Recovery is an important consideration for athletes at any level, whether you are an Olympic athlete representing your country or a community level player with your local sporting club. Being able to recover more efficiently means that we can reduce the effects of fatigue and therefore perform better in subsequent training and competition. The main aims of recovery are to:
- repair muscle damage
- reduce muscle soreness
- clear metabolic waste
- refuel energy stores.
The three most crucial components of recovery are things that we do in everyday life: sleeping, eating and drinking. While we may do these all the time, we need to ensure that we do them well!
Sleep is essential for our bodies to function and the negative effects of having a lack of sleep are well documented. In terms of recovery, ensuring that we get adequate sleep is of paramount importance. The exact amount of sleep that we need each night can differ between individuals; however, the recommended amount for healthy adults is 7-9 hours with adolescents generally needing a bit more. The time we are sleeping is when our bodies have the best opportunity to recover. Sleeping for longer enhances the body’s resistance to fatigue and improves markers of recovery in the blood. In contrast, a lack of sleep can impede the repair and adaptation of our muscles.
Try and keep a set routine for your sleep:
- Go to bed at a similar time every night
- Wake up at a similar time each morning
- Have a set pattern before going to sleep to help wind you down and become relaxed
More information on the importance of sleep for athletes is available in our earlier blog post at https://radcentre.com.au/why-sleep-is-so-important-for-athletes/
After a game or training session you have began to ’empty the fuel tank’ – therefor it is super important to refuel and put some ‘good petrol’ back in the tank. Eating a meal or snack that is rich in protein and carbohydrates is important for recovery following fatiguing exercise. Consuming carbohydrates helps to replenish our energy stores that are used during exercise, meaning we can have the energy needed to exercise again sooner. Protein is essential for repairing and building our muscles. Having enough protein available in our bodies ensures that these processes can work effectively. Getting our recovery nutrition right is especially important when we need to perform exercise again the next day.
Some food options post training/game:
- Lean chicken and salad roll
- Bowl of muesli with yoghurt and berries
- Fresh fruit salad topped with Greek yoghurt
- Spaghetti with lean beef bolognaise sauce
- Chicken burrito with salad and cheese
- Small tin of tuna on crackers plus a banana
More information on nutrition and hydration for recovery can be found at https://www.sportsdietitians.com.au/factsheets/fuelling-recovery/recovery-nutrition/
Re-hydration is another key component of recovery. During fatiguing exercise, especially in warm conditions, the body loses fluids and electrolytes through sweat. It is important to replenish these in the early stages of recovery to prevent dehydration and to ensure that we are adequately hydrated if we are exercising again soon. The recommendation for how much fluid you should intake after exercise is that it should be greater than the amount of weight that is lost through sweat. A general guide is about 1.5L for every 1kg of body weight lost.
Water alone is an adequate source of re-hydration and paired with a snack or meal can be effective to meet your recovery nutrition needs, however it may be helpful to include a sports/dairy drink if food is not available or practical.
Other common practices that can enhance our recovery include stretching, massage, hydrotherapies and compression garments. These are extra things we do to provide an added benefit, but they should not form the base of our recovery strategy.
We will discuss all of these additional methods in further detail in an upcoming post. Diving into the finer details of how each method works and if it is the right fit for you.
Take home message
As a general rule, our recovery practices should be treated just like any other aspects of our training and performance. The main priority should be to ensure that we are doing the fundamentals right first (sleep, nutrition and hydration) and then we can include the additional things that help to give us extra benefits.
- Maughan RJ and Shirreffs SM. Recovery from prolonged exercise: Restoration of water and electrolyte balance. Journal of Sports Sciences 15: 297-303, 1997.
- National Sleep Foundation, Sleep needs across the lifespan. http://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au/files/pdfs/Sleep-Needs-Across-Lifespan.pdf
- Samuels C. Sleep, recovery, and performance: The new frontier in high-performance athletics. Neurologic clinics 26: 169-180, 2008.
- Sports Dieticians Australia, Recovery nutrition. https://www.sportsdietitians.com.au/factsheets/fuelling-recovery/recovery-nutrition/
- Versey NG, Halson SL, and Dawson BT. Water Immersion Recovery for Athletes: Effect on Exercise Performance and Practical Recommendations. Sports Medicine 43: 1101-1130, 2013.