Energy Management 9 MIN READ

Recovery: The Secret To Better Gains

Most people believe that you’re not developing any fitness gains unless you feel sore after every workout. When you start a new fitness routine or push beyond your limits, you may get sore. But as you keep working out consistently, your body starts to adapt.

Written by Hisham Syed

Jun 24, 2022

You may feel less sore with each workout, but it doesn’t mean you’re not hitting your workouts hard enough or that you’re missing out on workout gains from those exercises.

We’re always told to get regular exercise. But if you’re training for a competition or just feeling extra motivated to work out every day, more isn’t always better.

Delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS)

Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is muscle pain that begins after you’ve exercised, normally starting a day or two after a workout. You won’t feel DOMS when you are exercising.

Pain felt during or immediately after a workout is a different kind of muscle soreness. It’s called acute muscle soreness. Acute muscle soreness is that burning sensation you feel in a muscle during a workout due to a quick buildup of lactic acid. It usually disappears as soon as you stop exercising.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, DOMS symptoms typically occur at least 12 to 24 hours after a workout. The pain tends to peak about one to three days after your workout and should ease up after that.

Symptoms of DOMS to watch out for may include:

  1. Muscles that feel tender to the touch
  2. Reduced range of motion due to pain and stiffness when moving
  3. Swelling in the affected muscles
  4. Muscle fatigue
  5. Short-term loss of muscle strength

DOMS is just one of the many things your body experiences when you workout. There are many under-the-lens processes that you go through even without feeling muscle soreness or any pain such as microscopic tears in your muscle that eventually lead to an increase in muscle mass. Your body needs to have an adequate recovery to be able to hit the goals that you set for yourself. Recovery is just as important as exercise. A successful fitness regimen isn’t complete without recovery. 

Importance of Recovery

There are many important benefits of a well-structured recovery program:

1. Reduces injuries

Having a proper recovery routine is essential for staying safe during exercise. Overtraining exposes your muscle to repetitive stress and strain. This increases the risk of injuries, forcing you to take more rest days than you had planned for. Moreover, when your body is overworked, you’ll be more likely to fall out of form or take a wrong step. 

2. Prevents fatigue

Rest is important for avoiding fatigue. Exercise reduces your muscles’ glycogen levels and if these stores aren’t replaced, you’ll experience muscle fatigue and soreness. Your muscles require glycogen to work well, even when you’re not working out. By getting enough rest, you’ll prevent fatigue by letting your glycogen stores come back up.

3. Improves overall performance

When you don’t get enough recovery time, it can be difficult to perform your normal routine, let alone push and motivate yourself. For instance, you might be less motivated to do an extra rep or run another kilometre. Even if you set higher standards for yourself in your workouts and push yourself, overtraining decreases your performance. You may experience reduced endurance, slow reaction times, and poor agility. Rest can have a contrasting effect. It can increase energy and prevent fatigue, preparing your body for consistent and successful workouts.

Different ways of recovering

There are many ways that you can maximise the benefits of recovery. The most important aspect is having a well-planned recovery program that takes these into account:


Nutritional advice differs from person to person depending on many factors such as training goals (increased muscle mass, fat loss, etc.), training loads (intensity, quantity) and training type (strength, cardio, HIIT etc). However, good nutrition has been shown to improve recovery, decrease muscle protein breakdown and restore glycogen levels.

Some important factors that you can consider when evaluating your diet include the quantity of your protein, fat and carb intake, and most importantly the quality of your intake.

1. Protein

forms the building blocks of muscles, many studies have shown that eating enough protein can help increase muscle mass and strength. High amounts of protein can also help prevent muscle loss when your body is in a “catabolic” (breaking down) state, such as during weight loss. Consuming protein after strength training effectively stimulates muscle protein synthesis and improves the body’s recovery.

2. Omega 3 fatty acids

have an anti-inflammatory effect, and it is important to buy good quality and well-sourced products. Good sources of Omega 3 include fish oils and flaxseed oils. They are often limited in many people’s diets such as in vegans, therefore supplementation* could be required. Reducing inflammation can accelerate recovery.

*Always check with your doctor before taking any supplements or making any decision that impacts your health.

3. Carbohydrates

help restore glycogen levels in your body and provide fuel for your workouts. It is important to have enough carbs for your body to recover and heal while also giving you enough fibre for your gut and bowel health. Make sure that you are consuming enough natural complex carbohydrates whole foods such as fresh vegetables, fruits, greens and legumes.

4. Hydration

Ensuring that you are consuming adequate amounts of water each day is also important. Most people drink sufficient amounts of water during exercise but forget about it after their exercise. Exercise will result in loss of fluid, and these fluids need to be replenished. Water is involved in many of our bodily processes and is essential to maintain blood volume, regulate body temperature and allow muscle contractions to take place. Stay hydrated!

Warm-up and Cooldown

Warming up has been shown to decrease Delayed Onset Muscular Soreness (DOMS) with no loss of muscle function. Dynamic stretching has been shown to positively influence power, speed, agility, endurance, flexibility, and strength performance when used as a warm-up. Cooldown brings fresh blood into areas to help with lactic acid removal while bringing your heart rate down to resting rate safely.

1. Foam Roller / Self-Myofascial Release (SMFR)

Myofascial tissue is a type of thin, strong, fibrous connective tissue that extends throughout your body to provide support and protection to your muscles and bones. Through a multitude of ways ranging from inactivity to overuse from working out your fascia can become sore and painful from becoming tight and restricted. Myofascial release therapy helps treat that pain and immobility by relaxing the muscle, improving circulation, and stimulating the stretch reflex in muscles. You add a lot of stress to your body when you work out and myofascial release is a perfect way to work that stress out of your body. Common tools include the foam roll and roller massager. Often these tools are used as part of a comprehensive program and are often recommended to purchase and use at home.

The Self-myofascial release has many benefits that include increased joint range of motion (ROM) short term without impeding performance. It can alleviate Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) and enhance recovery from exercise.

2. Massage

Similar to SFMR, research demonstrates that massage therapy should be another therapeutic tool in your arsenal. Choosing a spa day helps your brain and your muscles to relax.

Deep tissue massage is mainly used to treat musculoskeletal issues, such as strains and sports injuries. It involves applying sustained pressure using slow, deep strokes to target the inner layers of your muscles and connective tissues. This helps to break up scar tissue that forms following an injury and reduces tension in muscle and tissue. It may also promote faster healing by increasing blood flow and reducing inflammation.

3. Sleep

Sleep serves as a vital physiological function and is arguably the single most important factor in exercise recovery. Most people prioritize exercise and seek to obtain the highest quality fitness. However, quality sleep should be part of the foundation of everyone’s routine. Including a good sleep regimen in your training program can improve your gains drastically. You can train yourself to improve your sleep by having a good sleep strategy and routine.

You can snooze better by sleeping regularly at the same time and waking up at the same time, getting adequate 8-9 hours of good quality sleep. This improves not just your muscle but also your brain. 

4. Cold Water Baths

Ice baths are known to reduce inflammation and improve recovery by changing the way blood and other fluids flow through your body. When you take a cold water shower or sit in an ice bath, your blood vessels are constricted.  When you get out of the bath, they are dilated. This process helps flush away metabolic waste post-workout and helps reduce swelling and muscle tissue breakdown.

Coldwater acts as an anti-inflammatory and can help you to recover quicker after a workout. It could also reduce the DOMS and speed up the recovery process, helping the muscles repair and making you feel renewed.

5. Active/Passive rest days

It’s important to listen to your body and make a decision on what works best for you. However, it is vital that you schedule your off days to make sure your workout days get 100% focus.

Depending on how you feel, there are two ways that you can utilise your rest days. You can choose to either rest completely and not do any physical movement which might be necessary for your body or do some light exercises that help your body recover, also known as active recovery such as walking, yoga, and swimming.

Active recovery can keep the blood flowing and help muscles recover and rebuild from intense physical activity. The blood flow with the absence of extra exertion on the body helps nutrition reach your tissues, making your recovery faster.

During passive recovery, the body stays completely at rest. You can kick back, watch some of your favourite shows and do nothing because sometimes that’s what the body and mind require. Passive recovery is especially important if you’re injured or in pain.

If none of these conditions applies to you and you’re only generally sore, active recovery is considered a better option. Yoga is commonly sought on active recovery days, it helps increase blood flow and, with the help of mindful breathing, also helps in improving mental health.

Abi Carver, the founder of Yoga 15, is a yoga instructor who designs specific yoga routines for improved athletic performance and recovery. Her recovery series ‘Yoga for Pain Relief’ on Ultrahuman has simple yoga asanas that would help reduce muscle stiffness and joint pain and strengthen the body and improve range of motion and flexibility.


Recovery plays an important role in keeping your body well rested and repaired. It’s crucial to have a detailed intrinsic recovery plan built into your workout plan. Various recovery strategies depending on your routine can help you get to your dream physique or your peak fitness faster. It doesn’t translate to only rest days. Keeping tabs on your sleep, nutrition, mental health, pre and post-exercise routine and general health, is the secret to long term fitness. 

Subscribe to Metablog

Get the best, most science backed, and latest in metabolic health delivered to your inbox each week.

Thank you for subscribing!

Please check your email for confirmation message.

    You can unsubscribe at any time, no hard feelings. Privacy Policy

    Loading please wait...