Your fitness depends on more than the time you clock at the gym.

Ever feel like you’re not getting enough out of your workout routines at the gym, the barre, the park, or in your living room in front of a YouTube workout video? A healthy body is more than muscles, and an effective workout routine depends on more than the time you spend sweating it out. Follow these tips before and after your workout routines to get the most out of your runs, squats, or prancercise (no judgement).

01. Get enough z’s.

It may seem counterintuitive that resting would help you get more out of your workout, but you can’t use energy if you don’t have it. Recovery time is crucial to consistent progress. Running expert Hal Hingdon says, “it is during the rest period (the 24 to 72 hours between hard bouts of exercise) that the muscles actually regenerate and get stronger...If you're constantly fatigued, you will fail to reach your potential.” When you’re tired, it is more difficult to maintain proper form in activities like yoga, pilates, and kickboxing, which means you are more likely to get injured. Not sleeping well also makes it tougher to even get to your workout. Exercising should be a treat you look forward to, not a chore.

02. Eat carbs and protein.

You may have heard that chocolate milk is the ideal post-workout recovery drink, and it can be, depending on what type of workout routines you’re doing. (I’d argue that chocolate milk is the ideal anytime drink, but science has yet to prove that.) The carbohydrates, protein and high water content of chocolate milk makes it a good choice for activities that “stress high endurance levels and constant, sustained movement,” like cycling, running, soccer, or swimming. It should be consumed within 20-30 minutes of your cool down. 

For more controlled strength and flexibility-training exercises like high-intensity interval training, Pilates, or yoga, your body is still in recovery mode after your workout. So wait at least 15 minutes before drinking beverages high in anti-inflammatory antioxidants like berries, papaya, ginger, and green tea. And wait at least 30 minutes before eating foods high in carbs and protein and low in sugar like Greek yogurt, egg whites, chicken breast, sweet potatoes, and asparagus.

Pre-workout fuel is important, too. Experts say it’s important to have light food in your system (toast or oatmeal) before a morning workout. Looking for a workout-friendly snack before bed? Try easily digestible greek yogurt or cottage cheese for a dose of casein, a protein that research shows stimulates “muscle protein synthesis and improving whole-body protein balance during postexercise overnight recovery.”

03. Hydrate!

My favorite kickboxing instructor always urges us to keep the water near as we sweat it out in class. After class, the recommendation is even stronger that we continue to drink water throughout the day. While it's common to lose 6-10% of body weight in sweat loss during a tough workout, research shows that body water loss as little as 2% results in decreased physical performance. Your workout may feel harder, and you may not be able to push yourself as hard if you don’t replace those fluids right away. Proper hydration starts before you hit the gym and continues throughout the rest of your day.

Getting the most out of the time you put into your workout means being aware of what your body needs outside of the hour you’re focused on fitness. Exercise is only one element of a balanced and healthy lifestyle. When your workouts are on the same team as your sleep, nutrition, and hydration plans, you’re sure to score a winning combination. 

Photo Credit: The Kitchen McCabe