The Top 5 Ways to Optimise Your Team's Recovery Process

Updated: Oct 20, 2020

"Trying to talk to athletes about recovery is like someone telling you to go to the dentist. You know you need to do it; you know you should be doing it, but the thought of it is too uncomfortable."

Recovery is easy for elite athletes. We’ve all seen the images of our favourite football team wading in the sea for recovery after a big game on the weekend. We always hear about their state-of-the-art gyms, hydrotherapy pools, spas and fitness coaches.


But what about local athletes? Why is there limited information on what the sub-elite level can do to improve their own recovery?


Consider the local and sub-elite athletes we have playing in the community on the weekend. Consider how many teams and players we have turning up every Saturday and Sunday. Then imagine those teams extended across soccer, the rugby codes and Australian Rules. In 2018 alone there were 470,000 Victorians kicking the Sherrin around the local footy clubs.


To keep athletes participating at a high level in these sports, we need to know how to recover.


Now I know what you're thinking. Recovery is great and all, but your club doesn't have the facilities like the professionals do.


Well, we're here to let you in on a little secret. You don't need them.


You don't need access to the hydrotherapy pools, the spas or the gym. You can still have an elite recovery plan for your team and reap the same recovery rewards for little cost.


Before we get into the specifics, we know recovery isn't the best part about competing. We know that the word "recovery" may trigger psychological horrors of the ice-bath. It may even trigger the rush to buy the newest pair of $200 compression garments at the start of preseason. But recovery also needs to trigger the importance of preparing yourself for competition.


We know that trying to find the right recovery strategy can be difficult. You don’t have the time to try and research the different types of recovery. You don’t know what methods are suitable or practical for your team. Like a fullback kicking out from the square, there's so many options.


Guess what?! We've done all the hard yards for you. We’ve put together our Top 5 strategies to ensure optimal recovery for you and your team. These methods are practical, time efficient and can improve your team's performance.


 

1. Sleep

"Sleep may be the most important form of recovery for any athlete."
It's definitely the most popular.

Why is sleep important for recovery?

  • During sleep, growth hormones are at their highest levels, which is important for muscle growth and recovery

  • Sleep regulates central nervous system and cognitive functions

  • Sleep deprivation can impair the muscle recovery and building process by reducing growth hormone levels and by increasing breakdown concentrations

  • Sleep deprivation can impact strength output, muscle glycogen replenishment and cognitive processes (2, 3)

Benefits of Sleep

  • Maintains cognitive skill level

  • Maintains levels of growth hormones (muscle recovery and growth)

  • Reduces catabolic (muscle breakdown) hormone concentrations

  • Maintains mood, motivation and decision-making processes (2, 3)


implementing sleep



TRIAX Bonus Tip:

  • Use naps where possible throughout the day to top up sleep and to help alleviate sleep deprivation (2, 3, 6)

 

2. Active Recovery

"Active recovery is an easy, time efficient and practical recovery option."

What is Active Recovery?

  • Completing low intensity activity after a training session or match

  • Light, continuous movements, such as running, cycling or swimming (or a combination of activities) for a brief period of time (10-25 minutes)

  • Usually completed the day after the event (3)

Why do we Program Active Recovery?

  • Training and competition can cause lactate, hydrogen ions and other by-products to accumulate in the muscle as a result of the metabolic process. To accelerate the removal of these products we need to improve oxygen supply to the muscle sites

  • The most efficient way to increase oxygen supply is through exercise, thus the need for an active recovery (3)

Benefits of Active Recovery

  • Create a pumping effect with muscle contraction and relaxation

  • Increased blood flow and oxygen supply

  • Removal of lactate and hydrogen ions

  • Improve muscle range of motion (3)

Implementing Active Recovery


  • 1-2 days after training/competition

  • 8-25 minute activity

  • A combination of either running, swimming, dynamic stretching, cycling or small games

  • Low to moderate intensity (up to ~65% VO2 or HR max) and place an emphasis on fun, particularly in the team environment (3)

TRIAX Bonus Tip:

  • If you’re taking your team down to the beach/ocean for some cold-water immersion, take a ball and play some ball games on the sand

  • You can reap the benefits of hydrostatic pressure in water recovery as well as promote activity recovery and fun on the sand

 

3. Hydration and Nutrition

"A 2% reduction in athlete hydration levels can start to decrease strength output and cognitive performance."
Even chocolate milk can have a place in the recovery process.

What is Hydration and Nutrition?

  • Hydration is maintaining an appropriate fluid intake to sustain exercise and recovery

  • Nutrition for recovery is the energy we consume via foods and drinks that help regenerate our energy stores

What do we Suggest Regarding Hydration and Nutrition?

  • Aim to ingest a mix of carbohydrate and protein after training or competition in combination with increased fluids

  • Carbohydrates are vital for restoring muscle glycogen stores

  • Protein is vital in muscle repair and synthesis (1,4)

Benefits of Hydration and Nutrition

  • Maintain cognitive and physical output (hydration)

  • Prevent dehydration (hydration)

  • Enhance muscle protein synthesis (protein contribution)

  • Restore muscle glycogen levels (nutritional) (1,4)

Implementing Hydration and Nutrition strategies



Hydration After Competition or Training

  • Re-hydrating after exercise (mainly competition) can be determined by athlete weight

  • Required Fluids = (Pre-activity weight – Post-activity weight) x 1.5 (L)

  • Fluids with electrolyte content is preferred (sports drinks) to enhance the recovery process

  • Adding extra electrolytes to sports drinks can also be used to enhance sodium intake


Nutrition Recommendations After Competition or Training

  • 25 g of Protein

  • 50-75 g of Carbohydrate (or 1.0-1.2 g/kgBW/hr for the first 4 hours after exercise or smaller portions with ingestion of protein)

  • We recommend combining protein and carbohydrates immediately after training or competition

  • This can be achieved via:

— Whey protein shake with 300 ml low fat milk + a sports drink

— Yogurt and fruit combinations

— Solid food meals

TRIAX Bonus Tip:

  • Find what’s palatable for the athlete after exercise. Maybe they can stomach chocolate milk, or maybe a protein shake and a sports drink

 

4. Water Therapies


4a. Cold Water Immersion (CWI)

"The recovery mode that gives athletes chills."

What is Cold Water Immersion?

  • Cold Water Immersion (CWI) involves placing the body (or limbs) in cold water (<15°C) shortly after exercise

  • CWI is can included any of the following: ice baths, plunge pools, sea recovery, or cold-water therapy (3)

Why Would we Program CWI?


Two words – Hydrostatic Pressure.

  • Hydrostatic pressure is the external pressure applied to the body when immersed in water. This pressure enhances the ability of the body to deliver nutrients to cells

  • CWI also cools body tissue to help reduce inflammation

  • Cold water may also help to reduce the perception of pain in the athlete and may feel better after the immersion

  • Appropriate for contact sports (3)

Suggested Benefits of CWI

  • Enhanced muscle contractile function

  • Improved metabolic waste removal

  • Improved nutrient delivery

  • Reduce perception of pain (3)

Implementing CWI


  • Cold showers/baths or sea/beach water

  • Water temperature = 10-15°C

  • 24 hours after activity

  • 1 x 10 mins in cold or 2 x 5 mins or 3 x 3 mins

  • Ensure the targeted limbs are submerged/impacted consistently (for showers) (3)

TRIAX Bonus Tip:

  • If you have the facilities, try to stand whilst submerged in water to allow for greater hydrostatic pressure to the lower limbs. Sea/beach water may be a better alternative

  • Don’t make the water freezing cold. Some research suggests that excessively cold water may inhibit the recovery process

What About Applying Ice?

  • If you have a club trainer or physio, then I’m sure they will be using Ice for application to your athletes with injuries

 

4b. Contrast Water Therapy (CWT)


What is Contrast Water Therapy?

  • Contrast Water Therapy (CWT) involves the alternating use of hot and cold-water immersions, usually via hot and cold showers or baths

Why Would we Program CWT?

  • Reap the proposed benefits of cold (CWI) and hot water immersion (HWI)

  • Hot water immersion increases tissue temperature and blood flow, whilst cold water immersion aids in the removal of inflammatory cells

  • CWT creates a localised vasodilation (opening of vessels) and vasoconstriction (vasoconstriction) of vessels which creates a pump-like effect that shuttles blood flow

  • Shuttling may enhance the removal of waste products and improve nutrient delivery to the muscle (3)

Suggested Benefits of CWT

  • Enhance muscle elasticity (hot water)

  • Improved metabolic waste removal

  • Improved nutrient delivery

  • Improved metabolism


Implementing CWT

  • Either hot/cold showers or baths – spas can be used for hot water

  • Cold water temperature = 10-15°C. Hot water temperature = 38-42°C

  • 24 hrs after activity

  • 1-4 x rotations of 1 or 2 mins cold into 1- or 2-mins hot

  • Ensure the targeted limbs are submerged/impacted consistently (for showers)

  • Appropriate after light-contact sessions or for low-contact sports (3)



Considerations with Contrast Water Therapy

  • Avoid CWT after competition and heavy contact sessions. Hot water promotes vasodilation (widening of the blood vessel) which can increase the inflammatory response to bruising

  • The severity of this response is not fully understood, but cold-water immersion and ice baths can be just as effective after contact team sport sessions and competition (3)

TRIAX Bonus Tip:

  • If you have the facilities, try to stand whilst submerged in a bath or spa to allow for greater hydrostatic pressure to the lower limbs

 

5. Foam Rolling

"Besides a massage, the foam roller is a popular recovery technique for those that feel 'a bit tight'."

What is Foam Rolling?

  • Foam rolling is a form of self-manual therapy where the athlete uses their own body-weight to apply pressure to soft tissues structures

  • Foam cylinders are applied to areas of the body and the athlete then rolls back and forth with the roller placed against the contact point

  • Whilst foam rolling could be seen as a warm up tool, it is highly popular with athletes after exercise

Why Would we Program Foam Rolling?

  • The suggested physiological benefits surround the idea of self-myofascial release (SMR). SMR attempts to reduce “tightness” in the myofascial complex (myo = muscle, fascia = soft tissue)

  • Tightness restricts range of motion which is then believed to reduce blood flow

  • Foam rolling is suggested to improve range of motion by softening the tissue and enabling greater blood flow

  • This mechanism is not fully understood at the research level (5)


Benefits of Foam Rolling

  • Psychological feeling of recovery or relaxation

  • Reduced perception of pain

  • Reduced severity of DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness)

  • Improved local blood flow (5)

Implementing Foam Rolling


  • Before exercise or prior to your next session

  • 30-45 second repetitions of 3-5 body sites

  • 2-3 circuit rotations through body sites

Considerations for Foam Rolling

  • With manual therapies such as foam rolling, individual responses can be varied between athletes

  • Foam rolling may provide a greater psychological effect on an athlete’s recovery over the physical effect. This influence should not be underestimated

TRIAX Bonus Tip:

  • The effectiveness of foam rolling on recovery is mixed within research. There are indications that introducing foam rolling into athlete warm-ups can be beneficial

  • If your athlete feels better completing foam rolling after exercise, then encourage this

 

There you have it. That's TRIAX's top 5 strategies for optimising your team's recovery.


How did we go? Are there any glaring omissions from our squad of techniques? Let us know via our social links below!


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If we can be of further help to you and/or your team in any way, please reach out and contact us!


Otherwise, ice-bath anyone?!


 

about the author

Rob Delves

Sports Scientist

B. Ex&SpSc (Hons)

PhD Candidate

Available for Sport Science Consulting

Twitter | Linkedin

 

references

1. Cian C, Koulmann N, Barraud PA, Raphel C, Jimenez C, and Melin B. Influences of variations in body hydration on cognitive function: Effect of hyperhydration, heat stress, and exercise-induced dehydration. Journal of Psychophysiology 14: 29-36, 2000.

2. Halson SL. Sleep in Elite Athletes and Nutritional Interventions to Enhance Sleep. Sports Medicine 44: 13, 2014.

3. Joyce D and Lewindon D. High-Performance Training for Sports. [electronic resource]. Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc., 2014.

4. Saunders MJ. Carbohydrate-protein intake and recovery from endurance exercise: is chocolate milk the answer? Current sports medicine reports 10: 203-210, 2011.

5. Thimo W, Alexander D, Christoph S, Laura H, Tim M, Michael K, Mark P, and Alexander F. A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Foam Rolling on Performance and Recovery. Frontiers in Physiology 10, 2019.

6. Waterhouse J, Atkinson G, Edwards B, and Reilly T. The role of a short post-lunch nap in improving cognitive, motor, and sprint performance in participants with partial sleep deprivation. Journal of Sports Sciences 25: 1557-1566, 2007.

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