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Recovery Principles: What Are They & How They Work?

An athlete must recover adequately so that they are ready to perform 100% for their next event, whether this is minutes, hours or days later. An athlete must recover adequately so that they are ready to perform 100% for their next event, whether this is minutes, hours or days later.

In recent years there has been a lot of time and money invested by professionals working with elite sports teams (i.e.sports physiotherapists, strength & conditioning coaches, coaches) and sports scientists (i.e.Australian Institute of Sport) trying to improve the performance of our athletes.

An athlete’s performance can be affected by a wide range of stressors, such as work / school, social life, training (i.e. too much, too little, changes to training), poor coach / athlete interactions, disturbed sleep and / or nutrition to name a few. Whether your athlete is sprinting 100m, swimming 400m freestyle, playing a running based ‘team sport’ (i.e. AFL, rugby, league and soccer, hockey) or throwing a ball (i.e. baseball, softball, netball, water polo, shot put), an athlete must recover adequately so that they are ready to perform 100% for their next event, whether this is minutes, hours or days later. A wide range of techniques are applied to our elite athletes to help them recover faster - but why?

Recovery principles can be one of the most neglected principles of training and competition, but if done correctly, they can maximize performance, accelerate training adaptations, ensure consistent training, minimise fatigue (i.e. illness, burnout) and reduce the risk of injury. Given that training adaptations occur when an athlete is not training, recovery principles are not automatic - they are what you do between games / training sessions (not during), must cover both physical and mental fatigue and are also individualized, as what works for one athlete may not work for another.

Such that..... ‘Play Hard + Recover Well = Best Performance’

Surprisingly, there is little current evidence (i.e. proven science) behind any of the popular techniques, however some of the common principles are:

1. Sleeping

Is crucial for recovery, as sleep deprivation upsets sleep cycles and can lead to a decreased hormone production (melatonin, that helps to regulate sleep onset & quality), and decreased performance. Recommendations for a ‘good sleep’ include:

  • Consistent ‘pre-bed’ routine
  • Fall asleep within 30min
  • Sleep through night, with only brief awakenings
  • Sleep for 7-8 hr
  • Relaxation period required during busy ‘work’ and ‘training’ life

2. Nutrition

Provides fuel for the body, so is an essential part of an effective recovery. The amount and type of food required will vary depending on the type, duration and number of training sessions per day. However some general rules include:

  • Must commence within 30min post exercise
  • Carbohydrate to restore muscle glycogen (i.e. gel shots, sports drinks)
  • Protein to aid muscle repair & growth can reduce muscle soreness (i.e. Sustagen, shakes)

For further information and suggestions, please make an appointment to see our dietitian to discuss your specific requirements for you and your sport.

3. Hydration

Is vital for the body and a principle of ‘fluid balance’ should be applied, such that you should aim to replace 150% of your body weight lost (i.e. weigh yourself before & after exercise). For example if you lose 1kg of weight, then you need to consume 1.5 litres of fluid. This can be done by using a mixture of sports drinks (replace lost fluid and electrolytes) and / or water. It will take time to get the body used to consuming this volume of fluid (and a few extra trips to the toilet!), so practice / re-evaluate your techniques.

4. Massage

We all love a good massage as it feels great but its role in “immediate post sport recovery” is limited. While massage has been shown to restore normal muscle length and tone, reduce muscle soreness and enhance relaxation, it seems that it is far more effective when done in conjunction with other active recovery techniques, rather than in isolation.

5. Stretching

Is commonly recommended and performed before, during and after exercise. As a recovery technique after exercise, stretching primarily relaxes the muscle and attempts to minimize any tightening and / or soreness within the muscle from the exercise just completed. Dynamic (moving) stretching maybe more effective than the traditional static stretching, but a combination of both is probably best.

6. Ice Baths

This technique involves full submersion (below shoulders) in cold water (i.e. ocean, plunge pool or baths of ice / water), at 10 - 14°C, for 5 - 10 minutes each time. This aims to reduce muscle inflammation, decrease muscle soreness and decrease body temperatures (skin, muscle, core). This is most effective done immediately after exercise, but is valuable when repeated over the following few days, and after heavy training sessions. If practically possible, walking and moving at the same time will further enhance your recovery.

7. Compression Garments

There are a variety of brands available with most including options for the torso (short and long sleeve), legs (short and long) and feet (socks). They are popular for training in, after exercising, sleeping in and / or flying in. When worn the garments compression can stabilize exercising muscles, enhance circulation (via increased venous function), reduce muscle fatigue and enhance muscle repair.

8. Active Recovery

Is performing low-intensity exercise to assist the body’s muscles to recover from either the recently completed high intensity exercise (i.e. a cool down) or during the following days. This form of recovery allows the body to prepare for future training by improving the clearance of muscle metabolites (i.e. lactate) and reducing muscle soreness / stiffness. However, the unknown is how long to do this recovery for and at what intensity to do it at, to maximise recovery.
If you have any questions or would like any further information, please feel free to email us directly on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Published by Balmain Sports Medicine

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104-108 Victoria Road, Rozelle
NSW 2039
  02 9818 1004
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