How Water Helps Muscles Recover From Exercise

Water is a powerful tool in muscle recovery.
i Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images

If you've run yourself ragged pounding the pavement or treadmill, you might be tempted to reward yourself with a milkshake or soda. But water is the best thing you can drink to immediately recover from exercise and aid in your long-term muscle health. Save the sugary drinks and snacks for a movie night or midday snack, and focus on drinking plenty of water before and after any exercise routine.

Water and Exercise

    Anyone who's ever exercised knows it can be miserable when you're thirsty, but there are important reasons why. Your body is made primarily of water, and water helps carry nutrients, electrolytes and virtually every other substance in your body to your muscles and organs. As you exercise, your heart rate increases so your muscles can get a quick supply of blood and oxygen. But if you don't drink enough water, this process becomes less efficient. The result can be muscle pain, spasms, cramps and slowed muscle growth.


    If you're getting a healthy workout, you're probably sweating. Although sweating helps to keep you cool, it also robs your body of water, and you'll need to replenish this supply after working out. If you don't drink water after working out, you could become dehydrated. This can slow the delivery of nutrients to your muscles, which slows muscle growth and can even cause pain and injuries.

Delayed Muscle Soreness

    Delayed onset muscle soreness is muscle pain that occurs 12 to 24 hours after exercise. It's particularly common among people new to fitness or who begin a more intense exercise routine, and can last up to 72 hours. A 2005 study published in "Journal of Athletic Training" found that dehydration can increase the severity of delayed onset muscle soreness. In some people, dehydration may even cause this muscle pain. If you drink water before and after exercise, though, you might be able to prevent this painful condition.

Muscle Repair

    Water plays a role in both muscle repair and growth. When you exercise, particularly if the exercise is intense, you might experience minor muscle injuries or tears. To fix these injuries, your body needs to synthesize protein, which is the building block of muscle. If your cells don't have enough water in them, protein synthesis can be delayed. If you're dehydrated, your body may even start breaking down muscle tissue, which can undermine your fitness goals and make your muscles weaker.

How Much?

    There's no set guideline for how much water to drink right after exercise. At minimum, you should drink water until you no longer feel thirsty. Sports nutritionist Nancy Clark recommends drinking 4 to 6 ounces every 15 to 20 minutes during and immediately after your exercise if you sweat a lot. While it's possible to drink too much water, it's more likely that you'll drink too little. But if you feel bloated or nauseous, you might be drinking too much. Don't forget about drinking water throughout the day, even when you're not exercising. Many physiologists recommend six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day.

the nest