Hitting the gym after an extended break is never pleasant – you expect to be sore for days to come. The same feel-good ache is common after lifting heavier weights. What becomes instantly clear during this period is the importance of recovery after exercising. Are you letting your body recuperate enough, before moving on to the next session? Without physical downtime, your efforts at the gym can become counterproductive.
Recovering from aching, sore muscles can be as simple as looking after your nutrition and sleep, followed by post-workout care. A Dubai-based sports science expert breaks down recovery strategies for us, in order of importance. Read on to find out what you can adopt into your fitness routine to solve common workout problems, with products like whey protein, muscle sprays and compression sleeves.
Is recovery after exercise necessary?
Recovery, when done correctly, can dictate so much of your workout gains. Zeljko Banicevic, founder and CEO of Health, Exercise and Research Centre (HERC) in Dubai, says you remain in “a catabolic state” if there are no strategies in place to help you rest. A catabolic state entails the loss of muscle mass, as a result of inadequate nutrition and excessive training.
“If you exercise frequently, it’s very important to have recovery strategies in place, so that you can perform at an optimal level for the next session. It’s how you get a good-quality workout again. If not, then you’ll just be training in a catabolic state, where you won’t be improving,” said Banicevic.
What helps with post-workout problems?
When it comes to refreshing the body in between sessions, there’s nothing as effective as a good night’s rest and a nutritious diet, says Banicevic.
“If we have these two bases covered and built into our daily routine, then it becomes very easy to add other strategies to help us recover better,” he added.
Some popular fitness gadgets, like massage guns, fall at the top of the recovery pyramid – meaning, they’re not particularly a gym-bag must-have but do provide temporary relief. “Solutions like hot or cold water immersion and vibration techniques are good to use if you want to ‘feel’ better, since people report feeling relaxed. But the number one thing is sleep and downtime, followed by nutrition and hydration for recovery,” explained Banicevic.
For how long should we recover? This depends on multiple factors, but two should offer a rough perspective – your fitness level and the type of training you’ve just had. Banicevic says a beginner will need three to four days to hit the gym again, as opposed to a trained individual, who can bounce back in just 12 hours.
We asked the expert for recommendations to help us tackle post-workout fatigue, burns and nutrition. Find his picks below on Amazon, where you can get your products faster with a Prime membership.
1. Best Whey Protein: Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein
After a workout session, our muscles are usually deprived of glycogen, the stored form of glucose in the body. “When glycogen levels are down, this means we’ve used up our energy reserve. To support muscle growth, it’s always a good idea to have some simple carbohydrates and fast-digesting proteins within 30 minutes of post-workout,” advised Banicevic. He suggests whey protein to build strength after exercise, for the body to recover quickly with fast-absorbing proteins. Banicevic’s pick is Optimum Nutrition, his go-to brand of whey protein. All two pounds (907g) of this container offers 28 servings, the scoops taken in either water or milk. This container, comprising 24 grams of blended protein, is banana cream-flavoured, so it’s going to be easier to down the shake.
2. Best Massage Ball: Hyperice Hypersphere Mini Vibrating Massage Ball
- Vibrates at three speeds
- Rechargeable battery
- Reviews say hard rolls can trigger the power button
Massage balls are a tool used in pro sports massages to treat certain muscle groups, according to Banicevic. It’s always best to begin with our own hands and fingers, before moving on to specialised tools, he adds. “Massage balls can be used on trigger points. For instance, if you have pain in your scapula (shoulder blade), you can relieve the pressure there with a massage ball.” The Hyperice battery-powered silicone ball combines the technique with vibrations, offering three different speeds. It works as a fitness roller on the hand, under the foot and neck, loosening muscles before and after training. With two-hour battery life, you can toss it in the gym bag and leave it there for weeks before needing charge.
Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh50 for 12 months with select banks.
3. Best Compression Sleeve: Mcdavid Mdx609 Fitness Calf Sleeves, Black, Large
Compression sleeves target local recoveries, in the arms, elbows, calves or knees. Wearing a sleeve post-workout can help accelerate recovery, since the pressure applied improves blood flow and oxygen in the body, says Banicevic. This calf pair by McDavid offers double-layered compression, coming in different sizes. It not only aids in recovery but supports performance by providing warmth and stability mid-activity. Reviews report back on reduced soreness post-sports activities, adding how lightweight and comfortable the sleeves feel.
4. Best for Heat and Cold Therapy: Nobility Steel Massage Ball
Get the best of both worlds with a massage ball that can apply hot and cold pressure. If you’re wondering which to opt for, Banicevic says a good way to tell is through contrast therapy. “In warmer temperatures, cold immersion would be better, and vice versa. Contrast therapy also helps increase the blood flow in the treated area, so the muscles recover faster,” he said. This kit by Nobility includes a steel ball that can be frozen or immersed in hot water, the former's temperatures lasting for up to six hours, while the latter's for up to 15 minutes. The best part is that you can transfer the ball to the handheld roller (included) for better reach.
5. Best Massage Gun: Hyperice Hypervolt Plus
- Powerful percussions
- Five head attachments for quads, calves and more
- Pressure sensor
- Can be heavy to hold
Ranked as our best overall massage gun here, the Hyperice Hypervolt Plus is another pro-picked device for working out sore muscles. Banicevic calls these percussion gadgets one of the many vibration techniques used for immediate relief. This massage gun operates for up to three hours on a single charge, and targets muscles with five head attachments. Thanks to its pressure sensor, you can always be sure of applying the right amount, without injuring yourself.
Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh74.60 for 12 months with select banks.
6. Best Muscle Spray: Biofreeze Professional Pain Relief Spray, Pack of 3
Another cold therapy application can come in the form of sprays. “If you’ve got cramps, a cold or hot spray can be applied to the injury, and its relieving effect lasts for 20 to 30 minutes,” said Banicevic. The Biofreeze Professional cooling menthol formula penetrates quickly to provide relief to sore muscles and joints. The bottle reaches the trickiest of areas, with a continuous flow even when sprayed upside down.
7. Best Hydrating Body Lotion: Nivea Repair and Care Body Lotion, 400g
It’s easy to sustain burns when engaged in cardio exercises. Banicevic says he often suffers from dry elbows and forearms after extended planking on the mat. He uses a hydrating lotion by Nivea post-gym to repair the skin as part of his aftercare routine. Invest in this 400g bottle of nourishing body lotion, which keeps the skin hydrated for 72 hours. Infused with a hydrating serum, the formula relieves rough and tight skin and prevents moisture loss.
Our recommendations are independently chosen by Gulf News editors. If you decide to shop through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission, as we are part of Amazon Services LLC Associates Program.