult your doctor if you intend to use 5-HTP but are currently using medication for depression or cognitive issues)
  • Valerian - 450mg one hour before going to bed
  • L-theanine - 100 to 200mg before bedtime

I take 400mg of magnesium citrate, 30mg of zinc and 200mg of 5-HTP 30 minutes before bed, which has a calming effect for me that helps me relax and fall asleep., a popular website that critically reviews studies on supplements, also recommends the use of HMB, citrulline and L-carnitine to aid muscle recovery. Supplement use is optional, but if your diet, training and rest periods are already good, they can provide some extra support to help you overcome training plateaus. The dosage recommendations are as follows:

  • 3 grams of Free Acid HMB 15 to 30 minutes before training
  • 8 grams of citrulline - preferably in malate form - before or during training
  • 2 to 4 grams of L-Carnitine before or during training

I have not yet tried this combination myself, but would be happy to receive feedback.

And last but not least we have the supplements with anti-inflammatory properties including fish oil, curcumin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories to name but a few. For fish oil, you should aim for 6 grams throughout the day. For curcumin, aim for 80 to 16,000 milligrams per day. Use lower dosages if you are using absorption enhancers such as black pepper extract and higher dosages if not.

As for one of the most popular non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, the dosage for ibuprofen is 400 mg every 4 to 6 hours if needed. While I would not recommend using non-steroidal anti-inflammatories as a first line of defense to improve recovery, ibuprofen is a well-researched and proven medication for reducing pain.

Different regeneration factors

This section covers different recovery techniques that don't fit into the previous sections - contrast showers, ice baths, menthol-based analgesics, capsaicin-based analgesics, Epsom salts and soft tissue massage.

Alternating showers

In an experiment with contrast showers, 1 minute of showering with 38-degree water followed by 1 minute of 15-degree cold water did not affect exercise-induced mobility markers, but did improve psychological perceptions of physical recovery. Another study suggests that alternating showers can reduce muscle soreness and improve recovery more compared to passive recovery techniques. At the very least, the psychological recovery will hopefully encourage exercisers to perform high-intensity training more regularly.

Ice baths

Advocates of ice baths claim that 5 to 10 minutes in 12 to 15 degree water can improve recovery by constricting blood vessels, slowing the physiological processes that cause delayed onset muscle soreness, reducing swelling and tissue breakdown and shifting pH levels. However, the positive effects seem to be mainly anecdotal and are popularized by elite athletes. I would recommend you try ice baths a few times to see if they help you in any way. Remember to set yourself a timer to make sure you don't stay in the cold water for too long. If you start to feel symptoms of hypothermia during contrast showers or ice baths, you should stop IMMEDIATELY.

Natural painkillers

The two most popular menthol-based pain relievers are Hot®© and Tiger Balm®©. Menthol can help reduce perceived pain and delayed onset muscle soreness, as well as improve muscle recovery. Two of the most popular capsaicin-based pain relievers are Capzasin-HP©® and Salonpas Hot Capsaicin Patch©®. Capsaicin can help reduce perceived pain and delayed onset muscle soreness when these products are applied to the affected areas. You can find menthol-based and capsaicin-based pain relievers in the form of creams, lotions, gels and patches in pharmacies.

Epsom salt baths

Epsom salt baths use magnesium sulphate as the active ingredient to relieve sore and aching muscles. If you dissolve 2 cups in warm bath water and lie in the bath for 20 minutes, your skin will absorb the magnesium, which can help reduce unwanted muscle contractions, cramps and muscle twitches. Although Epsom salt baths are not the most efficient way to combat a magnesium deficiency, 1 to 2 Epsom salt baths per week have helped me to support my muscle recovery during intense training periods - especially after a run or weightlifting competition.

Soft tissue massages

Soft tissue massages around tight, knotty and stiff muscles can increase range of motion, reduce pain and improve muscle function. In addition to physical relief, soft tissue massages can also reduce tension, stress and cortisol levels. If your schedule and finances allow, I would recommend at least one 50 minute deep tissue massage per month.

Deep tissue massage is not necessarily relaxing, but in my experience it can help with tension and knots, as well as release trigger points. I sometimes feel sore muscles after a deep tissue massage, like after an intensive training session. If you can afford two soft tissue massage sessions a month, then I would recommend alternating deep tissue massages and relaxation massages every two weeks.

Myofascial relaxation

Myofascial release using a fascia roll and small sports balls (e.g. tennis balls or field hockey balls) can increase the range of motion of your joints, improve circulation, reduce fatigue after exercise, reduce sensitivity to pain, relieve tension and improve sleep quality by reducing muscle pain. Myofascial release using a fascia roll may not be the most relaxing technique, but I find it extremely helpful for reducing delayed onset muscle soreness and stiffness after exercise, as well as treating pulled muscles.

If you have never done myofascial release before, then I would recommend starting with a soft foam roller and a tennis ball, as these tools have some 'cushioned' flexibility. Once you get used to this, you can move on to harder tools such as a PVC roller and a field field hockey ball.

There are a number of programs designed for mobility, including Joe DeFranco's Agile 8/Limber 11 and MobilityWOD. If you can identify the specific areas that are causing you problems, I would recommend performing 15 to 30 rolling movements in the affected area at least once a day until you have achieved the desired mobility.

Final words

I hope you have enjoyed reading this article and that you have learned something new. I firmly believe that the information presented here can help you feel less pain, increase your range of motion and improve your recovery.


Previous article The definitive guide to preventing muscle loss