Recovery after training and competition

Add these strategies to reduce soreness and injury after exercise.

Woman stretching

Recovery is essential to restore an athlete’s mind and body.

Prompt and sufficient recovery between exercise bouts and training sessions can also improve performance by enhancing training quality and tolerance to the training load. Recovery also improves the athlete’s adaptation to training.

Without proper recovery following multiple training sessions or competitions, an athlete increases the risk for poorer performance and overuse injuries.

Athletes today use many approaches and interventions. These include nutritional tactics, active recovery (“warm down”), stretching, hydrotherapy, and wearing compression garments. Some recovery strategies are supported by solid scientific evidence, while others continue to be investigated and experimented with.

Nutrition in recovery

Water, carbohydrates and protein are the priorities. However, with heavy sweating, sodium replacement may also warrant particular attention. A carbohydrate-electrolyte sports drink, protein snack, or other carbohydrate sources work well for immediate nutrient recovery. Good protein snacks include an energy bar, yogurt or nuts. Good carbohydrate sources include fruit, chocolate milk or pretzels.

Keep in mind these guidelines:

  • 0.5 grams of carbohydrates per one lb of body weight
  • 20 oz Gatorade + medium sized banana + 6 oz low fat yogurt ≈ 90 grams of carbohydrate
  • Example: 180 lb individual should consume ≈ 90 grams of carbohydrate

Active recovery

Active recovery is low-intensity exercise using the major muscle groups you just used in your workout. This is a good way to let your body know that it has finished exercising and help with metabolic waste removal and muscle cell recovery. As little as five minutes can be effective.

Static stretching

Static stretching is stretching your muscles after exercise while your body is at rest. Hold each stretching position stable for 15-20 seconds. This can relax your muscles and increase your range of motion. The intent is to also accelerate recovery, as well as reduce injury risk and enhance performance the next time you train or compete.

Compression garments

Given the demands that training and competition have on muscle structure, compression garments such as compression leggings and tops may be useful. These can aid recovery and subsequent performance by reducing soreness and swelling in the muscles damaged from exercise.

Hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy techniques help in reducing the physiological responses to exercise related muscle micro-damage associated with prompting delayed-onset muscle soreness. Try contrast water therapy and cold water immersion.

Contrast water therapy

Ideally used at the end of a training day. Do not use if you have a very recent injury or bruising. Try to build up a total of five minutes in the plunge pool.

  • One minute spa pool (≈ 100° F)
  • One minute plunge pool (≈ 55°F) — relax as much as possible
  • Repeat cycle
  • Always finish on cold (plunge pool)

Cold water immersion

Ideally used following a heavy weights session, between training sessions, or during the acute phases of muscle injury, soreness or bruising. Try to build up to a total of five minutes in the plunge pool.

  • One minute plunge pool (≈ 55°F) — relax as much as possible
  • Two minutes out of water (room temperature)
  • Repeat cycle

Recommended recovery strategies

After a long or very strenuous training session or competition, it is critical for athletes to implement a deliberate and prompt recovery strategy within two hours post-exercise.

The nutritional priorities are to replenish water, electrolytes (primarily sodium), and carbohydrate, as well as a little protein to aid in muscle rebuilding. To optimally re-fuel energy (carbohydrate) stores in the muscles, we recommend sufficient and rapidly digested and absorbed carbohydrate sources.

A sports drink is an effective source for water, electrolytes, and also carbohydrates. However, protein intake at this time helps you to also achieve more optimal muscle training adaptations. Therefore, recovery drinks containing carbohydrate, protein, and electrolytes may be your best choice.

A post-exercise “warm down” dissipates body heat and allows your heart rate to return to pre-exercise levels more slowly and safely. Static stretching immediately after the active recovery phase can assist in relaxing the muscles post-exercise and accelerate recovery.

If hydrotherapy recovery is available, this may be further beneficial in enhancing muscle recovery, more promptly reducing core body temperature and heart rate, and increasing an athlete’s ability to repeat a same-day performance.

Athletes can also wear compression garments during or after training, as this may provide relief from muscle soreness and swelling.

Try adding one or more of these recovery strategies to your workouts or the next time you compete athletically. You’ll be surprised how much better you feel.

Posted In Healthy Living, Sports, Sports Medicine

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