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Feb 12, 2005
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Seven smart ways to get the most out of your exercise time.

Sometimes it seems the best part of exercising is when it's over. "Many people are so time-pressured, they just want to hit the shower and get back to the real world, so they bypass the post-workout period," says Cedric Bryant, Ph.D., chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise. But that's the prime time to nudge your muscles toward repair and refuel your sweaty body: Devote as little as 10 minutes to an after-workout workout, and you'll maximize your fitness investment. Here's how, step by step.

1. Cool down the cardio. This should be a no-brainer, but too many of us skip it. Don't simply skid to a halt when your workout ends; take another five minutes for an ultra-easy run, relaxed swim or slower walk. "The simplest, most effective cool-down is to keep doing the same conditioning activity but at a much lower intensity," says Dr. Bryant. "If you end a workout abruptly, blood will pool in your extremities, leading to light-headedness and dizziness."

2. Stretch it out. Research shows that it's far more productive to stretch after exercising than before, says Tricia Bland, a nutritionist and personal trainer in Bakersfield, California. You'll get the greatest range of motion, because your muscles are warm and supple. Focus on the area you just pushed the hardest (legs for runners, upper body for swimmers), and hold each stretch for 30 seconds. No time to spare? Cover several muscles -- hamstrings, hip extensors, inner and outer thighs, and lower back -- with a single move such as the modified hurdler. Sit on the floor with your left leg extended in front of you, right leg bent with the foot flat against the inside of your leg at knee level (so your legs form a 4). Reach your left arm toward your left foot and hold; repeat with your right leg extended. Do the move with your toes of that extended leg pointed out, then in, to stretch the lower legs as well.

3. Drink to your health. It's important to replenish every ounce of fluid you've perspired away. "If you remain dehydrated, you'll feel sluggish, fatigued, cranky, and headachy or nauseated all day," says Kim Brown, a sports nutritionist in San Diego. To figure out how much you need, weigh yourself before and after your workout; for every pound of weight you've lost, drink 16 ounces of fluid. But keep in mind that water -- even enhanced with vitamins -- is not ideal. "Sports drinks are best, because the sodium helps you absorb the water and the electrolytes make you less prone to muscle aches," says Brown. The small amount of carbohydrates in these beverages raises blood-sugar levels, which decrease during exercise. Your next best option? Juice. "Pineapple is great because it's absorbed into the bloodstream quickly, so blood sugar responds faster," says Brown. Orange and cranberry are also good options. Dilute juice with water to avoid gastrointestinal upset and keep calories in check, suggests physiologist Jennifer Sacheck, Ph.D., a research fellow at Harvard Medical School.

4. Eat ASAP. Exercise seems like a calorie-blasting twofer: It burns calories and suppresses appetite. But you should eat anyway. "Right after a workout, a muscle cell is like a sponge," says Bland. "You have a 30-minute window in which carbohydrates are best absorbed and used most efficiently." Properly fed muscles recover better, preventing soreness, and your still-revved up metabolism burns those calories faster than it will later. Also, if you put off eating, you might end up in what Brown calls the "mental bonk state" -- you're lightheaded and fatigued because your blood sugar has crashed.

5. Fill up on the right fuels. The ideal post-workout snack has a 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein. Our experts' favorite choices: yogurt with sliced bananas, a fruit smoothie, a meal-replacement shake, cereal and milk, a rice cake thinly spread with peanut butter and honey, a turkey sandwich on whole wheat, or trail mix. After sweating, food is better than supplements to get your nutrients, says Dr. Sacheck. One exception: vitamin E, which few edibles contain. (The best source: wheat germ.) Recent research reveals that this antioxidant reduces muscle damage from heavy exercise. Take vitamin E every other day with your after-workout munchies.

6. Soothe the soreness. A massage feels fantastic, but it won't affect aching muscles -- unless you ice them. Bryant suggests filling a paper cup with water and freezing it; rub the icy bulge in circles over the pained area. Swelling calls for RICE: rest, ice, compression and elevation. Apply an ice pack for 15 minutes every couple of hours on the day you're hurt; the next day, after the swelling has subsided, switch to heat. "Warmth increases circulation, and the blood flow brings nutrients to the injured tissue," explains Bland.

7. Rest and repeat. Exercise is like laundry: You're done for now, but there will be more tomorrow (or the day after, if you're weight training). How to keep inspired? "Look at exercise as a way to increase energy, control stress and get some personal time," says Bryant. It's not just another item on your to-do list but a well-deserved break with multiple paybacks for your body and mind.


Now this is really great advice Marisol!!!!!!!!!Thanks alot,i never stretch ,got to start!!

Oo! Thanks for posting! It is too easy to forget to do those things after working out.

Marisol, thanks for the post. It had some great points.

I actually eat some of those things listed after a workout and drink plenty of water, just like it says. Good to know I'm doing it right.


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