The recovery pyramid is a great way to visualise what impacts recovery the most. As you can see in the pyramid, sleep closely followed by nutrition and hydration are the foundation of recovery having the biggest impact. If you’re not getting these correct, the others towards the top are just adjuncts and often have low evidence for their use.

Peak performance isn’t just about training hard: you can only adapt to loads you can recover from. To perform at your best, it is important that recovery habits and strategies are incorporated into your training and after an event. Insufficient time to recover between training sessions or competitions could lead to poor performance, poor mood and fatigue, and ultimately increased injury risk.

Graphic adapted from Human Kinetics

Sleep & Downtime

Sleep is when you repair and adapt. It is the foundation of recovery due to its restorative effect on body systems. Sleep deprivation has been shown to have negative effects on performance, mental health, mood, metabolism, immune and cognitive function. You should aim to get between 7-9 hours of sleep each night. If you are not getting enough sleep, you may need to improve your sleep hygiene.

Good sleep hygiene includes avoiding stimulants (eg, caffeine), alcohol, and heavy meals too close to bedtime, adequate exposure to natural light in the morning, not lying in bed awake for long periods of time, having a relaxing bedtime routine and having a sleep environment conducive to sleep which is cool, dark and quiet. Also, allow downtime to mentally recover and rest; don’t underestimate the impact of psychological stress related to family and work.

Nutrition & Hydration

Good nutrition, well timed nutrition and refuelling for the energy you’ve just expended is important for recovery and maximising the adaptive responses to the stress provided by the training session or race. This is especially important in runners or endurance athletes, especially females. Inadequate energy availability to support training, often referred as relative energy deficiency (REDs), can lead to long term health consequences and poor performance. For more information on low energy availability and REDs, check out the International Olympic Committee consensus statement.

And the International society of sports nutrition position stand.

If you’re not sure how to refuel or fuel for that matter, seek the help of a dietitian or nutritionist.

Active Recovery, Water immersion, Compression, Stretching, Massage

These recovery strategies have varying degrees of evidence for their use. They can be valuable after you get the foundation right, the 5 percenters so to speak.

Myotherapy, sports massage and hands on treatments, such as dry needling, have benefits for helping manage delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), and reducing pain and improving tissue mobility. Active recovery (e.g. walking, slow easy run, swimming) can have positive psychological effects, promote blood flow to ‘flush out’ that heaviness and allow lower impact activities that don’t take up as much metabolic energy.

Water immersion and cooling strategies such as ice baths have minimal evidence for their use, although if it’s something you enjoy there is no harm in adding it in.

Recovery fads

Recovery fads often have great marketing and can be popular among elite athletes. However, they have very minimal to no evidence to support their use such as vibration massage tools aimed at plantar heel pain or technology that tracks readiness (these have been shown to be quite unreliable). Work from the base of the pyramid up, fads will likely waste your time and money.

4 tips to optimise post event (e.g. marathon) recovery

The recovery from your event is just as important as the marathon itself.

  1. Sleep is the low hanging fruit, prioritise sleep before and after an event.
  2. Nutrition and hydration: Eat protein and carbohydrates as soon as you can post race to refuel and rehydrate with some electrolyte drink. That evening and the next week ensure you eat well including fruit and veggies, protein and carbohydrates as well as supplements such as magnesium.
  3. Stay active, while rest is important so is regular movement just keep it lower intensity. Cross training and low intensity workouts to promote blood flow and flush out that heaviness you feel in your legs. Cycling, swimming, walking, yoga and some short very easy runs are perfect.
  4. Enjoy the achievement, it’s a lot of work to train and execute a marathon.

So, how’s your recovery?!

  • Written by Skye Meredith

    Skye is a qualified Myotherapist with a strong interest in musculoskeletal injuries, particularly running-related injuries, lower limb, and ankle injuries. She has a deep passion for cultivating therapeutic relationships and believes in treating the person rather than just the injury. With the goal of helping individuals return to what they love, Skye employs a comprehensive approach to treatment. Over the past two years, she has worked with elite sporting teams such as the Melbourne Demons (AFL) and Melbourne Storm (NRL).

References

Braun-Trocchio, R., Graybeal, A. J., Kreutzer, A., Warfield, E., Renteria, J., Harrison, K., Williams, A., Moss, K., & Shah, M. (2022). Recovery Strategies in Endurance Athletes. Journal of functional morphology and kinesiology, 7(1), 22. https://doi.org/10.3390/jfmk7010022

Doherty, R., Madigan, S. M., Nevill, A., Warrington, G., & Ellis, J. G. (2021). The Sleep and Recovery Practices of Athletes. Nutrients, 13(4), 1330. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13041330

Ortiz, R. O., Jr, Sinclair Elder, A. J., Elder, C. L., & Dawes, J. J. (2019). A Systematic Review on the Effectiveness of Active Recovery Interventions on Athletic Performance of Professional-, Collegiate-, and Competitive-Level Adult Athletes. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 33(8), 2275–2287. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000002589

Walsh, N. P., Halson, S. L., Sargent, C., Roach, G. D., Nédélec, M., Gupta, L., Leeder, J., Fullagar, H. H., Coutts, A. J., Edwards, B. J., Pullinger, S. A., Robertson, C. M., Burniston, J. G., Lastella, M., Le Meur, Y., Hausswirth, C., Bender, A. M., Grandner, M. A., & Samuels, C. H. (2020). Sleep and the athlete: narrative review and 2021 expert consensus recommendations. British journal of sports medicine, bjsports-2020-102025. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2020-102025