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  • The Real Reason to Drink Water After a Massage

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    Make sure to drink plenty of water after a massage to flush out all the toxins.

    In massage school I was taught that massage worked the trapped lactic acid and other toxins out of your muscles and that we needed to drink lots of water afterward to flush it all out of the body so that we wouldn’t hurt the next day. I was also taught that lactic acid is made by the body when our muscles are running low on oxygen, and that by the time we finish panting after heavy exercise, it’s all been converted back to the basic building blocks from whence it came. For some reason, the impossibility of those two concepts both being true didn’t occur to me until several years after I graduated from massage school.

    Lactic Acid Buildup

    Ok, this myth is persistent, and it has to stop. Exercise physiologists have known for decades that lactic acid is fuel for the body, not a toxin. When our oxygen supply drops, as it does during strenuous exercise, our body converts glycogen to lactic acid and uses that as an energy or fuel source. Lactic acid doesn’t actually cause muscles to fatigue during exercise or any other time. On the contrary, it actually delays the onset of muscle fatigue which prevents you from hurting as bad as you otherwise would. When you stop exercising, your liver converts any leftover lactic acid back to glycogen.

    Say it after me… Lactic acid does not make me hurt. It gives me energy. It does not get trapped in my muscles.

    Flush Those Toxins

    Have you ever asked someone what toxins are trapped in our muscles? I have. So far, no one’s been able to give me a satisfactory answer. Usually they mumble something about lactic acid (see above) and “other metabolic wastes.” When I ask which metabolic wastes, I get a bunch of non-answers like “all kinds of them.” Really? That’s the best you’ve got for me?

    I’m gonna give you a quick anatomy and physiology lesson today. I promise it won’t hurt… Much. This is gonna be the anatomy version of tl;dr (too long; didn’t read).

    You have blood vessels running through your entire body. Some are positively huge, like your aorta, others are very small, like your capillaries, and the rest, your arteries and veins for instance, are somewhere in between. Half of your blood vessels bring nutrients to your organs, muscle, and other tissues, and the other half remove the metabolic waste products that are left behind when your body’s done using the nutrients. One of the nutrients they bring around to all parts of your body is oxygen, and one of the waste products they remove is carbon dioxide. Without oxygen, your tissues will die; this includes your muscles. If one your muscles is too tight to allow the blood to flow through it enough to remove carbon dioxide, it’s also too tight to allow the blood to bring in oxygen, and your muscle will die.

    Once those metabolic waste products are in your blood, they travel through the body until they get to either the liver or the kidneys, where they are pulled out by one of those organs. If it’s pulled out by your kidneys, it will be eliminated from your body via your urine. If it’s pulled out by the liver, it gets further metabolized and may be converted into something useful. It also may be  converted into something the kidneys deal with, in which case it’s released back into the bloodstream where it’s transported to the kidneys to be eliminated in your urine.

    So, if your muscle hasn’t died and your liver and kidneys are in proper working order, you don’t have to worry about toxins building up in your muscles.

    Repeat after me… There are no toxins to flush from my muscles unless my liver and kidneys aren’t working the way they should.

    Stay Hydrated

    The real reason you should drink water after a massage is because muscles work and feel best when they’re fully hydrated. If you’re like the vast majority of Americans, you’re in no danger of accidentally killing yourself via overhydration anytime soon, so it won’t hurt you to drink a little water after your massage… if you want. My doctor once told me that one sure fire way to tell if you need to drink more water is by the color of your urine. If it’s very pale yellow, you’re probably fine; any darker than that, however, and you need to drink more water.

    So, to sum up (tl;dr for real): You do not need to drink water after a massage to flush lactic acid or toxins from your body. You should drink it to make sure your muscles are fully hydrated because they feel and work their best when they are.

3 Responsesso far.

  1. I’ve always been told/read that these myths were true. Why does it feel so good to get a massage? Is there any actual health benefit to them or does it just feel nice?

  2. Massage does way more than just feel good; there are real benefits and myriad ways it can help folks who are stressed out or in pain. However, it’s a subject best covered by a full blog post (or even a book) rather than a reply.