For many people, however, a good workout means sore muscles.
Powders, drinks and pills on the market all promise to help your muscles repair faster after exercise. But, according to experts from two of Louisiana’s top medical institutions, you don’t need them.
Most of the pills and powders that promise to aid post-workout recovery don’t work, said Timothy Church, a professor and researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
“There is no molecule or chemical or anything that’s going to help you recover magically faster,” said Church, an endurance athlete who has completed two Ironman triathlons. “It’s one of the many markets that’s built on myth.”
In his research of health and exercise supplements, Church found that only about one-quarter of products accurately depict on the label what is in the bottle.
“Make sure you understand what you’re taking,” said Gregory Stewart, co-director of Tulane University’s Sports Medicine Program and team physician for the school’s sports teams. “Just because it’s a berry or root on the package doesn’t mean it’s good for you.”
Many new to an exercise regimen neglect the most important aspect of recovery — rest. Rest means a good night’s sleep and laying off until your body has repaired itself, Stewart said.
“If you just keep breaking the body down … if that’s all you do and you don’t give the body a chance to rebuild all that, then you’re in trouble,” Stewart said.
Avid weight lifters have always practiced alternating between working out the upper body and lower body. Runners, cyclists and yoga practitioners may also need to rest.
“Then you’ve got a day or two to let the muscles recover,” says Stewart. “It’s the same with bone. When people get stress fractures (often from running), it’s from doing too much too quick and not letting the bone recover.”
Replenish nutrients and fluids
Bouncing back from your workout begins as soon as exercise ends.
Start with water or a sports drink, such as Gatorade or Powerade, for hydration. If sports drinks are too sweet for you, or too caloric, Church suggests adding water to them.
In the hour after exercise, the body is ready to refill on proteins, which help muscles rebuild, and carbohydrates, which restock energy stores. A plate of pasta with a chicken breast fits the bill.
“Your body’s just going to suck it up,” Church said. “It’s just waiting for it.”
Most active people need a little more than a gram of protein for every kilogram of body weight, or about 70 grams for a 150-pound person. Those trying to build larger muscles through weight training need two grams for every kilogram of weight, Stewart said.
Protein powder can be mixed into shakes and smoothies for an easy injection of nutrients, but it isn’t for everyone.
“They’re convenient,” Church said. “You can have them waiting for you when you finish your workout.”
While easy, Stewart and Church said most people eating a balanced diet just don’t need the powders. However, if you do choose to go the powder route, don’t worry too much over your purchase. Most powders, whether cheap or expensive, work similarly.
Respect your body
Your body knows what you need. The morning after exercise, your muscles and joints will let you know when to work out again.
For those new to an exercise routine, Stewart warns against overdoing it. Muscle pain and joint soreness can discourage you from continuing.
“You may feel fine (during the workout),” he said, “but tomorrow or the next day a little bit of tendonitis or muscle soreness, they’re telling you you did too much too quick. But if you work yourself up to it, then you’re usually fine.”