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Sports Nutrition - Potential reasons why your sports recovery may be poor

As an athlete you may understand the importance of exercise training for optimal performance, however, you may be underestimating the importance of recovery.

Recovery is essential to an athlete because it allows the body to repair and strengthen itself in between workouts. It is important not only for our physical wellbeing but also our mental wellbeing.

During recovery the body is enabled to adapt to the stress caused by training and gives the time for the body tissue to repair and replenish muscle glycogen. When you are exercising tiny tears are created in your muscles, and as muscles heal, they eventually grow bigger and stronger, and so, recovery between training sessions is just as important as the training itself. Keeping tabs on how your body responds to recovery between sessions is key .


There are two types of recovery: short term and long term.

1. Immediate recovery (short term) is sometimes called active recovery and occurs immediately after intense exercise. Active recovery is low intensity exercise that follows a workout during the cool down phase and the days following the workout.

2. Long term recovery techniques are those that are built into a seasonal training program and involves recovery days or weeks that are built into an annual training schedule.

So why could your recovery be poor?

There are a multitude of factors that can influence your recovery.

1. Sleep is a major player when it comes to recovery. Having a good quantity and quality of sleep is shown to improve cognitive function, mood and motivation all in which are essential during training. Having minimal sleep (6hours or less) has been shown to decrease these factors. Not getting enough sleep can further impact and decrease glucose metabolism which fuels the body and brain for mental and physical performance[1].

The majority of muscle repair and growth takes place when you are asleep, this is because hormones are released during this time such as testosterone which allows the body to grow and repair muscle. When athletes fail to sleep enough the body fails to produce the adequate amount of testosterone.

During training muscles are broken down and with the help of testosterone they are rebuilt larger and stronger, this growth is muscle is called the training effect. Sleep deprivation is also linked to a decreased aerobic endurance and is further associated with changes to hormone balance which includes a higher level of the stress hormone cortisol. Low energy, poor focus and an increased risk of injury are results of sleep deprivation.

2. When it comes to recovery, another major focus is replenishing energy stores and fluids that are lost during exercise, and so, your diet is essential. How you fuel your body with nutrients can impact your recovery. By optimizing protein synthesis (increasing protein content of muscle cells to prevent muscle breakdown and increase muscle size) you need to be focusing on eating the right foods especially in a post exercise meal[2][3].

When carbohydrates are ingested at rest the entry of glucose into muscle cells is facilitated by the hormone insulin. This is crucial for an athlete training because the ability to train day after day depends on the restoration of muscle glycogen stores. Thus, if you are not eating right it can affect this process in your recovery period and influence your training.

3. Aside from your diet, alcohol consumption can also have an effect on your training and recovery. When we drink alcohol our body uses up a lot of energy to get rid of the alcohol instead of using that energy to aid proper recovery!

4. Overtraining is where an athlete doesn’t adequately recover in between sessions of training, and experiences consistent burnout due to a strenuous work out system. By overtraining there has been an imbalance created between exercise and recovery. If this happens, during recovery you may feel burnt out and exhausted frequently not allowing your body to have the proper rest it needs.

For most of us, we spend a lot of time sat down at a desk working, by the time we arrive at our training sessions, we can feel stiff and tense. Although a workout can feel good and make you feel happier, our muscles during training are not relaxed. Taking the time after training to stretch, cool down and relax can be important in aiding your recovery.

The greater the training intensity and effort you give, the greater the need for planned recovery. Keeping track of your workouts with a training log and paying attention to how your body feels during and after training is helpful when figuring out how much recovery you need!

If you are wanting to optimise your training , recovery and performance , Nutrition and Co offers bespoke 1-1 individualised advice by a Registered Sports Nutritionist/ Sports Dietitian.



[1] Vitale, K. C., Owens, R., Hopkins, S. R., & Malhotra, A. (2019). Sleep hygiene for optimizing recovery in athletes: Review and recommendations. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 40(8), 535–543. doi:10.1055/a-0905-3103

[2] Murray, B., & Rosenbloom, C. (2018). Fundamentals of glycogen metabolism for coaches and athletes. Nutrition Reviews, 76(4), 243–259. doi:10.1093/nutrit/nuy001

[3] Phillips, S. M., & Van Loon, L. J. C. (2011). Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation. Journal of Sports Sciences, 29 Suppl 1(sup1), S29-38. doi:10.1080/02640414.2011.619204

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