Recovery from exercise is often forgotten about or placed well down the priority list. In actual fact, recovering after a heavy or strenuous bout of exercise can be the key to increasing your performance and preventing injury. Below are 5 of the best ways to ensure your recovery is optimal:
Sleep is one of the most important yet overlooked aspects of exercise recovery as it allows your body to strengthen and repair after physical activity. Insufficient rest has been shown to reduce your recovery capacity, impair cognitive activity and affect emotions and memory.  Sleep requirements vary between individuals but it is recommended we get 7 to 9  hours sleep each night for optimal function. Look here  for all you need to know about sleep and recovery.
Adequate hydration is essential for all functions of the human body, so it is important to consume water during an
d after your workouts to allow your body to perform and recover at its best. It is recommended to drink 2 litres of water per day. Consuming enough water helps prevent dehydration, reduces the risk of cramp and sprains, helps regulate core temperature, flushes out toxins, can promote weight loss and improve skin complexion .
- Do not assess your hydration by your level of thirst. Once thirsty it is often too late.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine during the rehydrating period, as they can stimulate urine production and therefore have a marked water loss (diuretic) effect on the body.
- Struggling to get the recommended 2 litres of water per day? Think little and often. Mark a reusable bottle with volume or time goals to help reach your water target.
Glycogen is the main source of fuel that our muscles use for energy production; therefore, alongside a balanced healthy diet, glycogen replenishment is of optimum importance specific to post workout recovery. For anyone whose goal is weight loss, carbohydrate can be replenished at your next meal so as not to take yourself into a calorie surplus by unnecessary snacking. If you are an athlete who is performing multiple bouts of training in one day or in a short period of time, consuming a snack of between 50-100g of carbohydrate within 15-20 minutes after exercising, has been found to assist in the quick restoration of muscle fuel stores. This is not as difficult as some may think. Below are some examples of post exercise, glycogen refueling foods:
- Potatoes, rice, pasta
- Fruit such as an orange, banana, apple, pear
- Cereal, whole grains, bread
Protein ingestion also aids recovery post exercise. The current dietary reference intake of protein for those over 18 is 0.8 g per kilogram of bodyweight per day. The American college of sports medicine however, recommends that endurance athletes ingest 1.2 to 1.4 g whereas those training for resistance and strength may need up to 1.6 to 1.7 g per kilogram of body weight per day of protein. 
The additional protein can help promote muscle adaptation post exercise by :
- Aiding in the repair of damage to muscle fibres.
- Promote adaptations in muscle fibres from training. (e.g., synthesis of new proteins that are involved in energy production and/or force generation).
- Facilitating the replenishment of depleted energy stores.
Below are some examples of post exercise, protein based snacks:
- Chicken, beef, fish
- Milk, yoghurt
- Whey, soy, hemp, pea protein powders
- Active recovery
Active recovery is often used to speed up recovery after intense exercise and typically takes place as a cool down or during an off day from training. It focuses on activity at a lower intensity and decreased volume than normal yet high enough that it gets the blood moving, helps reduce fatigue in the muscle and has been found to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
Struggling to find MORE time to exercise? incorporate this increased activity into your daily life;
- Take the stairs in work instead of the lift.
- Set a step target or movement goal to complete every few hours.
- Try a new hobby or sport.
- Make it fun!
Throw a frisbee for your dog, kick a ball with the kids, or enjoy a leisurely cycle. Before you know it 30 minutes will have passed and it won’t have even felt like exercise. Even a little stroll or a gentle swim on a day off from your regular training can be beneficial to your recovery. 
- Soft tissue recovery
Stretching has always been incorporated into every workout, class and personal training session, seen as a means to “prepare” our muscles for the workout ahead. However, despite the perceived benefits of stretching, current evidence is conflicting towards its efficacy. Thacker et al (2004)  conducted a systematic review which did not produce sufficient evidence towards the benefits of stretching pre and post workout. An advisor to the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists  currently recommends dynamic stretching before exercise, incorporating activities like side-stepping, jump lunges and slow-jogging opposed to the use of the static stretches. The benefits of these activities include stretching the muscles throughout their range of movement rather than simply stretching and remaining static in the same position. Stretching at the end of a class or bout of exercise will certainly do no harm and can be very relaxing way to finish a session.This article by the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy takes an in-depth look into the different stretching interventions and their current evidence in relation to exercise and rehab. 
Foam rolling, a type of self-myofascial release (SMR) is a technique used to release muscle tightness or trigger points. Applying pressure to specific points on your body helps aid recovery of the muscles and assists them in returning to normal function. Releasing triggers points helps to reestablish proper movement patterns and pain free movement, and ultimately to enhance performance.
Pearcey et al (2015) conducted research to investigate the proposal of foam rolling improving DOMS and improving muscular performance. Foam rolling was found to significantly decrease muscle tenderness, especially in the quadriceps muscles, thus improving recovery post workout. 
If you would like to know more about how to incorporate this self-massage technique into your weekly routine to help speed up your recovery and reduce post workout soreness, ask Aaron for some tips.
In conclusion, having a recovery strategy in place may be the difference in achieving your goal quicker, remaining injury free and optimising your performance.
By Graham McKee
- Mignot E. Why We Sleep: The Temporal Organization of Recovery. PLoS Biology. 2008
- Maughan R. J. Impact of mild dehydration on wellness and on exercise performance European Journal of Clinical Nutrition(2003) 57, Suppl 2, S19–S23
- Burke, Kiens, Ivy, Carbohydrates and fat for training and recovery, Journal of Sports Science (2004) Jan;22(1):15-30
- (American College of Sports Medicine, American Dietetic Association, and Dietitians of Canada (2000). Joint Position Statement: Nutrition and athletic performance. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 32:2130-2145).
- Bishop, Jones, Woods, Recovery from training: a brief review, Journal of Strength and Conditioning (2008), May;22 (3): 1015-24
- Thacker, Gilchrist, Stroup, Kimsey (2004) The impact of stretching on sports injury risk: a systematic review of the literature, Clinical Sciences
- P (2012) Current concepts in muscle stretching for exercise and rehabilitation. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2012 Feb; 7(1): 109–119.
- Gregory E. P. Pearcey, David J. Bradbury-Squires, Jon-Erik Kawamoto, Eric J. Drinkwater, David G. Behm, and Duane C. Button (2015) Foam Rolling for Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness and Recovery of Dynamic Performance Measures. Journal of Athletic Training: January 2015, Vol. 50, No. 1, pp. 5-13.