At the gym, there’s only one rule that matters: Don’t judge. Everyone has a different starting point. Everyone has his or her own reasons for working out.
Yours might be training for that marathon on your bucket list. The woman doing heel lifts might be climbing a mountain. The guy running laps could be a father simply staying healthy for his family.
Whatever your reason, don’t let those hard hours at the gym go to waste. Just like you plan your workout routine, getting the most out of your workout means planning your approach and recovery as well.
Elevate Your Workout
To maximize your time at the gym:
1. Grab a pre-workout bite.
Have you ever felt your blood sugar crash in the middle of a set of squats? It’s not fun, and it might be the end of your workout for the day. Eating carbs beforehand can boost glycogen stores in the muscles and liver, helping you maintain high-intensity exercise for longer.
How soon before exercising should you eat? Ideally, eat a small meal with carbs, protein, and fat two to three hours before you get to the gym. If that won’t work, eat 45 to 60 minutes beforehand, but be sure to grab something light that contains carbs and protein. Granola bars make great pre-workout snacks when you’re on the go.
2. Don’t skip the warm up.
Just as you wake up your brain before taking an exam, your muscles need to be primed for exercise. Before you ever pick up a weight, get your heart pumping. One study of male cyclists showed that those who warmed up at 70% intensity boosted their body’s ability to absorb oxygen during the actual ride.
Although I’m partial to running and cycling, the exercise you choose for your warm up isn’t as important as the duration and intensity. Take a Goldilocks approach: Exercise at 50% to 80% of your maximum heart rate for 10 to 15 minutes. Go longer or harder, and you risk cutting into the core of your workout.
3. Stay hydrated.
Dehydration destroys workouts. If you’re an endurance athlete, dehydration can drop your performance by as much as 60%. Once you’ve lost 2% of your body weight in water, fatigue, heat stress, and declining motivation will start to set in. Rehydrating can entirely reverse those effects, but your best bet is to stay hydrated from the start.
An hour before your workout, drink one to two cups of water. Down another cup at the 30-minute mark. During your workout, drink at least a half cup every 15 to 20 minutes. High-intensity workouts can double your fluid needs; adjust your intake depending on how much you sweat. And despite the claims sports drinks make, plain old water is the most hydrating thing you can drink.
4. Recover right.
Exercise builds muscle by first breaking it down. To improve your muscle tone and strength, you need to give your body plenty of time to rebuild. If you’re just starting out, limit your gym sessions to two or three times per week. Even if you’re a seasoned athlete, you need at least one rest day each week.
Although they’re no substitute for rest, certain foods and supplements can speed recovery. Consuming high-protein foods within an hour of your workout can give your muscles a jump on the repair process, while supplements like CBD can fight inflammation that impairs muscle recovery. A review of 132 studies on multiple sclerosis patients suggests that the cannabis compound can reduce muscle pain, reduce inflammation, and increase mobility. Although research is ongoing, both topical and oral CBD are effective for athletes.
No matter how or why you exercise, you’ll get more out of it if you care for your body beforehand and afterward. That means eating right, staying hydrated, and easing into your workout, but it also means giving yourself time to rest. Ask any personal trainer, and they’ll tell you: Recovery is key.