How to speed up recovery!

I was recently interviewed for a beginner’s running article and asked, “looking back over you running career, what would have done differently?”  Hmm, great question! In reflection, it took significant trial and error to ‘peak’ for an event and we learn so much along our sporting journeys.

Early on, I fixated on the training; it was all about volume, how hard, distance of longest run. It was also diet; what I was eating, what was the fat content, and measuring weight loss/gain.  In the last five years (of a good 15 years of racing), it became all about recovery and the way I was running, that is, technique.

Now, as a coach, this philosophy is shared with those I coach, at Soul Runner workshops and seminars.

Are we ensuring the solid foundations are there? Are we making time to stretch, get massages, wearing compression, eating enough protein/carbohydrate and drinking fluids? Are we ensuring that we balance out the vigorous effort with chilled, relaxation time?

Optimal performance is dependent on optimal recovery.

What are the keys to recovery?

Firstly what are we recovering from? During exercise we break down blood cells, especially in high impact sports, such as running. We put stress on our energy systems; lymphatic, endocrine, cardiovascular and muscular.

Another factor is how hard or intensity of a session. High intensity training places greater stresses on the adaptive reserve, requiring a greater recovery time. The type or nature of the activity is also important. For example, activities involving eccentric work such as downhill running create a greater amount of intramuscular tension, therefore requiring a longer recovery time for delayed onset soreness to diminish.

We also experience micro tears in the muscle tissue with repetitive load and in strength training. This can lead to small adhesions and when we keep loading, can also lead to muscle damage. There is an inflammatory response also happening, as you can imagine, when you tear a muscle. A key during exercise is flushing this through capillary blood flow – and where they found graded compression to assist the blood flow back to the heart. (Hill et al, 2014).

Timing of a session is essential: when to do a hard session and an easy session. If you continue to push, you continue to be fatigued. Alternatively, if you don’t train again for a week or more, you get reduced response or little adaptation. As you can see from the graph:

Training effect:

Training effect

Source: Athletics Australia, Level 2 Event Group Coach Middle and Long Distance, June 2012

3 tips to speed up recovery:

  1. Active recovery: when I was assisting coaching a VFL team, we would often hit the pool straight after a game, this would allow for active recovery; walking in the water, stretching and swimming to flush out toxins built up in damaged muscle tissue. Active recovery can include low or non impact activities, such as yoga, an easy ride or swim.  Complete rest is still required, so if your coach or program says a rest day – do exactly that!
  1. Compression: studies have shown that during exercise wearing ‘graded’ compression can reduced muscle damage, reduce the vibration that occurs and protect joint strain. Then, during recovery, it works like a pump.  Studies have indicated that during exercise with compression worn: there is an increase in oxygen uptake to the working muscles, a reduction in blood lactate levels and improved warm ups. But, compression clothing isn’t just a case of tight fabrics. It is graded in its tightness to ease blood flow, and it features wicking properties to reduce sweat pooling. “Analysis of pooled data indicated that the use of compression garments had a moderate effect in reducing the severity of delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS), muscle strength, muscle power and creatine kinase. These results indicate that compression garments are effective in enhancing recovery from muscle damage.” (Hill et al, 2014).

The less damage to your muscles, the faster you recover, and the better you adapt to your exercise over the long term.

  1. Nutrition: It takes the body up to 48 hours to restore the muscle glycogen you’ve used up.  It is important to focus what you put in pre exercise as well as after, to assist recovery.  For post exercise: you need foods with a high or moderate GI are recommended for rapid replenishment of glycogen stores in the liver and muscle. Try and aim for within 15 minutes of completion, as the muscles are at their most receptive to restocking. A glucose based drink is a good choice, as it will also help hydration.  Including a small serve of protein at this time may further enhance the recovery process, as well as promote more positive adaptations from the session. (Beelen et al, 2010).  Within 2 hours we want adequate protein, approximately 20-30grmas, so look to protein rich meals to repair and replenish muscles/cells.

Strategic intake of carbohydrate rich food soon after training will enhance the rate of muscle glycogen repletion and make it easier for us to consume enough carbohydrates before the next training session.

Intake also assists the immune system, which is suppressed during exhaustive, endurance type exercise. Studies have shown that the consumption of carbohydrates can help reduce the bodies stress hormone response to exercise.

So the key to recovery is timing. The focus is not only on strategies after a session, but planning for pre session and during a session, to optimise recovery. The ability to be well recovered and ready for the next session, ultimately produces better results.


Athletics Australia, Level 2 Event Group Coach Middle and Long Distance, June 2012

Beelen, M, Burke, L, Gibala, M and van Loon, L Nutritional Strategies to promote post exercise recovery. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 20, 2010, 515-532.

Hill, J, Howatson, G, van Someren, K, Leeder, J, Pedlar, C. Compression garments and recovery from exercise induced muscle damage: a meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2014, Sep: 48 (18): 1340-6

Jassal DS, Moffat D, Krahn J, et al. Cardiac injury markers in non-elite marathon runners. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 2009; 30:75-79

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