The first 30 minutes following a sweat session are crucial for ensuring recovery and preventing breakouts. Here’s how to ace your post-workout routine
In a perfect world, I’d end a workout feeling energized, my face glistening with a kiss of dewy sweat. Because my life isn’t busy or stressful at all, I’d have plenty of time to cool down and zen out with a few yoga poses. Then I’d sip on a delicious, blended-to-order smoothie with just the right balance of protein and carbs, and waltz straight into an open shower stocked with all my favorite bath products so I’d never need to haul them along in my gym bag.
In reality, I immediately start stressing about all the stuff I have to do post-workout, so I fake-stretch on the mats for roughly 34 seconds and sprint to the locker room to nab a shower, where the wait is longer than at the DMV. So instead of using the generic bath products that make my hair and skin drier than the Sahara, I trek home in soggy clothes, eat nothing, and rush to get on with my day.
The perfect post-gym routine is easier said than done. But how you handle those 30 minutes immediately following a sweat session is just as important as the workout. Since we know it’s impossible to snack, stretch, and shower all at once, we recruited three top experts to weigh in and prioritize your post-sweat session routine—so you don’t have to.
The very first and most important thing you should do following a workout is stretch while your muscles are still warm. “You need to stretch before the muscles have time to cool down, which takes 30-40 minutes,” says Jordan D. Metzl, MD, a doctor of sports medicine at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. “When the muscle cools, it contracts, and if you try to loosen it up, you can cause injury,” he says. Metzl recommends at least five minutes of stretching after a workout followed by five minutes of ironing out the kinks with a foam roller for proper recovery. "Ten minutes total is realistic for most people." Try the Trigger Point Therapy GRID Foam Roller ($40, tptherapy.com). (See 6 Good Reasons You Need to Stretch for more convincing.)
Next, ditch your soggy sports bra and tights, even if you don’t have time to shower. “If you can’t wash, get out of wet clothes as soon as you can,” says Neal Schultz, MD, a dermatologist in New York City and the founder of BeautyRx Skincare. “They trap moisture that encourages the growth of germs, bacteria, fungus and yeast, which could invite a skin infection or cause breakouts,” says Schultz. It won’t make a difference whether you change within two, five or 10 minutes, but don’t wait longer than a half hour.
If for some reason you can’t shower or you forget extra clothes, Schultz suggests dampening a towel with water and patting your body, then pat with a dry towel to soak up as much moisture as possible in a pinch. “Bacteria doesn’t stand a chance of multiplying if you remove the moisture,” he says.
If you’re especially worried about breakouts, it’s much more important to cleanse your face before exercise rather than after. Schultz suggests removing your makeup and washing your face or swiping with a cleansing wipe. Try tossing something that’s easy to use on-the-go in your gym bag, like Beauty RX Exercise Kit ($12, beautyrx.com). (Try The Best Sweat-Proof Makeup too.)
Last—but certainly not least—make sure to take in some food within 30 minutes of your workout. “That will optimize recovery, help reduce muscle soreness, and help you perform better during your workout the following day,” says Mitzi Dulan, RD, author of The Pinterest Diet: How to Pin Your Way Thin. “The 30-minute window is the peak time for potential to start rebuilding and replenishing muscles,” she says.
Pack a snack in your gym bag that aligns with your goals. Dulan suggests aiming for about 200 calories with about a 2:1 or 1:1 ratio of carbs to protein if you are trying to lose weight. If you are training for an event or wanting to maintain your current weight, aim for 300-400 calories with a ratio of 3:1 carbs to protein. Some options include: two Setton Farms Pistachio Chewy Bites, an Organic Valley Organic Fuel High Protein Milk Shake, or GoodFoods' Cranberry Almond Chicken Salad. (Or try one of these 5 Great Packaged Post-Workout Snacks.)