1. Do: Drink Water
It’s easy to leave the gym and be tempted by the coffee shop around the corner. The coffee might smell amazing, or you might crave that diet soda, but just say “no” to temptation. The first thing your body needs after any workout is to rehydrate, and that means plain old water. So buy yourself a cool water bottle after exercise.
2. Do: Get Some R&R
Exercise, as much as it’s energizing, is also tough and depleting on the body—rest and relaxation are key. Muscles take a lot of strain so it’s important to honor how your body feels and not to push through to the next thing. Your body will naturally recover when given the chance.
3. Do: Go Bananas
After a workout, your body needs to replenish nutrients within 15 to 30 minutes. Take healthy whole-food snacks with you so you don’t need to hunt them down when you’re all burnt out or wait to get home to cram veggies into your blender. Bananas are one of the best foods for post-exercise restoration. They’re high in healthy carbohydrates to restore your body’s levels of glycogen and help heal sore muscles. They’re packed with potassium, a key form of electrolytes to prevent cramps and muscle spasms. Plus, they’re perfectly wrapped for easy transport!
4. Do: Breathe!
Sounds simple right? We know shallow breathing or holding your breath makes a workout even harder. Post-exercise, your body needs time to return to a resting state—and so does your breathing. Be extra mindful of the oxygen that is pumping through your system. Take your time and allow yourself to breathe deeply until it returns to normal.
5. Don’t: Overload
During your workout adrenaline rush, you might be tempted throw yourself back into your long to-do list. Racing out of the gym and heading straight into a fluorescent-lit office isn’t the best way to restore your nervous system. If you’ve given yourself zero time to recover, you run the risk of burning out. Get in the habit of coming down slowly after exercise. Take your time. Shower. Relax. The important things will still be there an hour later. After a cool-down, everything will feel more manageable.
6. Don’t: Eat the Wrong Snacks
Those snacks on display at the checkout counter—like chocolate bars and sugar-coated nuts—are generally pretty unhealthy. Don’t fall for them after a workout unless it’s a nut bar that’s low in sugar with protein and vitamins. These snacks can be alluring when you’re feeling happy with yourself. Maybe you don’t usually allow yourself but you will now, because, well, you just had such a good workout. Grabbing a small treat is not going to damage you—it’s just chocolate. But it can set up a bad habit for your health.
7. Don’t: Refuel with Empty Carbohydrates
When you exercise, your heart beats faster, you breathe harder, and your muscles use more glucose (sugar in your bloodstream.) All this can lower your blood sugar and leave you feeling shaky, especially if you skipped eating for a few hours before your workout. But don’t fall prey to the empty carbohydrates lure. Sure, all those sweet pastries and bagels and croissants will temporarily spike your sugar back up, giving you a short burst of energy. But then it’ll drop like a rock, down even lower than before. So just say no to empty carbohydrates. They are just that—empty, Refined, Processed, Sugary. And they contain nothing to replenish your depleted nutrients post-exercise.
8. Don’t: Revert to Laziness
You know that mindset you get into after a workout? You’ve earned the right to take the elevator instead of the stairs, push the cart out the grocery store instead of carrying bags, or find the closest parking spot to the entrance to avoid walking. The problem is you’ll get in the habit of doing it not just after a workout, but all the time. It’s counterproductive to a healthy, active lifestyle. So even after a strenuous workout (once you’ve rehydrated and eaten a healthy snack) take the stairs, carry the bag, and park wherever there’s a spot. On days when you don’t have the time or energy to make it to an exercise class, it may be the only exercise your body gets that day.