A Guide to Workout Recovery: Nutrition and Physical Modalities

Person receiving a massage

How you recover is just as important as the workout. We’ve all heard it, but do we practice it? I’m guilty of skipping a stretch post-workout and not getting enough rest, but I consider myself a connoisseur of self-care and recovery. I’m always up for trying and experimenting with modalities and nutrition products to help my body feel—and function—at its best.

Like most things in the nutrition and fitness world, recovery is highly individual. What works for me may not be the key recovery component for you, and I find that it’s trial and error.

I wouldn’t quite call my experiments “expertise” but here are some of the tools I’ve tested:

  • Massage: Massage is hands-down my favorite recovery method. While a massage gun is helpful, I’m a fan of an intense deep tissue session with a licensed masseuse (when budget and timing permit). No need for a fancy spa, there are tons of legitimate physical therapy locations that offer therapeutic massage.
  • Foam Rolling: I wish I loved my foam roller more. I use it as a stretching tool and roll out my back when I’ve been sitting for too long. It never dawns on me to dig into my quads or hamstrings—maybe I need to work on this!
  • Infrared Sauna: The jury is still out in terms of research supporting infrared saunas, but I do enjoy a good sweat. I’ve yet to try the blanket version but have spent 45 minutes relaxing in a slightly claustrophobic (and anxiety-inducing) box. I was weirdly focused on whether the door could lock itself…but it’s something I’d recommend on a rest day, not after a tough workout (you may be at increased risk of dehydration).
  • Acupuncture: This restorative practice is magic! I swear by acupuncture to keep my muscles—and mind—balanced and calm. While there are many excellent practitioners, seek out an acupuncturist who is knowledgeable about your sport or hobby so they know exactly what to address.
  • Compression: I throw on compression socks after a long run and relax on my couch. They’re not always comfortable, but they’re effective.

Other things I’ve tried: rolfing, gua sha, ice baths, vitamin infusions, cryotherapy, dry needling, acupressure mats, physical therapy, and electric stimulation, to name a few.

It’s worth noting that these methods vary in price and accessibility, which can feel like it limits your options. But good news! The easiest (and most cost-effective) way to recover? Sleep. In my opinion, the best way to recover is to rest, and that means getting in your seven to nine hours. My other go-to recovery modality? Cooking. Yes, how you feed your muscles will influence how they function. 

At the moment, I’m not training for a marathon or performing crazy strength sessions, so my macronutrient needs are pretty consistent from day to day. However, when I’m in training mode, you’ll definitely find me upping my intake of complex carbs (i.e. more Ezekiel toast, sweet potatoes, and oats), adding extra protein, and focusing on hydration. 

As a dietitian, people always ask me if there is one supplement I recommend for athletes. My response? Don’t waste your money on expensive products with empty promises. Do your homework (and speak with a professional) and judiciously purchase supplements if they make sense for you. As an aside, the only “recovery” supplement I actively invest in is collagen protein, which adds a whopping 20 grams of protein to my daily smoothie.

I’m always curious to discover and explore new ways to work out—and recover. If you’re new to working out or want to prioritize your recovery, this guide is for you. Learn about everything from active recovery to the science behind cold water immersion. Figure out what to eat, and when, depending on how you exercise. Remember, there’s not one right way, so take some time to see what feels right for you.

Eliza Savage

Associate Editorial Director

By Eliza Savage, MS, RD, CDN
Eliza Savage, MS, RD, CDN, RYT is the Associate Editorial Director at Verywell Fit, a registered dietitian, and a published author. She is also a registered yoga teacher and fitness enthusiast who has completed 2 full marathons and more than 25 half marathons.