S&C

Recovery Techniques to Prioritize for Peak Performance

RYPT Team

[7-min read]

It’s accepted that it’s not until after training when an athlete has had a chance to recover, that adaptations take place that lead to performance improvements. If an athlete’s recovery isn’t sufficient, you’ll begin to see drop-offs in performance and a higher risk of illness and injury due to overtraining. As a result, some argue that recovery is as important, if not more important than the training itself.

However, due to the demands of modern sporting schedules, practitioners, and athletes, are constantly under pressure to maximize training adaptations while also maintaining performance levels during competition schedules that can be heavily congested. In search of an advantage that will help them recover faster and improve performance, athletes have been inundated with recovery techniques, some of which have little or no scientific research to prove their efficacy.

In this blog, we aim to cut through the noise and provide a guide to help coaches educate athletes and help them manage their recovery more efficiently and effectively so they can train and perform consistently.

Recovery is the time an athlete has between training or competing where they can rest, repair, and their body can adapt to be ready for the next training/competition. Depending on the activity undertaken by the athlete, including the volume and intensity, recovery can take many forms, such as physical, metabolic, and psychological. Each of these needs to be considered to ensure the athlete recovers sufficiently.

First and foremost, all phases of training should be designed to include sufficient rest and recovery periods which give time for adaptations to take place. Allowing the athlete to train and compete at max capacity when they need to. This is a must for athletes of all levels.

RYPT-successive-training-recovery-improving-performance

This can be an issue for youth athletes who may take place in multiple sports in particular. In this case, effective communication between coaches and the athlete is paramount to be able to manage the athlete’s training load and put a weekly plan in place that prioritizes their development while mitigating their risk of overtraining, injury and illness.

The following fundamental recovery techniques should be in place before any other recovery strategies are considered. They’re not flashy. They’re simple strategies that don’t require any specialised equipment so they should be accessible to athletes at all levels.

RYPT-app-optimize-your-sleep-to-optimize-performance

Getting enough quality sleep is essential for the health of the body and mind. A day or two of sub-optimal sleep is unlikely to significantly affect performance. However, chronically bad sleep, less than 6 hours for four or more consecutive nights, can have a marked impact on an athlete’s ability to perform. Including a host of negative effects such as impaired cognitive performance, negative mood, fat gain, disturbed glucose metabolism and appetite regulation, increased risk of illness, reduced focus, reduced sex drive, and hormone imbalance.

Therefore, the following sleep durations are recommended for athletes based on their age. However, it’s important to note that this can vary depending on the overall training load they’re exposed to:

  • 14-17 years old / 8-10 hours per night
  • 18+ years old / 7-9 hours per night

Sleep quality is just as important as sleep quantity as it’s only during deep sleep that your body enters an anabolic state where muscle repair and building occurs, and memory is consolidated – critical for learning complex neuromuscular movements and developing skills required to excel at their sport.

Monitoring sleep quality and sleep duration is very helpful in identifying when an athlete is not getting enough high-quality sleep. Then interventions can be made to address the issue. Athletes should follow these sleep hygiene guidelines to improve the quality of their sleep:

  1. Keep a regular sleep schedule
  2. Find a de-stressing mechanism
  3. Avoid alcohol and caffeine
  4. Avoid eating or drinking too much
  5. Ditch the electronics
  6. Don’t exercise too late
  7. Make sure your bedroom is dark, cool, quiet, and tidy

For more, see our guide to optimizing sleep by establishing a sleep routine and creating an environment that is conducive to sleep.

Nutrition and hydration are an integral part of the recovery process. If athletes don’t fuel themselves sufficiently, they won’t see the benefits of their training, they won’t be in the best possible position to perform, and they’ll be at higher risk of illness and injury.

Nutrition can facilitate and improve the adaptive response to training, it can mitigate against the risks of illness and injury, and it can ensure that the athlete is ready to perform again, which is especially important in a competition setting.

Fluid loss of as little as 2% of body weight can have a significant impact on performance. Negative effects of dehydration include fatigue, reduced concentration and reaction times, reduced adaptation to training, and increased risk of illness and injury.

Nutritional demands can vary depending on the type of training the athlete is recovering from. For individualized advice relating to training-specific nutritional demands, we recommend consulting a sports nutritionist. However, there are basic principles that athletes should follow regarding their nutrition:

  1. Refuel / Athletes should consume a protein and carbohydrate-rich snack as soon as possible after an intense or prolonged period of exercise. Followed by a balanced meal within 2 hours.
  2. Rehydrate / Athletes should start every training session/competition hydrated, and rehydrate post-session with 1.5 litres of fluid for every 1 kg of body weight lost.
  3. Repair / Athletes should consume enough high-quality protein (1.6-2.6 g/kg of body weight depending on activity levels) to support muscle growth and repair, and enough calories to support their performance goals. Click here for guidelines to help you structure your nutrition to meet your performance goals.
  4. Protect / Athletes should consume a variety of whole fruits and vegetables to get the micronutrients necessary for a healthy immune system.

Athletes should always adopt a food-first approach with a focus on unprocessed whole foods.

RYPT-app-how-to-get-your-stress-under-control

Sport is highly-demanding and can often feel all-consuming for an athlete. That’s without even mentioning the challenges they face outside of sport, like family and relationships, studies or employment and other personal matters. All of these psychological stressors play a role in an athlete’s ability to recover from the training loads they’re exposed to.

Their mood can be impacted making training feel more difficult than it usually would. Stress can impact their appetite meaning they don’t fuel sufficiently to repair and perform, and it can also impact sleep and sleep quality. If left unmanaged these can have extremely detrimental effects on the athlete’s progress and performance.

Monitoring these lifestyle factors such as mood, energy levels, and stress can give athletes a greater understanding of other aspects of their lives that may be impacting their performance and can highlight areas where they may need some additional support. Simply discussing these openly and honestly with their coach can allow them to put a plan in place to address the issues and factor in additional recovery periods at times of high stress.

There are many other recovery techniques that are commonly adopted by athletes trying to maximize their recovery and get the edge on their competition. However, there is little evidence to support their efficacy. They may have some merit as part of the overall athletic development program or recovery strategy, but they should never be prioritized over the priority recovery techniques discussed above.

  • Stretching & Mobility / One of the most widely used recovery techniques but there is little evidence to suggest that it aids recovery. There is also no evidence to suggest that it has a detrimental effect on recovery or performance. It does have other benefits for flexibility and injury prevention so can be included in an athlete’s program for reasons other than recovery.
  • Foam Rolling / Can reduce the perception of muscle soreness but the actual benefits are unproven and some studies suggest that it can have detrimental effects.
  • Cold water immersion / Can reduce the perception of muscle soreness but the actual benefits are unproven and some studies have suggested that adaptations can be blunted by it.
  • Compression Garments / Have been shown to reduce the perception of muscle soreness however the actual effects are questionable. Must be fitted correctly and replaced when the elasticity of the garment begins to diminish.
  • Massage / Can improve the perception of recovery but is unlikely to improve muscle function and may actually impair adaptation if done incorrectly or if timed poorly. 

Other things are often presented as recovery techniques but they lack evidence to support their effectiveness and in some cases have risks associated with them. These “recovery techniques” should be avoided. They include:

  • Consistent painkiller use
  • Pneumatic compression
  • Anti-oxidant supplements
  • Neuromuscular electrical stimulation
  • Oxygen therapy

Recovery is an integral part of the athletic development and performance process. It allows athletes to adapt to the training they’ve undertaken to improve performance and acquire new skills, and to be ready to perform at the peak of their ability when required to. With condensed schedules and the pressure to perform athletes are constantly exploring recovery techniques that will give them the edge. But when it comes to effective recovery, prioritizing the basics of sleep, nutrition and hydration, and stress management will yield the best results. Other recovery techniques may be included as part of the overall program or recovery strategy but athletes need to be educated to avoid other potentially detrimental techniques.

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