Exercise causes micro-damage to our muscles which is why recovery is so essential. If you adopt good recuperation habits and acquire enough rest, your body will become stronger. If you neglect recovery and continue to push hard in training, the accumulation of micro-trauma will increase the likelihood of injury or illness.
The science behind recovery
Your fitness is never stagnant, we are either in a state of super compensation or detraining. Obtaining the proper work-to-recovery ratio opens a window to a new training stimulus which will further perpetuate your fitness in an upward trend. In order for your body to repair itself it has to remove the waste products formed during training and replace the damaged cells with new stronger ones that can withstand more stress and load than before.
A: Training stimuli followed by a sufficient recovery period leads to super compensation and increased physical capacity/health. B: Insufficient recovery or excessive loads can lead to negative adaptations. These maladaptation’s can cause an athlete to have a reduced capacity/health to withstand training loads, and an increased risk of injury. (This figure was taken and adjusted from figures 1 and 2 in Soligard et al. (2016) and figure 2.1 in Meeusen and de Pauw (2013)).
The goals of recovery
Inflammation is an important part of the healing process and so it is important to allow your body to produce an inflammatory response.
It is not recommended to take anti-inflammatory drugs after exercise. They can blunt your body’s response to training and impede the recovery process.
Cold immersion is also not routinely advised as it can dampen your bodies inflammatory response. Ice baths are only recommended in situations which require you to perform well the next day.
Cells receive oxygen and essential nutrients via the blood and so a good circulation is an important aspect of recovery.
Compression socks can assist in improving circulation. They have been shown to decrease fatigue and reduce the amount of muscle soreness experienced after exercise.
Active recovery is also advocated to improve circulation and help your lungs and heart recovery more quickly. There is no evidence, however, to suggest that it facilitates the removal of lactic acid and waste products.
Regain range of motion
Your body can become sore and stiff after a hard training session; therefore, it is important that recovery rectifies this state.
Dynamic and static stretches will increase the blood flow to your muscles which will facilitate in a more rapid rate of regaining flexibility and un-impaired function.
Your lymphatic system facilitates the removal of waste products produced during exercise.
Some researchers believe that massage and foam rolling after exercise decreases muscle soreness due to the increased lymphatic drainage.
Your body can only repair the damage caused by exercise if it is provided with enough protein, carbohydrate, fat, minerals and vitamins.
Eating a balanced and varied diet that fulfils your caloric requirements will ensure that you can effectively recover from training. A sub-optimal diet will increase an athlete’s likelihood of acquiring an injury or illness.
It is essential to consume a carbohydrate- and protein-rich meal within 2 hours of finishing a training session to ensure that the process of recovery can begin. Carbohydrates will restore muscle energy quickly and good portions of protein certify that immune function and muscle reparation is not impaired.
Your body needs rest to repair itself and therefore it is essential that rest days are planned into any training regimen.
Good quality sleep is also essential; some studies have identified a direct link between the lack of sleep and an increased risk of getting injured. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night and take a midday nap if required.
Always remember that recovery is the key to a long and successful sporting career whether you are an amateur, professional, or just exercise for fun. I hope this blog helps you to keep a level head when it comes to training, as it is very easy to over train and dismiss the need for recovery.
About the author: Laura Smith is an elite-level athlete and has been a Sundried ambassador since 2017.