When dealing with athletic performance there is often a primary focus on training but rest and recovery although often overlooked are an integral part of an athlete’s preparation and training programs

There are many recovery techniques that the athlete can use in their recovery from a training session or from competition. This article explores the use of some of these techniques and why they are beneficial to the athlete.


Many of the world’s greatest athletes eat, sleep, breathe, and live for their sport. Sleep is rapidly becoming one of the most analysed modes of recovery in sport. Sleep loss is associated with reductions in endurance performance, maximal strength and cognitive performance. Close links also exist between sleep and the immune system. REM (rapid eye movement) sleep in particular provides energy to both the brain and body. If sleep is cut short, the body doesn’t have time to repair memory, consolidate memory, and release hormones. Sleep deprivation has also been seen to decrease production of glycogen and carbohydrates that are stored for energy use during physical activity. In short, less sleep increases the possibility of fatigue, low energy, and poor focus at game time. This also has a negative impact on post-game recovery. You need to get enough sleep, which research suggests is between seven to ten hours for most athletes. Everyone has individual needs based on their lifestyle, workouts, and genetic makeup.

Re-fuelling and Re-Hydration

Foods rich in carbohydrate ingested within 30 minutes of exercise is recommended for athletes, for example, pasta, cereal, breads etc. Although hydration before and during exercise is essential for good athletic performance, hydration after exercise is equally as important. Complete restoration of fluid balance after a match is an important part of the recovery process as loss of intracellular volume reduces rates of glycogen and protein synthesis. Post-exercise hydration should aim to correct any fluid loss accumulated during the practice or event. Re-hydration should include water to restore hydration status, carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores, and electrolytes to speed re-hydration. A high rate of fluid consumption during the first two hours of post-exercise re-hydration is known to increase plasma volume significantly and to result in substantial urine production research has shown.

Compression Garments

Compression garments have been designed in such a way to aid recovery by being tighter in certain areas along the leg so as to help blood flow. The principle of compression garments is to increase the pressure on the ankle and to decrease it on the mid-thigh in order to improve the venous return and thus reduce venous stasis in the lower extremities. Results from studies carried out using compression garments indicated that their use had a moderate effect on recovery of muscle strength, muscle power and creatine kinase. Indeed a decrease in general perceived muscle soreness was also reported by researchers who carried out physiological tests using compression garments.

Active Recovery

One of the more debated methods of recovery is active recovery. An active recovery generally consists of aerobic EXERCISE which can be performed using different modes such as cycling, jogging, aqua jogging or swimming. Active recovery is often thought to be better for recovery than passive recovery due to enhanced blood flow to the exercised area and clearance of lactate and other metabolic waste products via increased oxygen delivery. Research suggests that active recovery directly after bouts of intense exercise removes lactate and other metabolic waster products from the system via increased oxygen delivery. However, there are some conflicting reports that suggest there are no benefits of an active recovery between training sessions or following competition across various sports, this is based on the fact that the majority of studies reply on the removal of lactate as their primary indicator of recovery, which up to this point may not be a valid indicator of enhanced recovery – further research is needed!

Building recovery time into any training program is essential to allow the athlete’s body to adapt to their program, replenish their energy stores and repair any damaged tissues and to avoid the symptoms of over-training which we will talk about in our next blog.

Foam Rolling

n an ideal sporting world, it would be great to have a personal masseuse on tap 24/7 to give a massage at any time in any place. But for the vast majority of athletes, this is just not possible. So what is the next best thing? How about Self-myofascial release? This is the scientific term for an athlete who gives themselves a self-massage to release muscle tightness or trigger points – this is commonly done by using a “foam-roller”. By applying pressure to specific points on your body you are able to aid in the recovery of muscles and assist in returning them to normal function.Self-myofascial release techniques help break up trigger points, and soothe tight fascia, while increasing blood flow and circulation to the soft tissues. This can lead to improved range of motion, flexibility and movement, increased blood flow, and will assist in returning your muscles to normal function.

The idea that foam rolling can positively influence the muscles in an athlete after exercise has been given the all-important thumbs up by academics, although more studies are required to see if foam rolling can have a positive effect (or any effect!) on an athlete’s performance when used pre-exercise.

Cold Water Immersion

he most popular and widespread use of ice baths is for the treatment of sports injuries, strained muscles and general soreness. The science of Athlete Recovery is based on centuries old knowledge that ice packs applied to injuries are very effective in reducing inflammation and pain. The idea here is that lactate builds up in the muscles as glucose in the blood stream is broken down and used as an energy source. Too much lactic acid build up can cause the muscles to function poorly and over a long period of time feelings of fatigue, heavy legs and general tiredness can set in. When an athlete gets into an ice bath for five to 10 minutes, the icy cold water causes their blood vessels to tighten and drains the blood out of their legs. After 10 minutes their legs feel cold and numb. So when an athlete gets out of the bath, their legs fill up with ‘new’ blood that invigorates their muscles with oxygen to help the cells function better. At the same time, the more blood coming into their legs will have to leave as well, draining away and at the same time taking with it the lactic acid that has built up from their performance.