What to Do After a Workout Within the Next 30 Minutes
In a perfect world, I'd end a workout feeling energized, my face glistening with dewy sweat. I'd have plenty of time for cool-down exercises and be able to zen out with a few yoga poses. Then I'd sip on a delicious delicious smoothie with just the right balance of protein and carbs, and waltz straight into the shower stocked with all my favorite bath products.
In reality, most workouts leave me taxed with a red face, dripping sweat, and in a hurry — to put it mildly. I maybe bend down to touch my toes and call it a wrap on my "cool-down stretches," before jumping into a cold shower and leave for the day with an empty stomach and wet hair. Not exactly the poster child for what to do after a workout.
The perfect post-gym routine is easier said than done, but if you're left wondering what to do after a workout or what to do first if you have limited time, there's help. First, know that the first 30 minutes or so after a workout are usually just as important as the workout itself. How you recover, refuel, and reenergize for life and all the future things you'll ask of your body deserve a top spot on your list of priorities.
Here are the top three things to do immediately(ish) after your workout. So, if you do nothing else, do this.
What to Do After a Workout
Step 1: Stretch and Roll
The first thing to do on your "what to do after a workout" agenda: 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, M.D., 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. (Related: What's More Important: Flexibility or Mobility?)
Dr. 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 (Buy It, $35, dickssportinggoods.com).
Step 2: Shower and Change Your Clothes
As tempting as it might be to just do a quick wipe down, you should shower after a workout — especially if you were thinking about staying in your workout clothes for a while. All that sweat from your workout will cause bacteria and yeast to build up, so if you don't shower, you don't rinse those bugs off and may have an increased risk of irritation and infection, Deirdre Hooper, M.D., a dermatologist at Audubon Dermatology in New Orleans, LA, previously told Shape.
But all is not lost if you can't shower after exercise. "If you can't wash, get out of wet clothes as soon as you can," says Neal Schultz, M.D., 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 Dr. 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, Dr. 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. (In those cases, make sure you're wearing athleisure that's perfectly acceptable to wear to the office, too.)
If you're especially worried about breakouts, it's actually much more important to cleanse your face before exercise rather than after your workout. Dr. 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, such as Sweat Skin-Balancing Cleansing Towelettes (Buy It, $7, anthropologie.com). (BTW, if you want to wear makeup during your workout, use these sweat-proof makeup products.)
Step 3: Refuel for Recovery
Last, but certainly not least on your plan for what to do after a workout is to make sure to eat within 30 minutes. "That will optimize recovery, help reduce muscle soreness, and help you perform better during your workout the following day," says Mitzi Dulan, R.D., 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. Though, FTR, you shouldn't bail on refueling just because you can't grab a bite until, say 45 minutes later. Just aim to get something in your stomach within two hours after your workout, as research shows that your body's ability to refill muscle stores decreases by 50 percent after that point.
Regardless of your goals, your body needs these macronutrients to refuel — specifically protein and carbohydrates. Some ready-to-eat options include Setton Farms Pistachio Chewy Bites, an Organic Valley Organic Fuel High Protein Milk Shake, or GoodFoods' Cranberry Almond Chicken Salad. You can also make something yourself such as a salad with chickpeas or an omelet with sauteed veggies.