muscles

Feeling weak and sore after your workout? Not seeing any difference in your body shape? Personal trainer Sarah O’Neill reveals why the secret could be in your muscles.

While exercise puts our muscles under stress (causing the fibres to break down), it’s actually what happens when you’re not exercising (after the workout) that counts. Strength gains come when our muscle fibres rebuild and have chance to absorb our training, amazing right? Because of this, your recovery routine is almost as important as the exercise itself.

Personal trainer and nutritionist Sarah O’Neill shares five fool-proof ways to help your muscles do their thing…

1. Fuel up – quickly

Think food first. Carbs and protein are your friends because they help muscles to repair and rebuild themselves. A simple smoothie made with yoghurt and milk, a bowl of oatmeal or even a chocolate milkshake are all great choices. Or, give yourself the edge with a glass of cherry juice – it’s proven to help us recover quicker after exercise.

If you’ve given yourself a tough workout, try to eat a snack within half an hour afterwards. A banana or a handful of nuts is perfect. Then, be sure to have a proper meal within two hours. Also, remember that hydration is essential to recovery, which is why sports nutritionist Anita Bean recommends drinking 400ml-800ml water (around a pint) for every hour of exercise.

2. Massage your muscles

Whether you love it or hate it, taking 5-10 minutes to stretch out muscles means you’re helping to decrease your risk of injury and reduce the chance of developing stiff muscles and tendons. A monthly sports massage can help break down scar tissue, or a more budget-friendly option is to use a foam roller. This will help break down knots and give your muscles a deep massage. Find out how to use one in our guide to the best gym equipment.

3. Chill in the bath

To ice bath, warm bath or Epsom salt? The answer is still up for debate. While ice baths have been a long-established way to look after sore muscles (particularly for marathon runners) recent research shows that they might reduce gains in muscle mass and strength.

Warm baths with added magnesium or Epsom salts may be more appealing but researchers in Germany suggest the amount of the beneficial stuff – magnesium – absorbed through the skin is negligible. My opinion? There’s no doubt that a warm bath can soothe tired limbs, calm the mind and assist sleep – all of which definitely help recovery.

4. Prioritise shut eye

Sleep is vital for muscle repair and growth and the NHS says that adults need eight hours of sleep each night – and athletes will often sleep for 12 hours a day! Getting enough sleep is essential to reap the benefits of your training session to allow your body the time to repair itself. And sleep isn’t just for the benefit of your muscles – lack of it increases the risk of muscle wastage, injury and obesity.

5. Schedule in rest days

As well as sleep, the body needs rest between sessions to move from muscle breakdown to muscle building (and to make sure we’re not overloading our system). As a rule, take one to two rest days every seven to 10 days. This doesn’t need to be sedentary – a gentle swim, brisk walk or yoga session are all great types of ‘active recovery’ that can relieve muscle tension.

Blocking out recovery days in your diary and being more conscious of your post-workout meals and snacks will make a huge difference. As an added bonus, try a stretch class or head to bed an hour earlier and your muscles will thank you for it.

Want to find out more about eating to help your bone health? Read our guide to the best foods.

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