3 Ways to Recover from Your Workouts Like a Pro Athlete

3 Ways to Recover from Your Workouts Like a Pro Athlete

Whether you're training almost every day for an upcoming race or just getting in a few quick workouts a week, you're putting in too much time and effort to be shortchanged by insufficient recovery. And as solid as your training program might be, it's what happens afterward that dictates whether you progress and adapt or not. Here are some proven ways to dial in your fueling strategy, take advantage of recovery techniques, and fine tune your schedule so you're making the most of every workout and not leaving any gains on the table. 

  • Nail Post-Training Nutrition

Training itself is not what gives you a certain adaptation, whether that’s getting bigger, faster, and stronger, improving your endurance, or losing weight. It’s just the stimulus part of the equation. To get the gains you’re seeking, you have to pair this with adequate recovery, and this starts with giving your body the building blocks it needs to rebuild after exercise. Otherwise, you’re going to be leaving progress on the table and possibly even moving the needle in the wrong direction for both your performance and health.

The first goal of eating after training is to help your muscles repair the damage done during exercise, prompt the growth of new fibers and existing ones, and prevent muscle breakdown. Some people might think that post-exercise protein intake is only necessary after strength workouts, but muscles also need to repair after endurance sessions. A paper published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition investigated three different doses and found that ingesting 30 grams of protein after training is sufficient to trigger muscle protein synthesis. There’s a lot of debate about whether there’s a perfect post-training nutrition window, but try to get those 30 grams of protein within half an hour of finishing your workout, using a snack or shake if that’s all you have on hand and then eating a meal two to three hours later.

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The second purpose of post-workout nutrition is to replenish the fuel you’ve used. Fat stores can be diminished – particularly during longer aerobic sessions – but your body turns to its most ready fuel source first: carbs. Blood sugar is utilized initially, and then stores of glycogen in your muscles and liver. Which is why you should aim to get at least 50 grams of carbs after your workout. Better yet, get some carbs and protein down at the same time. A 2021 study discovered that doing so improves glycogen synthesis, noting that you need to get enough total energy from your post-workout fuel for the protein component to be effective.

Other research has found that carbs have a protein-sparing effect, making sure that your body can utilize it for muscle repair rather than it being used for other things when you’re in a calorie hole. Make sure you eat enough later in the day too, as this increases ongoing muscle protein synthesis and glycogen replenishment that will help you recover from your last session and fuel up for the next one.

  • Spread out Hard, Easy, and Moderate Sessions

When training, we usually gravitate toward the sessions that we enjoy or feel are beneficial. When squeezing workouts into your busy schedule, this could mean that you end up just doing strength sessions in the gym if you’re into lifting or only running, biking, or swimming if you lean more toward endurance. This makes sense on a philosophical level but not so much in terms of your physiology, as just doing the same thing every time you exercise will only develop certain capabilities. Another tricky thing is that you may not be giving your body long enough to adapt and recover between similar sessions, which will limit your gains and maybe even cause drop-offs in performance.

When thinking about how much time you need to bounce back between workouts, there are a few considerations. The first is the duration and intensity of what you just did. If you went for a slow, easy hike or a gentle jog, it’s not very demanding on any system and you could probably repeat a similar effort within a few hours. But if you did a long run at marathon pace, a ton of kettlebell swings, or an Olympic lifting session, chances are you’re going to be wiped out for a while. A study by British and South African researchers concluded that “Strength, jump, and sprint training requiring repeated maximum efforts elicits fatigue that requires up to 72 h to fully resolve.” So if you did this type of session on a Monday, you’d do well to wait until Thursday to repeat it.

Another factor when spacing out your sessions is what you’re going to do next. The study just mentioned only looked at how long participants took to recover between two strength, power, and speed sessions, but didn’t rule out other types of workouts sooner. So the day after going hard and fast, you could do some long, slow distance work and probably be just fine, or vice versa. In a TrainingPeaks article, coach Sérgio Santos included this handy chart from periodization expert Tudor Bompa, which shows how long you should wait after three different types of training before repeating a similar effort or doing something different. Anaerobic efforts are close to maximum intensity and last under a minute, VO2 max training is a five- to eight-minute one-off effort or repeated intervals of this duration with a few minutes’ rest in between, and threshold work involves a 40- to 60-minute moderate effort.

Level of Intensity

Threshold Recovery Time

VO2 Max Recovery Time

Anaerobic Recovery Time


48 – 72 hours

24 – 36 hours

6 – 12 hours

VO2 Max

6 – 12 hours

36 – 48 hours

24 – 36 hours


12 – 24 hours

24 – 36 hours

48 – 72 hours


Santos also suggested that the muscle groups emphasized in training can be as significant as the energy systems it emphasizes when planning recovery. “If different muscles are used in different activities, you’ll still be able to perform well in each,” he wrote. “But if the same muscles need to be used during consecutive sessions (e.g., doing a heavy lower-body weightlifting session before doing a sprint workout in cycling), your performance will be more affected and recovery time will be longer.”

  • Hit Hot and Cold

A meta-analysis published in Sports Medicine examined what previous studies had to say about the impact of cold water immersion (CWI) on recovery. They found that taking an ice bath improved the recovery of muscle power, reduced muscle soreness, and lowered levels of the creatine kinase, which is an inflammation marker. People also reported feeling like they’d recovered more fully. Researchers have also found that heat exposure is beneficial for recovery. Exercise physiologists from the University of Otago in New Zealand asked distance runners to complete a treadmill test the day after following their regular training with a sauna session. They improved their time to exhaustion by an average of 32 percent and also increased plasma and red blood cell volumes.

You don’t have to pursue an either/or approach with heat and cold exposure, but could try contrast therapy, which is a fancy term for doing both back-to-back. Be sure to start slowly and gradually increase your exposure over time, stopping if you feel lightheaded or weird in any other way. If an ice bath/cold plunge and sauna approach is too intimidating or you don’t have access to them, try a hot bath or hot tub soak followed by a couple of minutes in a cool shower, or alternating temperatures in the latter. This will give you most of the same recovery benefits.

You also shouldn’t underestimate the psychological benefits of heat and cold exposure. We’re not going to lie – the first time you get in an ice bath or take a cold plunge, it’s going to feel terrible. But if you can get past the initial “Get me the heck out of here” response, regulate your breathing, and push through it, you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something. That’s a win in the mental toughness column. With heat, picture yourself getting in a hot tub on a cold wintry day. The very notion of it is comforting and relaxing, and the actual experience is even more so. Plus, a study published in Sleep Medicine Reviews found that taking a nice soak 90 minutes before bedtime improves sleep quality, which will further enhance your recovery.