We’re all trying to get the most out of our workouts, embarking on adventurous new exercises, and spending hours and hours sweating it out in the gym — even when we’d much rather be doing anything else. So, how do we go about prolonging the benefits we’ve worked so hard for? How do we stop ourselves from plateauing, and as a result, losing interest in our exercise regimen? And, most importantly, how do we tap into the “after-burn” effect, which might help us burn fat for up to three days after working out?
I asked a variety of notable fitness professionals for their top tips on how to make those workout benefits last even longer, keeping your healthy lifestyle on track and your mind — and body — fully engaged.
As women, we can sometimes be scared to lift big, heavy weights, for fear of getting bulky. However, it’s worth remembering that weight training, like HIIT, is ideal for producing that elusive after-burn effect.
As Valerie Bisharat, wellness expert, certified personal trainer and women’s fitness specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine, advises, “Weight training — using substantial weight — increases lean mass, which is absolutely critical in looking ‘toned.'”
Buckley suggests mixing it up, so your body doesn’t get bored. “Lifting heavy works even better if you do a workout featuring lots of different types of lifts, hitting muscles across the whole body,” she says. If you work one muscle group and then move onto the next, “the body is going to work really hard — and take a longer time to recover, which lengthens the after-burn.”
What we do in the gym is, obviously, hugely important. But when it comes to food, the old adage applies: you simply cannot out-train a bad diet. If you’re thinking you can eat terribly all day, every day, kill yourself in the gym and still see results, forget about it. Robert Herbst, personal trainer, coach, and power-lifter suggests we eat “a balanced diet with the proper macro and micro nutrients. Good proteins, fats, and carbs, with no junk.”
As Ivana Chapman, personal trainer, nutrition coach, and founder of Lean365, explained, “Trying to fight the calories in/calories out equation can be a futile effort, if you’re trying to keep your workout benefits.” The more muscles you have, the “more metabolically active your body is.” Also, if you’ve got a bit of a sweet tooth, keep in mind too that “Your insulin sensitivity will also be increased, which makes you more likely to use the carbs you’re ingesting to build muscle rather than store fat.”
Drink more water
Regardless of your fitness level or long-term health goals, what you should definitely be drinking more of is good ol’ H2O. Make sure to get enough water throughout the day, too, not just during your workout. As Mitrea notes, “Just because the workout is over, it doesn’t mean that your body is done needing water and electrolytes.”
Water has a multitude of benefits, as Nina Niyri, trainer and co-owner of 4U Fitness, advises, “Drinking at least 64 ounces daily will assist your liver in doing its job: fat metabolism. It can also increase energy levels and assist in the recovery process.” It may sound obvious, but drinking less alcohol will help prolong your fitness benefits, too. As Niyiri explains, “Alcohol calories take priority in your body over other fuel sources. When you drink, fat-burning stops until you burn off those calories.”
Recover with food
Recovering from a workout is almost as important as doing the actual workout itself, and food is a huge part of that process. Although so-called high-protein smoothies are super popular right now, Mitrea advises staying away from them as the sugar contained therein “will be burned quickly and not give you energy for the rest of your day.” If you want to maximize your recovery, Herbst advises “giving the body the proper nutrients within two hours afterwards: protein to aid muscle repair, and carbohydrates to restore muscle glycogen.”
Ethan T. Schmidt, certified trainer and founder of GymBull, explains the science behind those elusive gains. “Your body doesn’t just grow stronger on its own: it needs the fuel that you put into your body during [and] after a workout to do so.” Tyler Spraul, certified strength and conditioning specialist, and head trainer at Exercise.com, says, “Even if you do nothing else, eating smart will be one of the best ways to hang onto your results the longest.”
Recover with rest
Another major part of recovery, that many of us neglect, is rest. It’s important not to work out every single day, as doing so risks long-term damage to our muscles, or even injury. (Even professional athletes take at least one rest day a week). Rest is imperative in the building of lean muscle, too. Franklin Antoian, founder of iBodyFit and one of SHAPE’s Top 50 Trainers in America, says, “Your body recoups and your muscles grow when you’re resting.”
Schmidt is even more emphatic. “Your body doesn’t benefit from working out,” he says, “It grows stronger, the heart and every other muscle, by recovering from working out.” While most people assume working out leads to more #gainz, this is not the case. Taking at least one rest day off each week “is the best way to make the gains that you earned in the gym last as long as possible.” Buckley further confirms that “it takes a lot of energy to get your body from the rested state to exercising intensely. Allowing recovery leverages this.”