Recovery is generally misunderstood, but is a crucial aspect to improved performance. This month's Performance Tips looks at this vital component of your training. Follow these guidelines and your performance is sure to improve.

This article is for educational purposes only. Before, embarking on any exercise regimen you should be fit, healthy and free from any illness/disease. If you have any queries or are not sure about your general health and well being, you should contact your health care advisor/family physician.

Why not take a look at the archived articles written in the past...


Recovery, is it important?
Recovery is the component of training that enables the body to become stronger. Without, rest and recovery the body becomes more and more fatigued, initially resulting in a decrease in performance, which if continued is usually followed by frequent minor infections (e.g. colds, upper respiratory tract infections). This is the beginning of overtraining / chronic fatigue syndrome - CFS - often, initially referred to as overreaching. Overtraining and CFS, will be dealt with in a later issue, but basically requires a long period of rest to help you recover. Too many athletes think that you only get faster when training and either neglect or forget about recovery, this is incorrect. With correct rest and recovery periods the body adapts to the training stresses (that you provide it) resulting in superior performance.

What do I do?
How do you know if you are recovering from one session to the next? A simple and easy to perform test, that I have my athletes do every day upon waking, is record their resting heart rate values - RHR. Resting heart rate, should initially be assessed by recording it daily for five - seven days, every morning upon waking, when in an easy / light training week. No matter if it isn't an easy week, record it any way.

Count your pulse on your wrist for 20 seconds, multiply it by three. Record it in a diary along with your other training variables - you do keep a diary don't you? At the end of the seven day period average the daily heart rate readings. This is your reference, baseline RHR.

So, what to look for?
If RHR changes from baseline figures by approximately 15 - 20 %, this usually indicates that something is amiss. Was yesterday a hard day? Did you 'crack' in the final few kilometres of your training session? Was it a stressful day at work? This change in baseline RHR (either above or below normal) suggests that you have not recovered. Put simply, you need to have the day off from training. No guilt, no worries, it's now a rest day. Above a 20 % change in baseline RHR might indicate that you have an illness starting, this also means no training and might necessitate a trip to your family physician / GP. A change in baseline figures that isn't as much as 15 % would suggest you should have an easy day on your bike. Give the intervals a miss.

Recovery, when, afterwards?
Does recovery only occur post exercise? No. Recovery starts before and during exercise. That's the warm up and pre exercise nutrition. The warm up is beneficial, because it induces a whole process of complex physiological processes. These help exercise become easier and less stressful, which, results in less damaging overload. Pre exercise nutrition helps maximise the body's store of carbohydrates - CHO (known as glycogen) and blood glucose. This enables a higher quality work out and when you use an energy drink such as Science in Sport PSP 22 or Science in Sport GO this helps maintain glycogen and / or hydration status allowing a workout to proceed with less likelihood of you hitting the 'wall' or 'bonking'.

Afterwards, straight away!
You're approaching home; you've had a hard long ride, an intense medium length workout or some lung bursting, leg ripping intervals. Ten minutes, until you get in. Start warming down, now. Prepare your body for recovery by gently warming down, reducing your HR or power output. This way the recovery process is speeded up.

Now the important bit
Once off your bike, the recovery process is underway. Speed it up and get better adaptations. EAT. Hang on - don't just eat rubbish. The 20 - 30 minute period after finishing exercise is the crucial phase for taking in key macronutrients. The food of choice should be high in CHO and also protein (especially if tired). For instance, glass of glucose polymer (approx. 50 grams) plus a tuna sandwich.

However, a sports recovery drink such as Science in Sport REGO is the best option as this helps recovery in several ways. REGO combines a special mix of complex carbohydrates, fructose and protein, which has been shown to give a rapid improvement in recovery from hard exercise and increases your adaptation to exercise. It's also an ideal way to rehydrate yourself. Micronutrients, such as antioxidants are also included (and should be used if not using REGO) which can protect against post exercise muscle damage (by 'fighting' free radicals) and this can help prevent muscle soreness.

What next?
Having eaten / used a recovery drink within 20 - 30 minutes of completing the workout / race, the next phase of recovery is relaxation. Ideally, this can be initiated with either a bath or shower. Latest research findings suggest that bathing the main exercising limbs (e.g. legs) in cool water will help reduce or prevent muscle damage.

You're never more relaxed than when asleep, so head to bed. A siesta of around 30 minutes to 1.5 hours can be ideal. The siesta is a vital component of recovery during stage races or consecutive days of hard training. However, you shouldn't skimp on your evening sleep because of your siesta. For most people seven to ten hours of sleep is needed every night.

Once awake, it's time for more food and fluids to help replenish the glycogen you've used during that ride. Ideally, you should aim for 0.75 grams of CHO per kilogram of body weight (BW) per hour to fully replenish muscle and liver glycogen at the optimum rate.

Lastly, if your RHR is moderately altered (usually raised - less than 15 %) the next morning a recovery ride is in order - rather than the hard session you had planned. Don't be tempted to make the session difficult if you start to feel better. Keep the bike in the small ring and a low gear, say 42 x 18, making sure the intensity is low and HR stays at a comfortable level (e.g. less than 60 b.min-1 below MHR).

Recovery check list
Aim for these to maximise recovery:

  • Record RHR every morning upon waking. Act on the results
  • Eat 90 - 120 minutes prior to exercising
  • Don't forget to drink pre, during and post exercise (not alcohol!)
  • Warm up for a suitable length of time
  • During the race / training session aim to eat and drink frequently
  • Immediately post exercise, stretching can be performed
  • Within 20 - 30 minutes of exercising consume a sports recovery drink (e.g. REGO)
  • Relax with a shower / bath
  • Sleep for 30 - 90 minutes (siesta)
  • Upon waking consume 0.75g CHO/kg body mass/hr
  • Avoid too much fat or protein as these impair fluid uptake
  • Drink plenty. Not tea, coffee, alcohol, cola as these are potent diuretics - and therefore, dehydrate you
  • Relax - you've earned it
  • Make sure you get plenty of sleep (minimum of 7 hours)

Various options can be used to help you unwind and relax. These include:

  • Massage - just like the professionals
  • Bath or shower (hot, then cold on the legs)
  • Deep breathing relaxation / sport psychology techniques (later issue)
  • Post exercise stretching
  • Post exercise siesta
  • A gentle walk

Don't forget that good recovery techniques are vitally important during stage races or when racing on consecutive days. Get into the habit of recovering well, now! Furthermore, it's important to schedule a 'recovery' week every so often, say, every three or four week, whereby you reduce training volume by around 50 %.

So there you have it - the key to improved performance is quality recovery and relaxation periods. If you train, make sure you recover properly!