I am a big advocate of recovering properly simply so I don't feel like crap, so I can get up feeling good to workout the next day and to help retain muscle!!
Here are my three non-negotiables.
Sleep- I focus on 8 hours of sleep every night. It happens about 85% of the time. We recover when we are resting. My cognitive function and focus are much better too when I get 8 hours.
Post workout nutrition- When we are working out, we are breaking down our muscle. You are not building muscle during the workout. We are also depleting our glycogen stores while working out. Speed is king post workout. The quicker we can get rapid assimilating protein and fast digesting carbs in our body, the quicker we recover, the less sore we are, the quicker we bring our cortisol levels back down, and the more we can maximize caloric burn throughout the day.
This is the only time I will argue that supplementation will trump whole food. Post workout, I take fast acting whey protein powder and a fast digesting carb in the form of coconut water. The whey protein powder stops the muscle breakdown and begins the recovery process while the coconut water pushes the protein to the muscles and refuels my glycogen stores. All of this happens within 45 minutes.
Whole food is great if that is your only source. The only difference is whole foods like chicken and rice will take a few hours to digest, meaning the recover process will take longer.
Stretching/Mobility- I go in phases with this. I'm only human. I always spend at least 20-30 minutes warming up and stretching before a workout but when I'm really good with evening mobility too, I feel amazing! When I spend 10-15 minutes foam rolling and stretching in the evening it makes such a difference in my recovery.
So that's it. It's not magic! It's just consistency. Take care of your body. You need it and you can't trade it in for a newer model!!