Recovery Strategies that Work

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Speicher, TE (2018), Recovery Strategies that Work. Available at  

Recovery, set, go! Outlined in this article are practical, evidence-based recovery strategies  (things that actually work!) to optimize your training and performance. How often do you run through the finish line, pick up your donut or whatever is being offered, walk around a few minutes and then hop into your car and head home? Well, if you are like just about every other athlete, I bet you have done this more than a few times only to wake up the next day crazy sore and fatigued. Even if your legs are feeling ok, are they really?  

Well, based on what we know to date from the scientific literature, it is likely your legs and your body are in a glycogen (fuel your muscles need) depleted state—your tank is empty.1 However,  there are natural strategies you can use to recover faster in order to keep the fuel in your tank and to prepare your body for the next workout and race. However, it is not just what you do after a race or workout that is the key, it is what you do all the time! Recovery strategies are not just for the elite athlete, they are for those who want to just feel and perform better, but if you observe the behaviors of some of the greats, I bet you will see them employ some of the strategies recommended in this article. While the strategies outlined in this article will help you recover better, they will also be performance enhancers. Often when the words performance enhancement are utilized, these words often invoke images of Rita Jeptoo using EPO to win the  Boston Marathon or Lance Armstrong using steroids to recover faster to keep us with his younger teammates, but you do not have to break the law or cause your body long term-health issues in order to recover faster or perform better, you can do it naturally.  

The natural recovery strategies proposed in this article will help to not only allow you to use and spare the fuel in your muscles, glycogen, but will also enhance tissue repair and regeneration—two of the primary goals when attempting to recover faster. When Lance was questioned about why he was using, one of his reasons was so he could recover faster for his next workout. If you do not have enough fuel in your muscles and you keep working out, you are essentially running on empty or at best maybe a half-tank. And if you keep pushing the pedal to the metal, either something is going to break (you get injured) or you and your muscles will just putter out leaving you at the back of the pack.  

General Recommendations: 

• Eat a nutrient-rich diet (all the time), heavy in plant and fruits (high in antioxidants).2,3 

• Athletes do not necessarily need supplements, but there are several that do enhance recovery/performance and are safe (e.g., creatine monohydrate and curcumin). More protein is NOT needed, but a proper mix of protein and carbohydrates is needed.1 Typically, the proper mix will come naturally from a nutrient-rich diet as many plant sources are very rich in protein.2-4 

• Both active (e.g., pool walking, cooling down) and passive (e.g., stretching, cold water  immersion) recovery strategies look to be helpful, however, research is not yet 

Conclusive on these types of strategies.5-7 Therefore, there it is a bit of a trial and error process to see what works best for each individual athlete, however, the sooner they are done after activity (within 30 min to an hour), they tend to work better and some should extend into the following day of recovery (e.g., use of compression garments or compression boots or similar devices).5 Do you want to try out recovery compression boots but don’t want to buy them? Then stop by the Positional Release  Therapy Institute and give them a try. 

• Adequate, consistent and quality sleep between exercise bouts is essential for recovery8 

• When delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) lasts more than 3 days, you are likely injured and should see a health care professional for evaluation.9 Good news, Free sports medicine evaluations and treatments are offered on Saturdays at the Positional  Release Therapy Institute. Call to schedule an appointment.  

• During competition, athletes should not just drink water. They should be consuming drinks with very small amounts of sugar (just sweet to the taste) and electrolytes (see  Rosenbloom article recommendations for amounts and timing).2 

• Avoid all processed foods/drinks (food should come primarily from whole and natural sources).4 

Specific Recommendations to enhance performance and recovery: 


  1. Athletes should be well fed (but not full), hydrated, and rested (ideally, meal consumption occurs 2-3 hours prior to an exercise bout and consists of limited protein and fat <10%).2,3,11 

2. If the athlete is not able to get a full meal in, then they should consume small  amounts of carbohydrate sources that will quickly and easily absorb into their  digestive system.2,3 

3. Athletes should engage in 10-15 minutes of dynamic warm-up exercise to ready their neurological and metabolic systems for activity.5Ideally, this is achieved when sweat is achieved independent of ambient temperature. A warm-up will typically last  10-15 min. Do you do a dynamic warm-up before your workouts and races? Sorry, a  slow jog does not qualify. A dynamic warm-up consists of dynamic running-based movements, stretches and exercises.  

4. Ingestion of a drink with a small amount of sugar prior to an exercise bout is helpful for boosting blood glucose.2 Commercial sports drinks are often TOO heavy in sugar for them to be adequately absorbed. If it’s super sweet, it’s likely too much sugar. It should be just slightly sweet to taste as a general rule. 

During Activity 

  1. Blood glucose should be maintained or replenished during prolonged intense activity. 2,3 

2. At half-times or other breaks, small amounts of simple sugars should be ingested to  keep blood glucose levels high.2,3 

3. Over ingestion of large amounts of water is NOT recommended as it flushes out  essential electrolytes and produces fatigue, organ and muscle failure.2,3 


  1. Immediately after an exercise bout, athletes should consume a nutrient-rich (nonprocessed) high carbohydrate snack (~28-45 grams) and within 3 hours a well-balanced meal low in protein, high in carbohydrates and rich in antioxidants and  vitamins and minerals.1-4 

2. If not lactose sensitive, athletes may find benefit in consumption of chocolate milk,  which has a good balance of sugars, protein and carbohydrate to fuel recovery over a  48-hour period. If lactose sensitive, almond or coconut, lactose free milk–can be substituted.11 

• Ingest within 30-45 minutes or over a period of three hours – post-workout • Ingestion is more critical for workouts over 60 minutes 

• Low-fat chocolate milk is ideal 

• ¼ ounce per kg of body weight 

70 kg (154 lb.) Male 60 kg (132 lb.) Female
Low-Fat Chocolate Milk *17-27 ounces 14.5 – 23 ounces
Carbohydrate 70-84 grams 60-72 grams
Protein 19-30 grams 16-26 grams 

* 17 ounces is equivalent to 2 cups 

3. An active cool-down should be done for 5-10 minutes at low-intensity immediately  after activity.5 Go for a light run after your hard workouts or races at minimum. 4. Use of passive recovery devices (compression boots) should be done within 30 min. to  2 hours post-activity (this is because lactic acid is removed or metabolized from the  body within 2-3 hours = recovery window) such as, use of compression garmets–to be worn until the next exercise bout. Use of other compression devices, vibration tables,  massage, compression boots, walking in waist-deep water, cold immersion, ice baths,  etc.. have all been shown to provide some recovery effect, but all are time-dependent based on the latic acid recovery window.5 

5. Massage post workout or race has shown to be helpful in aiding recovery, but more helpful if done for a shorter time frame, 15 min vs. >30 min. Therefore, those massage booths at races just might be helpful.12

Whether you are just getting into running or are preparing for the Olympics, properly fueling your tank throughout your training is key to enhancing your recovery and performance. You not only want to be able to use your fuel efficiently, you also do not want to run out of gas when you really need to put the hammer down to make your final sprint. And most important, you need to spare or save a little in the tank in order to make more fuel for your next workout. In summary, eat a nutrient-rich diet throughout your training, hydrate properly and drink chocolate milk or other balanced recovery drink post workout to spare your protein and glucose and find a post work out dynamic cool-down routine and other passive recovery strategies that work best for you and most important, stick with them.  


1. Alghannam AF, Jedrzejewski D, Bilzon J, Thompson D, Tsintzas K, Betts JA. Influence of post-exercise carbohydrate-protein ingestion on muscle glycogen metabolism in recovery and subsequent running exercise. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism. 2016;26(6):572–580. 

2. Heaton LE, Davis JK, Rawson ES, et al. Selected in-season nutritional strategies to enhance recovery for team sport athletes: a practical overview. Sports Medicine. 2017;47(11):2201–2218. 

3. Rosenbloom C. Food and Fluid Guidelines Before, During, and After Exercise. Nutrition  Today. 2012;47(2):63. 

4. Fuhrman J, Ferreri DM. Fueling the vegetarian (vegan) athlete. Current sports medicine reports. 2010;9(4):233–241. 

5. Rey E, Padrón-Cabo A, Barcala-Furelos R, Casamichana D, Romo-Pérez V. Practical active and passive recovery strategies for soccer players. Strength & Conditioning  Journal. 2018;40(3):45–57. 

6. De Paula F, Escobar K, Ottone V, et al. Post-exercise cold-water immersion improves the performance in a subsequent 5-km running trial. Temperature. 2018:1–12. 7. Crowther F, Sealey R, Crowe M, Edwards A, Halson S. Team sport athletes’ perceptions and use of recovery strategies: a mixed-methods survey study. BMC Sports Science,  Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2017;9(1):6. 

8. Griffin M. Can Sleep Improve Your Athletic Performance? WebMD: Fitness and Exercise.  2012. Available at: performance 

9. Sarnataro BR. Sore Muscles? Don’t Stop Exercising. WebMD: Fitness and Exercise.  2006. Available at: stop-exercising#1 

10. Xia Z, Cholewa JM, Dardevet D, et al. Effects of oat protein supplementation on skeletal muscle damage, inflammation and performance recovery following downhill running in untrained collegiate men. Food & function. 2018;9(9):4720–4729. 

11. Speicher TE. Sports Drink or Chocolate Milk for Recovery? RUN UTAH.Com. July, 2012. Available  at: 

12. Poppendieck W, Wegmann M, Ferrauti A, Kellmann M, Pfeiffer M, Meyer T. Massage and performance recovery: a meta-analytical review. Sports medicine. 2016;46(2):183– 204.