Maximizing Recovery for Sports Athletes

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By Jade Mckee

Maximizing recovery is important as we need our athletes to be performing optimally, while minimising the risk of injury.

We need to:

  • Ensure function has been restored following training and competition
  • Allow for tissue repair
  • Allow for neuromuscular and psychological recovery to take place

So, what strategies can we put in place with our athletes?

Active Recovery
This might range from 5 – 15min following the competition or training session, depending on the activity that has been completed by the athlete. This might also be followed by stretching. When compared to a passive recovery, active recovery will promote a more speedy removal of lactate from the circulation. It is also something that can also be completed on an athlete’s non-training/rest day.

The activity should not be as intense so as to further fatigue the athlete, but enough to get blood flowing to the muscles to which the recovery will be targeting. Some examples might be going for a walk or a bike ride following a leg session; or performing some light body weight/banded upper limb exercises to promote upper body recovery. Yoga and swimming could also be performed as active recovery sessions.

We need to ensure the glycogen stores of our athlete are replenished through the consumption of adequate carbohydrates. The amount required will need to be calculated on a case-by-case basis – looking at factors including the athlete’s total daily energy needs, the requirements specific to their training, and by using their athletic performance as feedback.

Protein intake is also necessary to assist with muscle repair and muscle protein synthesis following exercise.

Large amounts of fluid can be lost during intense exercise and will need to be replaced. Factors including the environment, the intensity of the exercise, and the athlete’s level of fitness can all impact on this amount. By having the athlete weigh themselves both before and after exercise – this can give an indication of how much fluid should be replaced. Sodium loss can also be high, so electrolytes should be consumed to avoid haemodilution.

An athlete should also avoid excess alcohol consumption during the recovery period, as this can delay recovery, including the absorption of the much needed post-workout carbohydrates.

Following exercise, our athlete’s sympathetic nervous system will be in a state of arousal. To lower this arousal level – the use of soft tissue massage, warm baths, flotation tanks, and relaxation techniques can be effective. 

Soft tissue massage can also help reduce increased muscle tone – or the feeling of ‘tightness’, improve flexibility, proprioceptive input, and function. It can also assist with the removal of metabolites from a muscle, while promoting the uptake of oxygen and nutrients.

Sleep is also an integral part of an athlete’s recovery. Inadequate sleep can result in suboptimal performance, reduced cognitive capacity, and has also been found to simulate overtraining.

To ensure our athletes are performing at their best – it is crucial that adequate recovery is not neglected. It may even be beneficial to include it in an athlete’s program, in order to promote compliance.

Want to learn more about how to get your clients strong, athletic and ensure they are pain free? Enrol into the Strength System International Certification Bundle!


Brukner and Kahn (2007) Clinical Sports Medicine. North Ryde, Australia: McGraw-Hill Australia Pty Ltd.

Fullagar, H. H., Sikorski, S., Duffield, R., Hammes, D., Coutts, A. J., & Meyer, T. (2014). Sleep and Athletic Performance: The Effects of Sleep Loss on Exercise Performance, and Physiological and Cognitive Responses to Exercise. Sports Medicine, 45(2), 161-186. doi:10.1007/s40279-014-0260-0

Pardue, Andrew. Low Cost Recovery Techniques. Sourced from

Poliquin Group Editorial Staff. Seven Tips to Ensure Optimal Recovery from Intense Training and Competition. Retrieved from

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