You just had a great workout. Your legs burn, your heart rate is up, and you're toweling off all that icky sweat. What's next? Believe it or not, the next few hours after that workout are really important, as it's the time where your body needs some steady recovery in order to repair those damaged muscles.

When you exercise, you put strain and stress on your muscles, creating little tears with every squat jump, burpee, and push up you do, says Rebecca Gahan, C.P.T. and owner and founder of Kick@55 Fitness in Chicago. As you're breaking down muscle, you'll need to give your body the repair it needs to build that muscle back up, and then take it even further to strengthen and develop for leaner definition, she explains.

So, if you're making any post-workout mistakes, especially on a habitual basis, you're going to weaken your muscles and be more at risk for soreness and even injury, over time, she says. What's more, if you're putting in all that work in the gym, you'll want to see results! The only way to do that is to make sure you use your post-workout time wisely to better your body and performance.

Here are the 4 worst things you can do after working out.

Not Eating The Right Foods

"Your body needs fuel after working out in order to repair itself and build lean muscle," says Gahan. The right combo? You'll need protein, healthy carbohydrates, and a little healthy fat. (Meaning: avocado, chia seeds, or nuts, not a double bacon cheeseburger and French fries.)

Gahan recommends making a protein shake for that immediate reboot in protein and lost energy stores, so the muscles can start repairing themselves immediately. Or, you can find it in a good recovery snack, like a yogurt with nuts and berries, or peanut butter on a banana. And, if it's right before a larger meal, as opposed to a snack, you can easily throw some grilled chicken on a hearty salad to really get in those powerful nutrients.

Not Eating, Period

Gahan also cautions against ditching food altogether. You might feel as though it'd negate your workout by taking in all the calories you've just torched, but you're wrong. Your body needs to replenish the electrolytes, fluids, and glycogen that's lost from working out, so "you'll need to eat something within ideally 30 minutes to an hour after working out in order to take advantage of your body's prime window for repairing damaged muscles and maximizing fitness gains."

When you don't eat, your body goes into starvation, or fasting, mode, and it'll only break down muscles further, she says. You'll also need to drink plenty of water, as you're likely dehydrated after exercising and have lost a lot of sweat, she says.

Not Stretching After

If you take a class and have a one minute stretch after, that's not enough! The point is to go home and do some extra stretching on your own, and preferably with a foam roller or massage roller, too.

"When you don't stretch, you can't release tension in your muscles, and this can create a build up of tightness, which can lead to chronic soreness and even overuse injury in some," says Gahan.

All you need is about 15 minutes a day to really get into those muscles and find relief.

Staying In Your Workout Clothes

If you're walking around for hours after your workout in sweaty, dirty clothing, you could set yourself up for acne, yeast infections, and of course, some real bad body odor. So, you'll want to ditch those clothes asap and put on something fresh. (And, here are the best workout clothes for every exercise.)

It's always best to shower post-workout as soon as possible to get those germs off your body and clean your skin, but if you can't, use cleansing wipes on your face, neck, back, groin area, and any other spots that got super sweaty, or wash with some soap and water. Then change into a new set of clothing, so you won't be exposed to the bacteria residing on that dirty, moist sports bra, she says.

Here's more on what staying in your workout clothes could do to your skin...

About the Author

Isadora Baum

Isadora Baum is a freelance writer, author, and certified health coach. She writes for various magazines, such as Bustle, SHAPE, Men's Health, Women's Health, Health, Prevention, POPSUGAR, Runner's World, Reader's Digest, and more. She is also the author of 5-Minute Energy with Simon & Schuster. She can't resist a good sample, a killer margarita, a new HIIT class, or an easy laugh. Beyond magazines, she helps grow businesses through blogging and content marketing strategy. To read her work or inquire, please visit her website: