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Pre- and Post-Workout Routines to Optimize Your Results

Almost any activity will provide benefits to your cardiovascular system and overall well-being. Doing just 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week can help you live a longer, healthier life. However, for maximum results in strength training, weight loss and muscle gain, here are a few things you can do before and after your gym sessions.

What to Eat and Drink Before Your Workout

Never overlook the importance of adequate hydration. You need electrolytes, vitamins and minerals along with macronutrients, but water is crucial to metabolizing it all. Since working out makes you sweat, you need a little extra water to keep your energy levels up; if you find yourself depleted halfway through the session or if your urine is darker than lemonade, you aren’t getting enough. Specialized pre-workout supplement blends can help you fuel your workouts. Most contain a combination of sugar, caffeine and other stimulants, so read labels carefully. If you have a sensitivity to any of the ingredients, either find a different formula or start with half a serving. Any meal you eat prior to working out should include lean protein such as eggs, chicken or fish, and whole grains like brown rice or oatmeal.

What to Do Before Your Workout

Sleep is the key to making health gains. Be sure you get adequate amounts of sleep each night—that means seven to nine hours for most adults—to fuel you through your workout and your day. Workout clothes should offer comfort, support and flexibility; be sure fabrics are breathable and will wick away sweat to keep you as cool and dry as possible. Your focus and needs change from sport to sport; for running you want shoes designed to offer optimal cushion but for basketball you need more lateral support. Before diving into vigorous exercise, warm up for at least a few minutes. Move major muscle groups enough to raise your heart rate by 10-15%, and warm up joints with light stretches that emphasize range of motion. This will improve performance during the workout and reduce your chance of injury.

What to Eat and Drink After Your Workout

You work your body hard during a workout so it needs to be replenished afterward. This includes water and other nutrients. Many people like to consume branched chain amino acids during and after workouts; the bcaa boost may drive muscle development and aid in muscle recovery. Other good post-workout snacks include trail mix, protein shakes and energy bars—the combination of protein and carbohydrates will help you restore energy and rebuild muscles. For those avoiding carbs, cheese and jerky pack a powerful protein punch. If you will be eating a full meal within an hour you should limit yourself to a small snack like low-fat milk (chocolate is okay), fresh carrots, grapes or a medium apple.

What to Do After Your Workout

Deep, sustained stretches following a workout can help you attain a greater degree of flexibility and allow muscles to cool down gently. Start the cool-down period with standing stretches; if you position your head below your heart suddenly while your heart rate is too high you may experience dizziness or pass out. Using a foam roller can help you stretch better than you could without aid, as well as increase blood flow to joints, muscles and connective tissue. This helps prevent cramping and muscle soreness in the days following a strenuous workout. Massage can help speed up muscle recovery, in part by thwarting the cellular mechanisms that produce inflammation. Target specific areas or indulge in a full-body massage if you have the time. Knowing you will receive pampering soon after a workout session may help keep you motivated to tough out the most strenuous segments.