Maximising your recovery, post workout/physical activity

With the commencement of a lot of winter sports (AFL, Soccer, rugby just to name a few) I thought it would be good to write a blog on the best approaches for recovery so that the individuals that want to play sport don’t miss games/trainings because of poor recovery strategies. As part of a good approach to any type of physical activity recovery following the event/s is optimal, whether that be working out in the gym or playing sport on a weekend as part of a local team. We have 2 main approaches in regards to recovery and optimising physical performance and they are;

  • Active recovery – which is inclusive of stretching, foam rolling or light exercise (like going for a low intensity walk/ride following a game of football).
  • Passive recovery – Passive recovery potentially has the biggest influence on our recovery and performance, it involves strategies like nutrition, compression garments, hot/cold water therapy as well as soft-tissue massage.

What happens during exercise?

During exercise we see a state of fatigue occur, the longer the duration of the exercise the greater the fatigue that occurs. Some of the characteristics we see from the neural (nervous system) and metabolic fatigue (breakdown of energy stores) are;

  • Decreased force production
  • Increased lactate levels (lactic acid is a by-product of glycogen breakdown).
  • Decrease in energy resources (such as glycogen in the muscle and lover).

The net result of the mechanical stress on the musculoskeletal system is often muscles tenderness/soreness (often referred to as DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness), swelling as well as a decrease in physical activity capacity/performance.

Strategies to improve recovery –

Light Exercise –

This is often the most widely used strategy in regards to the recovery process following a game or training, it is often referred to as a cool down. Examples of the warm-down include light jogging, riding a spin bike, walking or even having the use of water to swim. Some of the benefits of a light exercise regime following the commencement;

  • Decreasing the nervous system up regulation (decreasing heart rate as well as alertness/game readiness) to aide with sleep and improved subjective ratings (wellness measures).
  • Slower decline in body temperature
  • Increased blood flow to deliver nutrients (aids recovery) as well as removal of metabolic by-products such as lactate.

Stretching –

Another common method used in the recovery process and this can be integrated with the light exercise recovery strategies. Looking at the research the best time frames for the static or dynamic stretches are held for between 10-30 seconds. Stretching promotes increased muscle length and improved joint range of motion, help with the realignment of collagen fibres (which are disrupted following exercise), as well as potentially helping with the pain management/negating DOMS. As part of the recovery program we would use different types of stretches to help improve muscle length and function, but most likely a PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) stretch.

Massage –

Most sporting clubs have the use of a sports trainer who can provide massage following a bout of exercise, but for those individuals that don’t have access to the sports trainers getting a massage from your Osteo/Physio or massage therapist is another option available. Some of the benefits of soft tissue massage include;

  • Improved blood flow to the area
  • Improved mood/relaxation
  • Increased lactate clearance

Similar to a massage the use of a foam roller is also a great strategy to aid recovery and performance. Foam rolling has been shown to decrease pain and improve joint range of motion.

Compression Garments –

The common compression garments used are brands such as Skins and 2XU, they can be worn around the legs (shorts or pants) or on the upper extremity (singlet or tops). Some of the benefits described include;

  • Decreased DOMS
  • Decreased muscle swelling
  • Improved lactate clearance

But with inconclusive research I believe that the benefits are mainly derived from a psychological aspect (placebo) and this is due to the amount of pressure needed to benefit the individual being greater than that being produced by the fabric.

Compression clothing

Hot/cold water therapy –

This often limited to the higher end of the performance scale purely due to the cost and space needed to conduct this on a regular basis. It is common practice at elite level sport (seen in the AFL) to use ice baths, but the use of a hot shower/cold shower protocol is something that may be achievable at home. The proposed benefits of this type of therapy include;

  • Relaxing of gravitational muscles (which conserves energy – less metabolic products)
  • Reduction of pain perception

The proposed physiological mechanism for how the hot/cold water method works is by the hot water increasing the body temperature that promotes increased blood flow, local vasodilatation and improved muscle elasticity, with the cold water causing the opposing effects as well as the cold being useful as an anti-inflammatory. The ideal temperature for this to have the greatest effect is between 37-43 degrees Celsius for the hot water and 10-15 degrees Celsius for the cold.

hot and cold therapy

Nutrition –

Probably one of the most effective strategies when trying to improve recovery is what we eat following the bout of physical activity. Carbohydrates (CHO’s) form a large part of what we eat, seeing as CHOs are broken down into it glycogen which is the main energy source for the body. It is recommended that CHOs of a high glycaemic index (GI) are to be consumed within the first 30-60 mins following exercise to aid in restoring glycogen levels to pre-exercise. Some examples of high GI CHOs include; lollies, white bread, pasta and pizza. Along with CHO supplementation it is also important that we have a source of protein such as a protein shake or even combining the pasta with a meat sauce.

Fluid loss is also an important part of the nutrition strategy, and it is even more important when exercise has been completed in hot/humid environments (due to increased fluid loss). The fluid lost during physical activity can be replaced with water, but other drinks such as Gatorade or hydralyte are also great because they contain vital minerals that are lost during activity. The longer the duration of exercise and the more intense it is the more fluid and electrolyte loss occurs.

Example of Game day recovery strategy –

The example I will use for this is following a game of AFL football on the weekend.

  • Address any injury concerns with adequate management (ice/strapping).
  • Immediately after the game doing a light run through (50% game intensity) for 5-10mins
  • Followed by a 5-10min stretching/foam rolling of muscles used (in this case it will predominantly legs)
  • Then begin to start our nutritional strategy which will involve the consumption of CHOs and protein – an example of this would be a protein shake with a Gatorade.
  • Avoiding alcohol that night seeing as though it can act as a blood thinner and increase bleeding (which will increase soreness).
  • Good night sleep to help with the release of certain hormones that aid muscle recovery (such as growth hormone).
  • The following morning going down to the beach/pool and either walking/swimming in the water.

How Hobsons Bay Health Group can help?

At Hobsons Bay Health Group we can help set up meaningful recovery strategies that can get you back to your specified physical activity. We can do this by showing you how to effectively stretch and use a foam roller, provide soft tissue therapy following exercise or point you in the correct direction of a nutritionist/ dietician who can help with the nutritional side of the recovery.  As well as deal with any injuries that you may have suffered from the physical activity you complete.

For any help in regards to any injuries you may be suffering from yourself or you have any questions relating to any other injuries feel free to get in touch via email at info@hobsonsbayhealthgroup.com.au or visit the website at https://hobsonsbayhealthgroup.com.au/ to book an appointment with you allied health practitioner.

References –
  1. Cheung, K., Hume, P., & Maxwell, L. (2003). Delayed onset muscle soreness: Treatment Strategies and Performance Factors. Sports Medicine,145-164.
  2. Macdonald, G. Z., Penney, M. D., Mullaley, M. E., Cuconato, A. L., Drake, C. D., Behm, D. G., & Button, D. C. (2013). An Acute Bout of Self-Myofascial Release Increases Range of Motion Without a Subsequent Decrease in Muscle Activation or Force. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research,27(3), 812-821.
  3. Page, P. (2012). Current concepts in muscle stretching for exercise and rehabilitation. International Journal Of Sports Physical Thearpy, 109-119.