Recovery – the one bit of training where you can improve and become stronger without needing to actually make any effort. It sounds so simple, but it’s an aspect of training that so many people neglect and underestimate. The focus is always on hard work, fine tuning your strengths, working on your weaknesses, building a base and endurance. But it’s sometimes hard just to go easy.

We take a look at recovery, and how you can be a winner when it comes to getting it right for you and your training.

First and foremost, let’s address why recovery is so important. When we train we breakdown muscle tissue, deplete energy stores and cause fluid loss. When we allow the body time to recover, either from active recovery or rest, we allow the body to repair soft tissues (muscles, ligaments and tendons) and for it to remove chemicals amassed during exercise.

The two most obvious forms of recovery are active recovery and rest. Active recovery is when light exercise is undertaken to ‘flush out’ the muscles, such as during a warm down, or a recovery run or ride. Rest, well that’s when the phrase Why stand when you can sit, and why sit when you can lie down comes into its own – it’s allowing your body complete rest, such as you get when you go to bed, to recover, replenish and rebuild.

That’s the simple version, but there are many factors that can affect recovery, so we’ve focused on some of those which can affect you both positively and negatively.

Eat Right To Recover Well

The fuel you are putting into your body post workout is not just helping to assist in recovery from that specific workout, but it’s also helping to assist in fuelling our bodies properly for the next session too.

Glycogen is an important aspect of this. It is the storage form of glucose that is stored in the liver and muscles. Reloading and replenishing glycogen stores following a workout is one of the main keys to recovery success. The main macronutrient that will help with reloading glycogen is carbohydrate. When carbohydrates are consumed post workout, this stimulates insulin production, which helps in muscle glycogen production.

Everybody has heard about protein to fuel recovery and rebuild muscles, namely from the reputation that gym-goers have given it, but it’s just one aspect of the refuelling process.

But how much of each is ideal? Research shows that a carbohydrate to protein ratio of either 4:1 or 5:1 is optimal for reloading. This means 4 or 5g of carbohydrate to every 1g of protein.

More protein following a workout is going to slow glycogen replenishment and rehydration; both of which would be huge negatives to the athletes’ recovery process. Liquid calories tend to be a great go-to recovery fuel source for athletes as they are easily digested and absorbed. For example, a recovery drink/fuel source containing approximately 10g of protein and approximately 40-50g of carbohydrate would be ideal for maximising glycogen replenishment. In terms of when recovery fuel should be consumed following a workout, there have been various ‘magic window’ time frames mentioned. Ideally, post workout fuel consumed 15 to 30 minutes following a workout is ideal in order to properly reload glycogen.

Hydration Station

Rehydration is just as important as reloading glycogen following a workout. Failure to properly rehydrate following each workout will see you start your next workout slightly dehydrated. This can easily start to build towards a state of acute or even chronic dehydration – affecting both recovery and performance.

In addition to water, you may also require additional electrolytes following a workout lost during sweating. These can be easily consumed following a workout, with a range of electrolyte tablets, or salt based hydration drinks, available.

Yoga

Stretching after hard exercise is well known as a proven recovery method to promote blood flow to tired and constricted muscles. Going one step further, Yoga is a great way to not only recover the body, but also to relax the mind – allowing for not only physical recovery but mental too.

We often focus on the physical strains that the body is put under from hard training but psychological recovery and rest is also of utmost importance so that when you need to put yourself under strain again through hard training or racing, your mind is also in a good state to do so.

Yoga provides an ideal set up in order to do so.

Ice Baths

If you’ve ever seen athletes on TV post-competition or someone climbing into a barrel or bath full of water and ice after training or racing, then you’ve seen ice bath recovery in action. Research has shown that ice bath recovery actively reduces muscle damage and inflammation after exercise.

Man in Ice Bath

How cold? Studies* show that best results for athletes jumping in an ice bath after hard exercise come in water temperatures between 10-15 °C for between 10 to 15 minutes.

*https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40279-015-0431-7

Sleep

One of the most important aspects of recovery is sleep. We all know how tired and fatigued we feel the morning after a short night’s sleep. Sleep enhances muscle recovery through protein synthesis and human growth hormone release, as well as allowing the nervous system to recover and replenishing your energy stores.

A lack of quality sleep each night not only affects recovery and athletic performance, but your mental health and overall wellbeing too. Whether training or not, ensure you get enough sleep to stay fit and healthy.

Last year we took a look at sleep and rest, and its association to athletic performance. Read the article here.