Exercise takes a lot out of your body but that’s kind of the point; by working your muscles hard, they grow back bigger and stronger than before. Keep repeating this process and over a period of months and years and your muscle size, strength and performance will improve significantly.

Training hard in the gym is an important part of building muscle size and strength but, the reality is, training breaks your muscles down and it is only while you recover that they get bigger and stronger. That means that, for as much time and effort you put into training, you have to also emphasize recovery.

Here are FIVE ways you can boost muscle recovery that will ensure you get the most from your workouts…

1. Post-workout nutrition

After your workout, your muscles are severely depleted; picture them as dried-out sponges. Their primary fuel, something called glycogen, is all but used up and you won’t be able to train as hard or as long until these glycogen stores have been replenished. Glycogen is derived from carbohydrate so to ensure rapid restocking of your glycogen stores, you should consume a high carbohydrate snack, drink or meal immediately after training. Ideally, this feeding should consist of fast-acting carbohydrates to ensure rapid restocking of glycogen; white bread, white rice, white pasta and dried fruit being ideal choices.

In addition to fast acting carbohydrates, you also need to ingest protein straight after exercise to enhance anabolism (muscle growth) and stop catabolism (muscle break down). Eggs, tuna or chicken are all good choices but if you are in a hurry, a whey protein shake is ideal.

The combination of fast acting carbohydrate and protein ensures your muscles get everything they need for rapid recovery.

2. Sleep

Sleep is an essential part of muscle recovery. In fact, the majority of your recovery happens when you are pushing out the zzzz! When you sleep, anabolic hormone production increases so adequate sleep is essential for maximal recovery and muscle growth. Aim for at least 8-hours of sleep per night and consider a 15-30 minute daily “power-nap” for maximal recovery and anabolic hormone production.

3. Stretching

Stretching, especially after or between strenuous workouts, can cut down on muscle soreness and enhance recovery. Stretching, also and unsurprisingly, prevents muscle shortening and tightness. While you don’t need to have the flexibility of an elite gymnast, regular stretching will enhance recovery and can also reduce your risk of injury providing you do not force or bounce your stretches. For a bonus workout recovery, try using a foam roller or getting a sports massage!

4. Light workouts

It can be very tempting to rest a muscle group completely after a hard workout – especially if it is really sore. However lack of activity can actually harm and delay recovery. Instead, try a light workout for the same muscles the day after your hard workout to facilitate recovery and reduce muscle soreness. For example, after a hard leg workout, do some easy sets of light squats and lunges as part of the following day’s warm up or, the day after a heavy chest workout, do some easy sets of press-ups and dips. This will pump blood and nutrients in and waste products out of the target muscles which will enhance recovery.

5. Supplements

The key to speedy recovery is increasing nutrient flow into your muscles and reducing inflammation. Several supplements can help with this. Vitamin C and fish oils have been shown to reduce inflammation and may reduce muscle soreness and enhance recovery. Creatine, a vital ingredient in the synthesis of ATP, an important energy source during exercise, has also been shown to speed up recovery between sets, exercises and workouts. Other beneficial recovery-boosting supplements include branch chain amino acids, glutamine and ginseng.

If you are giving it your all in the gym but all but ignoring recovery you are missing a big part of the muscle building equation. Don’t undermine your progress by ignoring recovery; if you optimize your post-workout recovery regimen, you’ll maximize your workout results.