Performance Recovery Strategies

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Aug 12, 2019
Aug 12, 2019

Performance Recovery Strategies -
trade secrets from across an elite sport science support team.

Before I lose you thinking “physios will always advise to recover by resting”, I want to make a clear point - recovery doesn’t mean rest and this is not a piece about foam rolling, or cupping.

Although you can rest to recover, an effective recovery strategy aims to return you to your competitive best as quickly as possible.

When we exercise, a multitude of physiological, psychological and biochemical changes occur and in this article I’m going to discuss strategies employed across the support team during my time in elite sport that should help give you the edge during your next competition, training camp or prep.

Nutritional interventions to aid recovery

• Muscle glycogen depletion is over 70% in exercise up to 2 hours.
• Muscle glycogen resysnthesis is 5-6% per hour.
• Greater level of depletion = faster resynthisis.
• 13-27% of muscle lactate is converted to Muscle Glycogen (lactate is a carbohydrate in its base form).
• Brain glycogen also depletes with exercise.
• Local heating of the muscle shows an increased glycogen resynthisis but when core temp increases you will slow this process. So, if muscle damage has occurred it can take 48 hours to replenish vs 24 hours if no damage has occurred.


• We need 1-1.5 grams of carbs per kilo /per hour needed for maximum glycogen resynthisis immediately after exercise especially if competing again within 4 hours! (this is less important if we have 8-24 hours before the next event).
• Higher rate of synthesis at lower level of glycogen depletion when adding protein.
• Higher GI foods the better (therefore sugar quite useful).
• Glucose, fructose and creatine are beneficial.
• Beetroot has been shown to increase blood flow and therefore metabolic recovery (especially for those that do repeated bouts in a day).
• Sodium bicarbonate can aid recovery of Ph but can make bowels loose.
• Good supporting evidence that cherries work to reduce inflammation.
• Milk is an effective recovery drink.


• We need to drink 150% of fluid lost before next bout.
• To get an idea of required volume we weigh players before and after a typical match. 1kg = 1l of water loss.

Contemporary Recovery Strategies

Compression garments, used after the event:
• Positive effect in relation to reducing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
• Roughly better for strength/power.
• No real benefit re creatine kinase appearance.
Hill J, Howatson G, van Someren K, et al, Compression garments and recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage: a meta-analysis, British Journal of Sports Medicine 2014;48:1340-1346.


This is based on two physiological adaptations; (1) vasoconstriction, so restricting blood flow and (2) reducing tissue temperatures to slow the metabolic reaction and thus diminish the inflammatory response.

It is also an excellent method of pain reduction.

This seems to be a constantly fluctuating area of research but my personal thoughts are this… IT DOES NO HARM (when performed correctly). The argument is simply; “does it work? yes or no”.

For most athletes it has become part of their routine and I’m sure there is a large placebo effect in play, but supporting studies do suggest improved recovery times, reduction in delayed onset of muscle soreness DOMS (especially after metabolically challenging activities) and reduced oxidative stress.

• Most protocols agree on standing water emersion (jump in a clean wheelie bin) for 13 minutes at 10°C.

Sleep Management

This is pivotal!
You rebuild and repair while you sleep!

Key facts for sleep:
You can bank hours!
There is evidence to suggest that if a competition or extensive travel is coming which could have an adverse reaction on sleep, then increasing night time sleep and napping in the week before makes you more resilient to the forthcoming sleep deficit. I.e. fight jet lag by getting more sleep during the week BEFORE you travel.

There are 3 types of naps:
• Restorative: A disciplined short nap at a certain time of day (between 2 and 4pm) for 30min max… AKA a power nap.
• Prophylactic: To prevent forth-coming deficit to attack an upcoming jet lag.
• Appetitive: If you feel tired have a nap.

Napping is an art and should be practiced and rehearsed before competition.
The more refreshed you are the better you will perform.

Psychology of recovery

Personally this is the biggest break through we are seeing in elite sport today: sport psychology.

Intense competition, increased physical and mental stress and reduction in glycogen “fuel” for the brain can lead us to make poor decisions and lose focus as competition progresses. Our brain effectively has fewer resources to deal with the strong emotions of success and failure and this can be exhausting and detrimental to success.

It’s important for the athlete and their support team to take note of the following points especially during a competition:

1. Make the athlete feel safe straight after the event:
• Listen to music and let them navigate the space “sit where you like” find a quite spot, perform cool downs and get hydrated (no technical info or media).
• Emotionally be with the “right people”, only those that add value should be around at this point,
2. Normalise the perception of threat:
• Once calm and secure debrief effectively:
• Focus on “controlling the controllables”,
• Let go of the struggle to control unwanted thoughts and feelings, and help them to know that there is no judgment,
• Make decisions based on your values - don’t react emotionally,
• Try mindfulness: learn how to let go and be in the moment.


Day of comp plan.
1. morning walk or low intensity activity to increase perception of alertness and visualize today’s events.
2. nutrition, hydration and time for a nap?
3. Warm up with progressive exposure to same intensity of exercise but limiting oxidative stress (low volume), visualise… BELIEVE!
4. Ensure hydrated and drink 150% of lost fluid if already competed (1l=1kg).
5. Compete!
6. Take recovery drink straight away and find somewhere to cool down.
• Ideally containing protein source and 1-1.5g/ per kg body weight/ per hour of exercise performed of sugary carbs.
• Milk will work if preferred beverage not available and don’t forget the beetroot and cherries!
7. Earphones on and perform physical cool down for 10 minutes and drink fluids.
8. Cool down consists of reproducing similar exercise activity at lower levels of intensity, bringing heart rate down and flushing muscles. Dynamic mobility very helpful.
9. Debrief with coach in quiet “safe” environment,
10. Then media.
12. Keep off feet and improve blood flow with therapy, ice baths, nutrition / hydration.
13. Sleep in compression garments and commence sleep strategies (your method of getting to sleep).
14. Next morning walk or low intensity activity to increase perception of alertness and visualize today’s events.
15. Repeat and win!

NB: Athletes that cramp on the day of competition are not on top of things; i.e. training has not been replicating the level of competition intensity!!!


Jason Beaumont BSc Hons, PG Cert, MCSP, HCPC

As a CEO and a clinical director of Regen Physio, Jason has a passion for helping people achieve their goals, whether that is sporting success or leading a happy, healthy and pain free life style. Jason has undergone multiple knee and ankle reconstructions himself and yet is attempting the challenge of completing an IRONMAN triathlon.

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