There are enough things to focus on when you’re in the middle of your workout that planning what you’ll do after you exercise is probably the last thing on your mind. However, your post-workout routine is important, and you have to make sure you avoid bad habits after exercise. Good health and fitness is a lifestyle and requires your attention even when you’re not physically in the gym — part of your workout routine has to come up with you.
“Ask an athlete and they will tell you that their post-workout routine is almost the most important thing that they do,” says John Ford, personal trainer at Find Your Trainer, over email. “During an intense workout, muscles and energy systems are pushed to the max. There are strains placed on a person’s muscles, joints, cardiovascular system, and glucose levels. All of these things need to be addressed to ensure that a person recovers and doesn’t suffer any injuries.”
If you want to build muscle and get fit the right way, without hurting yourself or feeling like you plateaued, you’ll want to ditch those bad habits that are holding you back. Here are nine of the worst things you can do after a workout, according to health and fitness experts.
1. Ditching A Cool Down
“Failing to do a cool down is like stopping your car with the emergency break,” says San Francisco Giants team physician Dr. Robert Murray over email. “Caring for your body post workout ensures a quicker recovery for your muscles, allows your body time to build muscle, and reduces injury and muscle fatigue.”
2. Skipping A Stretch
“Stretching is one of the best things you can do,” says Murray. “When you’re working out your muscles are constricting, stretching allows them to return to their natural and normal position. Also, when stretching you’re breathing deeply, getting oxygen into your muscles, supporting healthy recovery.”
3. Forgetting To Eat
You may be in a rush to hit happy hour right after your evening gym session, but don’t skip out on a proper meal before heading to your next activity. “The food you eat within the first few minutes after a workout is known as your ‘recovery meal,’ and is the most important and often under-rated part of training,” says fitness expert Lisa Reed, MS, CSCS, USAW over email. Eating after a workout rapidly initiates the process of rebuilding muscle and helps prevent breakdown.
4. Waiting Too Long To Eat
Maybe you go home, get ready, meet up with your friends, and then eat your dinner, but you may still want to consider eating your meal sooner. “Research suggests the post workout window for consumption is about two hours,” says nutrition coach Darin Hulslander over email. “Your body needs good fast-acting carbs to helped with damaged muscle repair and to relax your nervous system. If you wait too long to eat, your body will significantly slow its recovery process.”
5. Hydrating With A Sports Drink
Sports drinks might claim to be the healthy option, but they are actually just loaded with sugar. A study from UC Berkeley found that sports drinks are just as bad for you as soda, so you’re better off sticking to plain old water.
6. Going Right Back To More Physical Activity
It’s good to stay active all-day, but after an intensive workout, it’s time to let your body relax and recover. “Your body needs to rest after a workout,” says Hulslander. “Shower, cool down, take a nap, etc. Wait to do any strenuous activity. You will risk damage to your central nervous system and recovery processes if you overdo it after your workout.”
7. Jumping Into The Hot Tub
“While a hot tub can help relax your muscles, hopping in immediately following a workout can stress your heart because it needs to work extra-hard to cool the body,” says Murray. “Wait at least 15 to 20 minutes following a workout to get into a hot tub to allow the body time to cool down. Also, getting into a hot tub significantly exacerbates dehydration which can lead to cramping, muscle fatigue, and ache.”
8. Sitting In Your Workout Clothes
Maybe you have something to do after your workout or you’re just feeling lazy and don’t want to shower, but the last thing you want to do is stay in your sweaty clothes. When sweat gets trapped with oil, dead skins, and bacteria, it can cause breakouts, so try to take a shower after you exercise or at least change into looser clothing.
9. Staying Up Late
“Be sure you’re consistently getting the proper rest and sleep,” says Murray. “Your body does the majority of its recovery when you sleep.” When you sleep, your pituitary gland releases a shot of growth hormone that stimulates tissue growth and muscle repair, according to Livestrong. Lack of sleep can disrupt this process.
Keeping healthy habits overall can help with your post-workout recovery.