Although you might think you left it all on the court, after the final buzzer sounds, there is still more you need to do. The cool down phase has important implications for how your body responds to, and recovers from the stress that was just placed on it.
Immediately after finishing a game, it is important to gradually bring your heart rate down. If you stop activity suddenly, this can lead to blood pooling in your extremities and cause you to feel dizzy. Try to find easy activities such as walking or shooting free-throws for a few minutes to let your body adjust back to its normal state.
The cool down phase is the optimal time for stretching. After exercise, your muscles will be warm and more elastic, allowing you to get the maximal benefit in flexibility from stretching. You want to stretch all of the major muscle groups, holding each stretch for 25-30 seconds.
Wearing a compression garment after activity can provide benefit to your recovering muscles. While studies have not shown significant benefit for use during activity, compression garments have been shown to be effective during recovery. Wearing compression garments aid in the recovery of muscle and improve soreness and performance and help limit the damaging markers of muscle injury.
One of the most commonly used recovery aids to rejuvenate muscles is massage. While studies have not consistently demonstrated a benefit in recovery, massage can provide psychological benefits. However, it is important to note that massage can also have a negative effect on muscle strength immediately after it is performed, and should be reserved for the cool down phase. Foam rolling has been shown to decrease delayed muscle soreness and possibly improve performance, and can also be used as a recovery aid.
Proper nutrition is extremely important for the recovery of muscle after exercise. Two important macronutrients for muscle recovery are carbohydrates and protein. The immediate post-exercise period is the time the body will respond best to refueling. Muscle provides important energy to the body during exercise that needs to be replenished. It is recommended that you take in 0.5-0.7 g/kg of body weight of carbohydrate during the first 30 minutes after exercise, and then again 2-3 times every 2 hours after. Muscle also becomes damaged through exercise, and consuming protein after exercise will provide the necessary building blocks to repair, remodel and build new muscle.
Dr. David Wang is a sports medicine physician at Hospital for Special Surgery specializing in the treatment of acute and overuse injuries. His main clinical and research interests are overuse injuries, concussions, viscosupplementation injections, and the pre-participation physical exam. As a former collegiate baseball player, he also has a special interest in the care of baseball players.