In today’s blog, we are going to discuss what it means to be recovered. Our massage clients often seek to maintain an injury-free state during their training – or recover quickly to reach their goals. However, ‘recovery’ is not as black and white as it first appears, so I think it is important to determine what we mean by recovery before we dive into this topic further. From a traditional standpoint, recovery would be defined as sitting somewhere between not feeling fatigued after training to being completely injury free. But as this topic is explored further, we’ll start to see that recovery is something slightly different.

Let’s split this topic into two categories so we can fully appreciate it.

We’ll start by what is happening externally – or more simply put, what we as athletes feel.

Often when we train, we don’t have too many markers that we can dial in on to tell us how well our body is responding to training, so often we use what we can feel. For example, we do an intense bout of exercise and we feel more tired, our muscles are more fatigued than when we started and potentially even a bit achy. Usually we use these markers to control the next few days of training and how much harder we push to complete it. These sensations that we get from training can differ greatly in symptomology and intensity – and from what we know from one of our previous blogs on the emotional influence of pain, what we feel in our tissues sometimes is not an accurate representation of what’s actually going on. Still, it is a good starting point. When we go through a training programme, we are increasing the stress onto our bodies systems.

In the short term, how our muscles react to training and how we feel is important. Without keeping an eye on things, we simply cannot train to our full extent. 

Therefore, massage, physio and the likes are key components to one’s toolbox. These can be used to help keep the body moving, reduce cortisol (stress hormone) and sympathetic nervous system activation – all of which are vital to you training at your peak consistently without distraction of illness or injury. 

But what else can we do to further improve this? Here’s where we switch the conversation to what’s going on internally. One of Sports Lab’s newest team members and world-class sports physiologist, Claire Badenhorst, has some insight. 

Claire:

As a physiologist, recovery to me means how quickly our body can adapt to the stress which we are putting it under. The human body is very adaptable, and when it is at rest it can maintain a relatively constant internal environment; this is known as homeostasis. An example of this is our body’s ability to maintain a normal and relatively constant body temperature. There are literally 100s of different systems within our body and most have an overall goal of maintaining one physiological variable to a constant level. These control systems can determine how we build muscle, how we produce energy in our muscle, which food source we use to fuel exercise and how much of a nutrient is stored in our body. Most of our systems will work together to maintain this constant internal environment, our lungs and heart (respiratory and cardiovascular systems) work together to deliver oxygen around the body and remove carbon dioxide and it can adapt and maintain this functioning at rest and during really hard exercise too. When we apply a stress to our body (exercise or illness), sensors throughout our body are able to detect this stress, feed this information to our major control centre (the brain) and then the brain send signals out to different biological systems (muscles, lungs, heart to name a few) to carry out a response that will allow us to respond to the stress (exercise).

Now to me, a healthy body is one that can carry out this simple process of producing the right response to the applied stress and then responding in a controlled and appropriate way. With the correct loading and periodisation, the body will be able to adapt to the incremental loads and be able to tolerate more and so we will see the improvements in fitness. A body that is not recovered or over stressed may not produce the right response to maintain a constant and stable physiological environment. In this case we may not respond to training as we initially thought we would and may feel fatigued, flat, achy sore and well overall not that great.

Next up, our resident nutritionist, Eliot Fenton, will talk to you about the nutritional side of recovery and wrap up this segment of the blog.

Eliot:

Thinking about recovery nutrition, it isn’t all about after the workout, training or event. This all starts beforehand with planning out your day and meals.

The key focus of nutrition recovery is restoring body losses and promote any adaptions made, looking specifically at hydration, macronutrients and timing.

Restoration

Hydration is a big part of recovery. Intense, prolonged or heat-stressed sessions will generally cause higher sweat losses than rehydration through the duration. It is important to start any form of exercise hydrated aiming for pale yellow urine. The physiological effects of dehydration like thirst may not always be the best stimulant after exercise. 

The most important macronutrients in general after exercise are carbohydrates and protein. In general, our body will predominantly use carbohydrate as the main fuel source whether this is from food ingested before or from stored carbohydrate (muscle glycogen). The amount needed will range dependent on the activity, duration, weight and intensity. The best source of carbohydrate will also be dependent on activity for the rest of the day, i.e. a sprinter competing at a track event all day could ingest fast carbohydrates low in fibre like white bread to be able to compete sooner with stored glycogen, whereas running 5 -10km will focus on have more complex carbohydrates.

Adaption

Now thinking about adaption to the exercise, this is where protein should be utilised. Protein is important for muscle recovery. Because exercise will stimulate proteins to be broken down within the muscle, they require their building blocks – amino acids – to restore them back and overall making them stronger. 

Timing

Timing is dependent on a few aspects like previously mentioned if you were at a track event versus if you were out doing one session for the day. The timing of carbohydrates is important to maximise the restoration of glycogen stores. Burke talks about research that shows the highest rates of restoring glycogen happens within the first hour after exercise.

The timing of protein has always been perceived as having as much as possible after a workout. Unfortunately, this is not the whole truth. To maximise muscle adaption, it is best to spread your protein intake throughout the day for the turnover of protein within a 24 – 48 time period (Burke) but make sure there is intake before and after your workout. If we have one meal with all our protein, the body will only absorb so much. 

If you have gotten to this point in the blog, you probably have started to think that there is a lot more to this recovery thing that we initially lead to believe. So, make sure you get in contact with the Sports Lab team to see how we can help you with recovery and performance!

Dr Claire Badenhorst
Eliot Fenton

This talented team of Sports Lab professionals are passionate about recovery and performance. Luke McCallum has been part of the Sports Lab furniture since the near beginning, and Claire Badenhorst and Eliot Fenton are newer members to the team.