Why you should make recovery a priority

Every time we exercise, the body undergoes change to adapt to the stress that we place on it. The by-product of these adaptations can include muscle soreness and fatigue, reduced muscle strength and power, all of which can impair athletic performance in the hours and days following.

Recovery allows us to accelerate the process, and return to training or competition feeling fresh and ready for the next training session or competition.

The following strategies can be used to assist recovery following training or competition:

Compression garments

These work through applying pressure to the areas of the body in which they cover. It is believed that this pressure can assist with improving blood flow and reducing inflammation following exercise, leading to reduced feelings of muscle soreness. It is recommended that compression garments be worn on the parts of the body used during exercise for 12-24 hours following training or competition.

Cold water immersion

The use of cold water immersion is most often seen in the form of beach recovery or ice baths. The cooling of body tissue from the water temperature serves to reduce any inflammation that results from exercise. Furthermore, the hydrostatic pressure of being submerged in water can assist with the removal of waste products that build up in the muscles from exercise, and also increase nutrient delivery to muscles to assist with replenishment.

Through these effects, cold water immersion can help reduce the perception of muscle soreness, as well as improve muscle power at an accelerated rate. Despite common practices, adding ice into an ‘ice bath’ appears to be unnecessary to elicit a positive response. Instead, standing in water that is 10-15 degrees in temperature for around 15 minutes appears to be most effective at enhancing recovery (and more comfortable!).

Active recovery

This involves low-intensity exercise in the hours, or day, after training or competition. It is suggested that this helps to facilitate the removal of waste product from the muscles. As little as 20 minutes can provide an acceleration in recovery. Furthermore, swimming at a low intensity may combine the effects of active recovery with the aforementioned cold water immersion.


It is important to replenish any fluids lost during exercise. A simple rule of thumb is to weigh yourself pre- and post-exercise, and multiply your weight difference by 1.5. The final number is the amount of fluid (L) that you should replace. For example, if I weigh 84kg pre-exercise, and 81.5kg post-exercise, there is a loss of 2.5kg. Multiplying this by 1.5 gives a final figure of 3.75, suggesting that I should replace 3.75L of fluids for effective recovery.

Regular hydration during exercise will assist in reducing dehydration, and thus the total amount of fluid needed at the end of training or competition.


Eating a high-carbohydrate and high-protein meal following exercise helps to restore both the energy that has been expended, as well as providing the body with nutrients for muscle repair.


Last, but certainly not least. Sleep is arguably the most important way that we can assist our recovery. The high concentration of growth hormone during sleep assists with nourishing and repairing the body. Furthermore, the central nervous system – the control centre of the body – is also recharged.

While a good sleep holds some great benefits, a lack of sleep can decrease muscle, nervous system and cognitive function. Those who experience a poor night of sleep can use napping during the day to reduce the negative effects. To ensure a good sleep:

  • Try and go to bed at a consistent time every night
  • Sleep in a cool (not cold), dark room
  • Avoid drinking coffee after lunch
  • Avoid blue light (e.g. mobile phone) in the hours leading into going to bed

To put all this information together, here is an example of what the recovery protocol looks like at my football club:

  1. Weigh-in and calculate fluid needed for hydration. Begin hydration
  2. High-protein, high-carbohydrate snack
  3. Cold water immersion (15 minutes, waist depth)
  4. Wear leg compression garment (12-24 hours)
  5. Dinner – meal high in protein and carbohydrate
  6. Sleep (aim for at least eight hours)

The next day:

  • Beach recovery (if cold water immersion wasn’t used)
  • Active recovery (20 minutes)
  • Mental relaxation