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Recovery for the athlete & recovery tools

Recovery for the athlete & recovery tools

For athletes, recovery can be defined as the compensation of fatigue and to stabilise in the internal environment of the athlete back to optimal levels, in preferably as shorter time frame as possible (Kellmann, 2002). It is with good reason that recovery has increasingly been the focus of science in sport as a lack of rest and recovery will prevent the athlete capitalising on any adaptations they would have caused during training. As well as not capitalising on the hard work during the hours of intense training athletes go through, not recovering efficiently can lead to athletes competing or continuing to train with injuries, unrepaired muscle tissue or depleted glycogen stores

“It’s the most important bit of training. So many guys go over the top with the training and just don’t recover from it — their form gets worse and it’s a vicious circle. They think they’re doing badly so they train harder and it only makes it worse.”

Professional cyclist Liam Holohan

Athletes seem to confuse not recovering properly with not training hard enough. This can cause a decrease in motivation and self belief as well as the physiological side effects that the overtraining might cause. Overtraining and injury aren’t just limited to the elite either. The reality is that those fitting training around an ordinary lifestyle are most susceptible. “Some people feel compelled to just train and train and train and they just become more and more ill. A lot of people underestimate the need for recovery and the power of recovery,” says Ken Matheson, former national road coach for Team GB.

Signs of overtraining:

  • Increased resting heart rate over 2/3 day period
  • A decrease in grip strength, this can be a sign that the athlete is experiencing fatigue of the central nervous system (CNS).
  • Psychological stress, any stress outside of the sporting environment will contribute to fatigue during training.
  • Making a record of training, a training log can highlight where an athlete is over exerting themselves during a typical training week.

Worse still, failing to recover can both cause and aggravate injury. This will in turn prevent the athlete performing at their peak for the duration of their competition season. Below are some different methods of enabling the athlete to recover, in order to reach maximal performance in a minimal time frame.

When an athlete goes through intense levels of training or competition high levels of damage occur within the muscle tissue fibres. When muscle fibres are damaged they become tender, sore and stiff. This damage is commonly referred to as delayed onset  of muscle soreness (DOMS). DOMS usually appears 24 to 48 hours after games or intense exercise.

It is vital that the athlete is armed with the tools of recovery to combat DOMS and the other side effects of possible over training and intense competition brings.

Recovery Tools:

Active recovery days

Small sessions of light aerobic work with reduced intensity and duration can help to flush any toxins out of the fatigued muscle tissue post workout. 10-15 minutes of jogging or cycling is a good way to spend a recovery session on days following intense training or performance.

Another technique used to recover post workout is having a ‘contrast shower’, this involves cycling between hot and cold water in the shower. This method shocks the body into increasing blood flow from the skin to the organs to eliminate waste products from the body at an accelerated rate. Also other techniques such as hot baths, saunas; anything where the body can fully relax to release built up muscle tension after strenuous training.


Getting enough sleep can have a huge impact on several elements effecting the athlete such as, psychological freshness, mood and muscular recovery. Culminating in a negative effect on performance. Some of the strategies you could use in order to ensure you are getting enough sleep are as follows:

– Turn off electronic devices an hour before bed.

– Establish a bed time and routine to maintain circadian rhythm, which is the 24hr psychological cycle of living beings.

– Sleep in complete darkness.

– Try to relax from the stresses of the day so there is a smooth transition into sleep.

– Make sure a suitable amount of food has been consumed for an evening meal.


When the body goes through intense exercise, it goes though a large amount of protein breakdown, putting the body in what is called a negative state. During this state many ratios in the body such as testosterone to cortisol level is negatively affected entering the body into a catabolic state. Ingesting a high to moderate protein/carbohydrate meal up to an hour post exercise can swing the body back into a positive state; increasing testosterone level, lowering cortisol levels and kick starting the recovery and regeneration of the bodies muscle tissue.


A well hydrated body is better able to fight both muscular and cardiovascular fatigue. Similar to athlete nutrition, correct recovery for hydration starts in the preparation in the 24 hours before physical activity takes place. It is advised that at least 2 litres of water is consumed by the athlete, most effectively by being sipped throughout the day. It has also been found that athletes competing in team sports lasting longer than 60 minutes with high intensity, intermittent maximal sprints need high levels of sodium and electrolytes to replace that lost during exercise. Sodium is a vital component in rehydrating the body as it regulates water balance and retention. Therefor it is advised that a spoonful of salt is consumed in a litre of water rather than sports drinks. This is because although sports drinks provide the body with electrolytes through a sodium and potassium mix, the sodium content is nowhere near the level required and due to the high sugar content they are not advised.

It should be remembered that not one technique affects recovery by itself, rather its a combination of different factors at varying degrees that contribute to the recovery process.


Kellmann, M. (2002). Enhancing Recovery: preventing underperformance in athletes, Human Kinetics, Champaign, Illinois.

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