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The hateful 8: worst things to do after a workout

Crossfit woos on floor
Photo: Victor Freitas /Pexels

So you’ve done the right thing and knocked over your training – now don’t undo the health benefits or the hard work by indulging in any of these workout-wreckers.

Dom Cadden

Drink alcohol

There is so much wrong about drinking even a moderate amount of alcohol after sport or training. Alcohol deadens pain, which can hide the signs of an injury or strain. Alcohol increases the bleeding and swelling around soft tissue injuries. It can cause dehydration, especially with concentrated drinks such as spirits in small glasses, full-strength beers and wine. Dehydration makes it difficult for your body to heal from injuries or muscle soreness and hinders the absorption of nutrients. A Massey University (New Zealand) study showed that while a couple drinks doesn’t systemically weaken unexercised muscle, it is enough to impair the normal recovery processes in exercised muscle. Another study shows that heavier drinking (7 beers) suppressed muscle protein synthesis, which we need for muscle repair and rebuilding.

Skimp on sleep

Sleep may be the best recovery tool you have – the more you train, the more you Your body repairs itself during sleep, as this is when important hormones such as testosterone and growth hormone are secreted and protein synthesis for muscles takes place. A 2013 meta analysis published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning suggested a 30-minute nap in the early afternoon can help offset a sleep deficit and speed recovery. If unavoidable factors eat into sleeping time, it may be best to cut back on training time or intensity temporarily.

Touch your face

If you’ve been touching other people, gym or other sports equipment, or balls (the playing kind or your own), then your hands might be a haven for bacteria and viruses. Touching cold metal – so that’s weight training gear especially – is a very common way to transmit common viruses. Use tissues or paper towels if you must touch your eyes, nose or mouth, and wash your hands thoroughly as soon as you’re done training.

Rely on supplements

Are you overdoing it with the pre-workout?

Real food should be your first choice – supplements are a gamble and overuse encourages laziness and ignorance about nutrition and how to get it from foods. The more we learn about nutrition, the more we learn that foods are more than just the sum of their constituent vitamins and minerals and so on – there is often a synergy between micronutrients or benefits from the way a micronutrient naturally occurs in a compound. If you overdo the supps, you can overload and stress your immune or digestive system, causing degradation instead of healing. By the way – you don’t need to force down that protein shake or litre of milk within minutes after training if you’re going home to a balanced meal of protein, fats and carbs! Same goes for that pre-training protein shake or horse stimulant you’re taking – the other day I saw a guy mix-up and savour his massive soft-chub-guy-seeking-shortcut-to-ripped drink, right there in front of the barbell rack in peak time at a gym. Probably counted it as part of his training time, too.

Scoff down ibuprofen

Don’t take ibuprofen immediately after (or before, or during) training just because you think you’re going to get sore. Some research suggests that taking ibuprofen after a workout could actually screw up your recovery by hampering protein synthesis. On top of this, a 2017 Stamford University study on ultramarathon runners showed that ibuprofen can alter renal (kidney) function when the body is dehydrated, resulting in poor fluid transport and restriction can lead to dehydration, hyponatremia and even kidney failure. Ibuprofen use immediately after or during exercise has also been associated with elevated indicators of inflammation and cell damage. Best to wait until several hours (or next day) after exercise, when you are well hydrated. Over-the-counter ibuprofen is recommended for use of only a few days at time.

Photo: Bruce Mars / Pexels

Stay in sweaty clothes

Skip the fungal infections, body acne and general stinkiness by showering and/or changing out of the sweat-soaked gear as soon as possible. Even in multi-day ultramarathons when runners may not shower every day, runners still frequently change clothes and use anti-bacterial wipes, you know, down there, where it really counts (and their feet). Avoid training in cotton, which traps in moisture. And your training is not critical international news – NO-ONE requires you to post all about it immediately and block gym equipment, hold up friends or get in the way of people trying to use the changeroom.  

Reward yourself with food

That 400-calorie workout isn’t an excuse to have a 370-calorie muffin. As you exercise more, many nutrient needs go up, so your priority is to meet these needs, not pat yourself on the back with a pastry. Save the treats as a weekly event or for special achievements.

Too much or improper foam rolling

Foam rollers are an aid to help with general muscle soreness, stretching and warming up, but many people go to town with them, pummeling themselves and doing themselves damage. For a start, using them straight after training or going too hard can cause muscle or nerve trauma that actually inhibits recovery or causes a contusion (corkie) or swelling. Foam rolling is designed for superficial skeletal muscles such as glutes, hamstrings, calves and quadriceps, rather than the core or deeper back muscles.


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