Outstanding athletic performances are the culmination of years of focused training, dedication, talent and sometimes, luck. The most effective training plans balance targeted training sessions with equally well-planned recovery. The training session provides the stimulus for adaptations to take place that will result in greater speed, strength or power but adequate recovery is essential for those adaptations to occur. Every athlete should pay attention to the details of recovering from their event just as they have carefully planned their preparation for it.
The keys to a successful recovery can be thought of as The Five R’s:
Fluid loss during strenuous exercise can be significant. Water comprises about 60% of the human body and our bodies function best in a hydrated state. It’s important to keep up with fluid losses during exercise as well as replacing fluid losses in the hours following a hard effort. An easy way to estimate fluid loss is by weighing yourself pre- and post-event. Aim for taking in a pint of fluid for every pound lost. Water is great but since sweat contains more than just water so an electrolyte beverage can also be a good choice.
The primary energy source during strenuous exercise is carbohydrates and our bodies can only store a limited amount so it is important to replenish carbohydrate stores following a hard workout. Aim for about 30-60 grams after a tough effort and repeat every few hours after long, hard workouts. Look for sources that offer nutritional value as well such as potatoes, grains, and fruit, which are all healthy options. If you’re watching your weight, you can make those carbs a regularly planned meal or snack rather than adding in additional food.
Strenuous workouts lead to microscopic muscle damage and your body needs to repair itself to come back even stronger. Protein is the building block of muscles, so taking in some protein post-event is important. Aim for 15-25 grams, which equates to about 3 ounces of meat or 8 ounces of Greek yogurt. Eggs and nuts are also healthy options. Chocolate milk is a favorite recovery food for athletes because it offers fluid, salt, carbohydrates and protein all in one. Various smoothies can also offer a delicious mix of everything needed for an effective recovery.
Recent research suggests that self-myofascial release using a foam roller can reduce post-exercise muscle soreness and accelerate the return of muscle strength and power after a hard workout. Many elite athletes see a massage therapist as part of their routine recovery but if that is not an option for you, a modest investment of money and a daily session on a foam roller can attenuate some post-event soreness and muscle fatigue.
Rest is by far the most important recovery tool of all. Your body repairs itself during sleep. The hormones that promote muscle repair are released as you sleep and sleep is essential for the mental acuity and focus needed for optimal performance. Studies have shown the benefits of adequate sleep in optimizing athletic performance and reducing risk of injury. Sleep is a powerful and often overlooked tool for performance enhancement and recovery, so it’s important to get your zzzz’s!
Updated on February 25, 2020
Polly de Mille is the Director of Sports Performance at HSS, where she oversees all aspects of performance programming from sport specific analysis to metabolic testing to training clients across the spectrum of age and ability. Her research interests focus on bridging the gap between injury and return to peak performance and she has authored chapters, journal articles, and presented nationally on this topic. Polly has also made numerous appearances in national media serving as an expert on the science behind fitness trends.