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How Important is Recovery after Exercise?

After the preparation and workload of a big match or game, it can be a great feeling kicking the shoes off and relaxing. Our focus can tend to be straight onto celebrating, content that all the hard work has been done. It is fair to say that sometimes we may underestimate the importance of an adequate recovery after physical activity. Adequate recovery can be integral for the quality of our performance in subsequent sessions, can minimise the risk of injury, can decrease the likelihood of sickness down the track and is important in maximising our body’s adaption to the stresses we put it under, thus improving our future performance!

One of the easiest and most effective ways to begin your recovery following exercise is to move around, with emphasis on the main muscle groups used during the activity, otherwise known as ‘Active Recovery’. Active recovery only takes a short period of time (20min) and is often completed as a walk, swim, jog or cycle – as long as you target the same muscle groups used during the activity! If you tend to find it difficult making time, try implementing it into your daily activities like walking down to the shops rather than driving. In short, active recovery assists in the metabolism (breakdown) of byproducts of exercise such as lactates, and re-synthesises molecules that are essential for muscular contraction. Unlike having a rest on the couch, this puts us in a prime position to be able to perform at our peak the next time we get onto the field or into the gym!

Another tip for recovery is scheduling in break periods into your week. Often we focus on scheduling times to go to the gym or train, and don’t think about the requirement of the body to recover! If we don’t have efficient recovery after each session, the stresses placed on our bodies can start to compound, leaving us susceptible to injury or even leave us immunosuppressed. We hope every time we step onto the field or into the gym that we can perform at our best, and the goal of training is to place stresses on our body so we can adapt. This is how our body is able to lift more weight, run faster or kick further. Our bodies have an incredible ability to adjust and adapt to the stimulus placed upon it – but in saying that it is important that we don’t overwhelm the body.

There is a distinct difference between training adaption and overtraining. One of the biggest differences is giving the body time to heal following exercise. This can be achieved by scheduling rest days, digesting a balanced diet and adequate hydration, and getting high quality sleep time. Focussing on these points can assist with repair of tissues, resynthesis of fuel to our muscles and maintenance of our immune system.

Quick Tips Post Activity

  • Dietary Habits: Carbohydrate snacks (i.e. cereals, grains, dairy or fruits) & Protein-rich foods (i.e. eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt or lean meats)

  • Hydration: Consume 125-150% of your fluid deficits from activity i.e. if you were to lose 1kg of fluids during a match, you should consume 1.25-1.5L of fluids soon after the activity!

  • Sleep: Ensure you are in a dark environment (turn off lights, screens, phones etc.), minimise alcohol/caffeine consumption, maintain a moderate temperature of the room, sleep in a quiet environment and stick to a regular sleeping pattern (i.e. go to the bed at similar time each night)

If we take pride in our recovery, we can ensure that we create and environment that promotes adaption and change, allowing us to improve our abilities and continually push the boundaries of performance into the future!


1. Burke, L. M., & Mujika, I. (2014). Nutrition for Recovery in Aquatic Sports. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 24(4), 425-436. Doi:10.1123/ijsnem.2014-0022

2. Mika, A., Oleksy, L., Kielnar, R., Wodka-Natkaniec, E., Twardowska, M., Kaminski, K., & Malek, Z. (2016). Comparison of Two Different Modes of Active Recovery on Muscles Performance after Fatiguing Exercise in Mountain Canoeist and Football Players. Plos ONE, 11(10), 1-14.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0164216

3. Venter, R. E. (2012). Role of Sleep In Performance and Recovery of Athletes: A Review Article. South African Journal for Research In Sport, Physical Education & Recreation (SAJR SPER), 34(1), 167-184.

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