There’s no doubt that hours at the gym, miles on the treadmill, and a quick lunch-break sweat session at the spin studio will get your blood flowing. But a few mistakes can cause all that hard work and well-spent energy to go to waste. Instead of exhausting yourself for no good reason, maximize your exercise routine by being mindful of your post-workout routine. We spoke to trainers, doctors and fitness experts to get the breakdown on the biggest post-workout mistakes — and how to fix them:
1. Mistake: Checking Your Email Immediately After
After being away from your smartphone for an hour or two, it’s easy to feel anxious about missed calls and messages. Alexandra Perez Bonetti, founder of bari in NYC, advises people not to rush to check those emails.
DON’T: “Don't kill your vibe. Those post-workout feel-good endorphins do the body, and mind, good if you let them work their magic,” says Bonetti. “If you quickly revert back into busy-mode without taking a few minutes to cool down, you're gypping yourself of an opportunity to get grounded and gear up for the rest of your day thoughtfully.”
DO: “Post workout, take a few minutes to soak up the feel good vibes and center yourself,” she says. “Stay for the full cool down, and use your post-workout shower or commute to set an intention, rather than run through your to do list. This will ultimately enhance productivity and help you carry that post-workout 'on top of the world' feeling.”
2. Mistake: Skipping The Cool Down
Running miles and miles is great cardio, but it can be dangerous to go from sprinting to nothing, says Minneapolis-based Dr. Jonathan Reynolds of Orthology.
DON’T: “You should avoid things that will hamper the body’s ability to recover from trauma… [such as] failing to cool down gradually with gentle jogging, cycling, walking and some stretching,” says Reynolds.
DO: “Think of what you do after exercise as a way to set you up for the next time you exercise,” says Reynolds. “Knowing that you will soon need to run, jump, move weights, etc., you should cool down slowly in warm clothing that covers your skin. Sweat on your skin cools the blood in your skin, so failing to keep skin covered chills the skin and creates tension in your tissues. Do some gentle jogging, biking, or walking, and then spend some time doing some gentle stretching: this allows your muscle fibers to stay loose and prevents tight, painful ‘knots’ from developing.”
3. Mistake: Drinking Alcohol Right After
If celebrating an epic workout is in order, it’s better to do so without a round of shots.
DON’T: Hitting up the bar right after a workout is not ideal, says Idalis Velazquez, C9 Champion Brand Ambassador and trainer and owner of IV Fitness in Florida. “Post-workout alcohol has a detrimental effect on your muscles’ ability to rebuild and repair. Drinking alcohol after your workout will slow your recovery and dehydrate your body,” says Velazquez. “Most drinks are also high in calories, which can make all of your hard work go to waste and sabotage your progress.”
DO: “After you exercise, your goal is to fully replace any fluid and electrolyte deficit, she says. “Make sure to rehydrate yourself after your workout to recover faster. You can sip on coconut water or enhance your water with electrolytes to assure your body absorbs those essential minerals. If you plan a night out with your friends post-gym, wait at least an hour before you drink since the majority of muscle recovery takes place within 30-60 minutes of physical activity.”
4. Mistake: Skipping Meals
While losing weight might be motivation to exercise, forgoing breakfast, lunch and/or dinner is not a good idea, says Dr. Dana Ryan, Manager of Sports Performance and Education at Herbalife.
DON’T: “After a workout you never want to skip a meal. Many people think that if they don’t eat after they workout it will help them lose weight, however this is not the case,” says Dr. Ryan. “While exercise is amazing for your health in the long term, it actually puts a lot of stress on the body. If you don’t properly refuel after you workout it can be detrimental to your body, making it hard for your body to recover and ultimately will lead to decreased results.”
DO: “Rather than starving yourself after a workout, help your body repair itself and build muscle by consuming a meal within 30-45 minutes of finishing exercise,” says the LA-based doc. “This meal should contain a minimum of 20-25 grams of high quality protein. Protein shakes are a quick and easy way to meet this need. If you are doing an intense cardio or endurance workout, aim for a 3 grams carbohydrate to 1-gram protein ratio post workout, but don’t stress too much about the perfect ratio. The most important thing is to make sure you eat something nutritious.”
5. Mistake: Overeating
While you shouldn’t skip meals, PUNCH Fitness Center Top Trainer Nuno Furtado says overeating can be bad for you, too.
DON’T: "One of the things that a lot of people do, that they shouldn't after a workout, is eat really poorly,” says Furtado. “Many people believe that because they have burned 1,000 calories, they can have a Lumberjack type of breakfast, or fattening meal. People do a lot of cardio and aerobics, which burns calories, but not much fat. Eating poorly after a workout can cancel out your hard work, and be detrimental to your progress in becoming fit."
DO: “You definitely want to have some protein afterwards,” says the NYC based Sokumaster. “Fish is a good choice."
6. Mistake: Not Washing Up After A Workout
Sweating out your pores can make you feel clean — but unless you actually cleanse after exercise, you’re likely spreading bacteria, says Herbalife’s Senior Director of Fitness Education Samantha Clayton.
DON’T: “A lot of people finish their workout and leave the gym before washing their hands and face. They may be heading home to jump straight into the shower, but in that short time can be spreading germs and increasing the chances of having an unnecessary breakout, or worse, increasing the chances of getting themselves and their family sick,” says Clayton. “Gyms are full of bacteria. If you are using dirty hands to touch your face, then touching door handles, car steering wheels etc., you are putting yourself at risk.”
DO: “The best approach, especially during flu season, is to wash your face and hands thoroughly before leaving the gym,” says Clayton. “ If you have small children at home, consider removing your gym clothing that has been in contact with mats and benches before touching your child.”
7. Mistake: Drinking Sugary Beverages
While replacing lost fluids is essential, there’s no need to sip sugary beverages during or after the gym, says Amanda Freeman, Founder/CEO of SLT.
DON’T: “Contrary to popular practice, most workouts don't merit a caloric sports drink like Gatorade or Powerade in order to rehydrate,” says Freeman.
DO: “Unless your workout is super-intense or lasts for hours, choose water or even coconut water as your source of hydration,” says Freeman. “A bottle of Gatorade can have as much as 300 calories vs. 0 calorie water.”