Post-Exercise Dos And Don’ts
Want to truly see and feel the physical benefits of your gym session? Swap your post-work-out beer for a buck’s fizz and sweatpants for Lycra.
For many of us, exercise is a quid-pro-quo contract we enter into with ourselves. Had a big blowout dinner? Better do a spin class the next day to work it off. Been for an early-morning run? That fry-up breakfast has got your name on it. Just played an hour’s five-a-side football? Sounds as if you’ve earned yourself a couple of guilt-free post-match beers.
You can have your cake and eat it – so long as you burn it off afterwards. If the exercise equalises the excess, you shouldn’t put on weight or keel over from over-indulgence. That’s the theory, anyway, and it sounds like a vaguely healthy, sort-of-balanced and broadly logical one.
Unfortunately, it’s flawed. “The ‘I’ve earned this beer’ methodology doesn’t stand up to scrutiny,” says London-based strength-and-conditioning coach Mr Jamie Sawyer. “There’s more to getting in shape than just calories in versus calories out. Burning 200 calories on a treadmill doesn’t allow you to consume 200 calories of booze. It’s where those calories come from that ultimately makes the changes in your body.”
If we truly want to see and feel the benefits of our physical endeavours, it’s vital to make the right decisions once we’ve caught our breath so we don’t undo our best efforts. That doesn’t necessarily mean living a boring monastic life of kale salads and protein shakes, for all work-out and no play makes Jack a very dull beefcake to hang out with. It simply means making the right choices from this menu of options.
01. ON THE WARM-DOWN MAT
Don’t do static stretchesDo use a foam roller
As a general rule we all need to stretch more – but contrary to what you might think, it’s not such a good idea if you’ve just done a heavy weights session. “Statically stretching a muscle that has just undergone muscle-damaging resistance can result in greater muscle tissue damage and ultimately injury,” says Mr Sawyer. Instead, do something called “self-myofascial release”, which basically means using your own body weight to massage your muscles on a foam roller. “This will help increase blood flow to muscles and help remove the build-up of waste products from cells to speed up recovery,” says Mr Lee Mullins, founder of the Workshop Gymnasium in London. Five minutes of foam rolling today means less robotic stiffness tomorrow.
02. AT THE VENDING MACHINE
Don’t reach for the GatoradeDo stick to water
Unless you’re an endurance athlete, or you have to wear a suit to work during a muggy New York summer (which effectively equates to the same thing), you only really need water to rehydrate. “Most sports drinks are intended to keep you going during endurance exercise, not after,” says Mr Sawyer. “Plus they are generally chemical-laden and contain unnatural sugars, such as high-fructose corn syrup.” The clue is in the neon colours. You will need some salt to replace what you’ve lost through sweat (that’s why your perspiration stings your eyes). Salt also helps your body absorb water rather than just pass it. The traditional avoid-salt-at-all-costs advice is for men with trousers and arteries about to burst – not magnificent athletes like you – and a review of studies actually found that too little salt can raise the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. If good old-fashioned water on its own isn’t 21st century enough for you, add some David Kirsch Wellness Co’s Muscle Restore, which contains stuff called branched-chain amino acids and glutamine to reduce soreness – much better for you than taking an anti-inflammatory – and it’ll help boost your immune system.
03. IN THE LOCKER ROOM
Don’t wear jersey sweatsDo wear compression gear
For some of us, the most strenuous part of a work-out is peeling off the figure-hugging Lycra in the changing room afterwards. But academic research suggests we’d actually derive more benefit from wearing it after exercise than during. Specialist compression gear from brands such as Nike, Athletic Propulsion Labs and particularly 2XU helps to reduce muscular pain and swelling so you won’t be hobbling around like Mr John Wayne quite so much the following day. Whereas you might reasonably suppose compression gear would restrict blood flow, it actually improves circulation, thereby speeding the clearing out of metabolites – by-products of exercise that contribute to soreness. While it might look cooler to change into loose-fitting jersey sweats after you’ve exercised, it turns out those people who insist on spending all weekend in religion-revealing work-out gear are onto something after all. If wearing tights around town is not a strong look for you, maybe just wear a pair of 2XU compression socks under your Incotex chinos to promote blood flow back up into your body and help drive much-needed nutrients to your worked-out muscles. No one need know what lies beneath.
o4. AT THE CAFÉ
Don’t order a coffeeDo order a green tea
For cyclists in particular, it’s part of the post-ride ritual. After a long, early morning thigh-burner up hill and down dale, the amateur peloton stacks up its carbon-fibre bikes and repairs en masse to a local café for a Java hit. Plenty of us pick up a coffee after exercise but we’d be better off having one before instead. “There’s an abundance of evidence showing caffeine can improve your work-out capacity, increase your motivation to work hard and promote fat burning during exercise,” says Mr Mullins. “But if you drink it after working out, you will elevate the stress hormone cortisol just when you need to clear it.” If cortisol remains high, waste won’t be removed, tissue won’t be rebuilt as quickly, recovery will be delayed and you’ll feel fatigued for longer. Green tea is the original green juice. Yes, it also contains caffeine but this is more than offset by antioxidants that accelerate recovery.
05. IN THE PUB
Don’t drink a beerDo drink a buck’s fizz
There have been various understandably seductive studies over the years that have suggested that beer can aid recovery. Alas, not actually true. Alcohol is a diuretic, so it’s dehydrating. “It reduces protein synthesis, which delays recovery and the building of new muscle. And it disrupts sleep,” says Mr Mullins. Better to have a glass of bubbly. “The potassium salts in champagne are more restorative than beer and the lower carb content and reduced belly bloat won’t hurt either,” says New York-based celebrity trainer Mr David Kirsch. Better still, make it a buck’s fizz: the vitamin C in orange juice is proven to help the body metabolise cortisol. You might have to brace yourself for hilarious witticisms from your drinking partners but you’ll have the last laugh the next day.
06. IN THE RESTAURANT
Don’t order the cheeseburger and friesDo order the Sunday roast
They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but actually the food we eat straight after exercise is more vital. “Your body is most responsive to absorbing carbohydrates and protein within 45 minutes of exercise,” says Mr Sawyer. “If you don’t replenish your muscles within two hours, they won’t recover properly and your hard work will largely go to waste.” But you don’t want to cancel out the benefits of breaking a sweat by eating the wrong thing – even if you think you’ve earned it. Just as a Ferrari won’t operate at full capacity on bog-standard unleaded so your body’s engine needs higher-grade fuel than a dirty burger. Aim to eat a meal containing lean protein (chicken, fish, steak at a push) within one to two hours post work-out. You’ll also want to eat some good carbohydrates (from vegetables such as roasted sweet potato), as carbs help your body use the protein for repair and growth. Not all carbs are evil. If salmon is on the menu, order it – the anti-inflammatory omega-3s will help rebuild muscles and increase performance.
07. BACK HOME
Don’t stay up lateDo aim for seven to nine hours’ sleep
“Stop bragging about how you never sleep. Sleep is the bedrock of wellness,” says Mr Adam Rosante, New York personal trainer and author of The 30-Second Body. “Lack of sleep causes your body’s supply of leptin (a hormone partially responsible for making your stomach feel full) to drop and ghrelin (a hormone that both slows your metabolism and sparks feelings of hunger) to rise. It also causes your cortisol levels to rise, effectively slowing down your metabolism and digestion. Consistently high levels of cortisol can lead to weight gain. And when you’re tired, you’re far more likely to skip work-outs.” Plus during sleep is when your body releases its growth hormones. You snooze, you win.
Illustrations by Mr Patrick Leger