Good Recovery, Great Performance

Recovering well for a great performance

Training alone does not make you stronger, faster or fitter. The benefits of training only come after the hard work, during the recovery, when the body is adapting to the training you have put it through. The body reacts to the training loads imposed by increasing its ability to cope with these loads. This happens in the recovery time after the training session is complete. Imagine all the cells in your body saying to themselves, “Boy, if she’s going to keep doing this to me, I’d better get stronger in order to cope”.

Adequate recovery is one of the most important yet frequently neglected elements of any training programme. Rest days are critical to sports performance for a variety of reasons. Some are physiological and some are psychological. Rest is physically necessary so that the muscles can repair, rebuild and strengthen. For recreational athletes, building in rest days can help maintain a better balance between home, work and fitness goals.

What Happens During Recovery?

Exercise causes changes in the body such as muscle tissue breakdown and the depletion of energy stores (muscle glycogen), as well as fluid loss. Recovery time allows these stores to be replenished and allows tissue repair to occur. Without sufficient time to repair and replenish, the body will continue to breakdown from intensive exercise. Symptoms of overtraining often occur from a lack of recovery time

The training load which  you are able to cope with will be dependent on other factors – are you having a particularly stressful time at work for example, do you have a lot on your plate at the moment? moved house? Etc etc. Anything that puts your body under more stress may mean that you have to ease off on your training temporarily.

Short and Long-Term Recovery

There are two categories of recovery. There is immediate (short-term) recovery from a particularly intense training session or event, and there is the long-term recovery that needs to be built into a year-round training schedule. Both short and long-term recovery are important for optimal sports performance.

Short-term recovery occurs in the hours immediately after intense exercise. Short term active recovery refers to engaging in low-intensity exercise after workouts during the cool-down phase immediately after a hard effort or workout. as well as during the days following the workout. Both types of active recovery are linked to performance benefits. One form of active recovery is the recovery run.

Another major focus of recovery immediately following exercise has to do with replenishing energy stores and fluids lost during exercise, and optimizing protein synthesis (the process of increasing the protein content of muscle cells, preventing muscle breakdown and increasing muscle size) by eating the right foods in the post-exercise meal. Try sports drinks with a 4:1 or 3:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio such as Endurox R4, or the Science in Sport Rego Recovery drink. These should be taken immediately after exercise. You could also try a skim milk shake (no ice cream!)

Long-term recovery techniques refer to those that are built in to a seasonal training program. Active recovery is also an important part of long term recovery.  Most well-designed training schedules will include recovery days and or weeks that are built into an annual training schedule. This is also the reason athletes and coaches change their training program throughout the year, modify workouts types, and make changes in intensity, time, distance and all the other training variables.  Having a well planned training programme specific to your individual needs and circumstances is critical to getting the most out of your training.

How Do I Know If I Am Recovered?

The amount of recovery time you need will depend on how well you are adapting to training. A monitoring system can be useful to ensure that you spot any signs of excessive fatigue before you go too far down this road. A training diary is a valuable training tool. Our on-line coaching offers you the facility to log a number of training parameters. It also means you can track your training and performance over time and view it in an easily manged format , which is a great aid in planning your next training cycle.

Poor training recovery leads to:

  • Consistent drop in performance – endurance and speed suffers – you can spot this by keeping track of training and race times – anything more than an unexplained drop of 5% should sound alarm bells.
  • Lack of improvement over a period of time (depending a bit on your age-it’s unlikely you’ll keep posting outright better times when you’re in your 60’s)
  • Inability to concentrate properly
  • Increased resting heart rate
  • Altered heart rate during training – elevated or suppressed
  • Change in mood – grumpy!
  • Loss of interest in the sport
  • Recurring illnesses
  • Poor sleep
  • Feelings of fatigue despite rest
  • Weight and appetite changes – Likely to lose weight and lose interest in food

Consistently poor training recovery without reducing training load can lead to over training

Over training may be accompanied by one or more symptoms such as:

  • Persistent muscle soreness
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Elevated resting heart rate
  • Increased susceptibility to infections
  • Increased incidence of injuries
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Loss of motivation
  • Insomnia
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Feeling of general malaise

What should you do if you think you are over training?

  • The most important and immediate thing to do is rest. Whilst you are resting, you’ll have plenty of time too look at your training log  – has the volume or intensity of training increased significantly, have you had rest days? Are you suffering from a chronic lack of sleep? Your training diary should record as much about your training as possible-intensity, distance, speed, heart rate sleep
  • Consult a professional who can give you sound advice on a training program appropriate for you.  A training program designed with YOU in mind can be the difference between a great performance and an average performance.

10 Ways To Recover Quickly After Exercise

  • Cool Down. Cooling down simply means slowing down (not stopping completely) after exercise. Continuing to move around at a very low intensity for 5 to 10 minutes after a workout helps to flush metabolites out of your muscles, and may reduce muscles stiffness.
  • Replace Fluids. You can lose a lot of fluid during exercise. Filling up after exercise is an easy way to boost your recovery. Water supports every metabolic function and nutrient transfer in the body and having plenty of water will improve every bodily function. Adequate fluid replacement is even more important for endurance athletes who lose large amounts of water during hours of sweating. An electrolyte replacement drink particularly in the warmer months is recommended. For sessions longer than 1 hour, it is advisable to take fluid and electrolytes in during the session.
  • Eat Well. After depleting your energy stores with exercise, you need to refuel if you expect your body to recover, repair tissues, get stronger and be ready for the next challenge. Ideally, you should try to eat within 30 minutes of the end of your workout and make sure you include some high-quality protein and complex carbohydrate. You should then feed every two hours for the next 24 hours-or at least until you go to bed, keeping in mind you do not want to overeat. Small amounts frequently should do it. See above under “short term recovery” for information on recovery drinks.
  • Stretch. Whilst there’s not a lot of evidence that supports stretching as a recovery method that helps to prevent injury, lots or our runners feel that stretching helps to prevent muscles soreness.
  • Rest. Time is one of the best ways to recover (or heal) from just about any illness or injury and this also works after a hard workout. Your body has an amazing capacity to take care of itself if you allow it some time. Resting and waiting after a hard workout allows the repair and recovery process to happen at a natural pace.
  • Perform Active Recovery. Easy, gentle movement improves circulation which helps promote nutrient and waste product transport throughout the body. In theory, this helps the muscles repair and refuel faster.
  • Have a Massage. Massage feels good and improves circulation while allowing you to fully relax. You can also try self-massage and foam roller exercises for easing tight muscles. A good sports massage once a month in conjunction with self massage will definitely make a difference to those tired legs.
  • Take an Ice Bath, ice massage or contrast water therapy (alternating hot and cold showers). The theory behind this method is that  repeatedly constricting and dilating blood vessels helps remove (or flush out) waste products in the tissues. Ice baths should only be undertaken under certain circumstances.
  • Get Lots of Sleep. While you sleep, amazing things are taking place in your body. Optimal sleep is essential for anyone who exercises regularly. In general, one or two nights of poor or little sleep won’t have much impact on performance, but consistently getting inadequate sleep can result in subtle changes in hormone levels, particularly those related to stress, muscle recovery and mood. Some research indicates that sleep deprivation can lead to increased levels of cortisol (a stress hormone), decreased activity of human growth hormone (which is active during tissue repair), and decreased glycogen synthesis. Other studies link sleep deprivation with decreased aerobic endurance and increased ratings of perceived exertion. If you are unable to sleep the night before a big event, don’t get too stressed about it. Research has shown that the penultimate night’s sleep is more important for performance than the one immediately prior to the event.
  • Avoid Overtraining. One simple way to recovery faster is by designing a smart workout routine in the first place. Excessive exercise, heavy training at every session or a lack of rest days will limit your fitness gains from exercise and undermine your recovery efforts.

How to use contrast water therapy: While taking your post-exercise shower, alternate 2 minutes of hot water with 30 seconds of cold water. Repeat four times with a minute of moderate temperatures between each hot-cold spray. If you happen to have a spa with hot and cold tubs available, you can take a plunge in each for the same time. Alternatively, make use of your backyard pool during winter and stand in it for up to 5 mins. You may find you have to work up to this.

Recovery prior to an event

The period in which you wind down your training in order to recover prior to an event is called your taper. The amount of time each person requires to taper is very individual, and can best be worked out by trial and error. Be sure to keep a good record of your training and how you feel for the couple of weeks prior to your event, and of course how you felt and performed on race day. It takes the body about two to three weeks to register the positive effect of training, so you’re not going to improve your performance by cramming in extra training at the last minute.  Volume and intensity should decrease markedly in the two weeks before our event.  It is best to rest, eat well and prepare mentally (dreaming of the chocolate cake to come!)


At Hooked on Running we help runners of all abilities through our online coaching programs, which are tailored to an individual’s lifestyle, current fitness levels and running goals.

When you’re ready to take your training to the next level, join us.

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