Top 7 ways to recovery

This article was written by Andrew O’Neill he has recently joined TC Physiotherapy clinic

I can be contacted at for any questions.

Top 7 ways to recovery

Having worked with elite athletes and general public over the past 7/8 years through intense training and competition it amazes me how little emphasis some place on recovery. Recovery encompasses several modalities and strategies, some are more important than others which everyone should strive to do, others may work for some people but not everyone. In this piece we will go through these strategies and try to explain the logic behind why they work. Optimal recovery means doing something straight away post exercise but please remember it is the combined little things we do around the clock to aid the recovery process that will ultimately help us achieve optimal performance. Here are our top 7 strategies, starting straight after exercise and into the hours and days post.


1. The Cool Down

Cooling down simply means slowing down (not stopping completely) after exercise. You should continue to move around for 5-10 minutes after a workout, this helps remove lactic acid (lactic acid builds up in our muscles when we become short of oxygen and tired e.g. heavy breathing). Too much of it can lead to muscle soreness and stiffness, exactly what we are trying to stop.


2. Ice baths and cryotherapy

Sports science research into whether ice baths or cryotherapy actually work is vague. That’s not to say they don’t, speaking from experience I know many athletes that find them excellent and use them religiously and part of their recovery protocol. The principle behind ice baths is actually quite simple - we submerge ourselves into cold water or a room with the temperature greatly reduced for some time, come out, walk around and repeat the process several times. So what’s happening from a physiological perspective ? Well, our bodies don’t like to be placed in extreme cold places for any length of time so we go into protective mode. The blood from our extremities (hands, feet, legs, etc.) rush inwards to protect our organs and to keep us alive. When we come out of the cold environment and start to warm-up again that blood rushes back out towards our extremities. So, it’s as if we are flushing out and all the waste products that build up when we exercise. I personally would prefer the idea of contrast baths (going from cold to warmer water for intervals) for those specific reasons.


3. Eating properly: Food is Fuel

Kevin wrote an impressive article previously on his own nutrition strategies. We are going to reiterate some of these points again.I like to keep this simple - remove all confectionery from your diet and eat a varied diet of natural unprocessed food. These foods incorporate lean proteins (meat, fish, eggs), some carbohydrates (porridge, brown breads), healthy fats (nuts, avocado) and plenty of vegetables. This principle should be taken on board by almost everyone. It gets a little bit trickier if you are doing a lot of training and your main aim is based on improving your performance and not losing weight. In this case you should think of food as fuel for you body which is your engine. In other words an elite level athlete that trains 3 times a day needs a higher calorie intake and there are very few elite athletes in Tullamore so keep it simple. That being said most people make nutritional mistakes, even the best athletes I’ve worked with do. Staying fit and at the top of your performance level is closely conditioned by how you eat. It is never a good idea to deprive your body of nutrition – it will not make you lighter and fitter, but weaker and less able to perform in training and competitions. To help you out I have included my ‘15 steps to nutrition excellence’ below:

  1. Always, always, always, eat within ½ hour post exercise.

  2. Never Compete or train on an Empty Stomach

  3. Don’t eat a meal high in fibre before training or competition it will slow down your digestion process.

  4. Don’t rely on supplements - in fact don’t waste your money on them, if you are following a proper healthy and varied diet you probably won’t need them.

  5. Be very aware that you lose salts through sweating during intense exercise, these must be replaced, some powerade and lucozade or better again MIWadi and a pinch of salt.

  6. Eat every 2-3 hours i.e. 3 meals and 2-3 healthy snacks per day

  7. Eat a large breakfast (not a fry or cereals (also known as sugar and milk)

  8. Eat lean protein with each meal i.e. beef, chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, cottage cheese or yogurt.

  9. Eat healthy fats daily (fish oils, nuts, eggs, avocados)

  10. Eat vegetables and /or fruit with each meal.

  11. Eat natural unprocessed food - remove all sweets and confectionary from your diet.

  12. DRINK water as you habitually drink i.e. avoid all fizzy and sugary drinks (except during and after exercise, and even this should be limited). Drink at least ½ a litre of water with every meal plus another 2 litres throughout the day.

  13. DRINK half a bottle of carbs (powerade, lucozade sport) per hour of INTENSE exercise

  14. DRINK 1.5l of water post workout per kg lost during exercise

  15. Plan ahead and prepare your meals in advance.

Note: Common mistakes - these are actual examples of people I have worked with

Example 1: Gaa player trains 3 x week: only drinks water at training but at a match eats a handful of jellies, drinks a bottle of lucozade, eats 2 bananas and is asking for water every 2 minutes from the sideline

  • This person's body is simply in nutritional shock - it's too much on one day

Example 2: long distance runner training for a marathon

Training week = trains 4 - 5 times a week: drinks a bottle of water over long run at the weekend and one Gel pack (trains like this for 3 months) but the day of the marathon eats a gel pack before the race, drinks 2 bottles of water and eats 3 more gel packs during the race - again a major shock to the body.

You obviously need a nutritional jump for an increase in energy levels but you don't need nutritional shock.

Train your nutrition like you train during the week.


4. Breathing

As discussed in last Week's article breathing is a key component for elite health and performance. The most for the body is how we get oxygen in, we have two airways a nose and a mouth. A Lot of people use only one airway the mouth and this can lead to numerous health problems and also decreased performance. Here is a diagram showing the problems with mouth breathing and some common signs.

In the next week or too check how you breathe and see are you silent or loud breather, do you use your nose or mouth, do you wake with a dry mouth or not. All these are important to understand if you are trying to improve in your sport.


5. Sleep

The way you sleep and recover is very important, 8 hours of sleep is key for recovery but remember breathing drives the system so really it should be the first thing you check. Think of sleep as the number one recovery tool, you go to bed with a sore back but wake up pain free. This is a sign that you are good at recovery, a good sleeper and a good breather. Some people can lie on the ground and wake up pain free, another person changes their pillow and they have a stiffened neck. A lot of this is down to how you breath when you sleep. Ask yourself this questions: Do you loosen out of tighten up when you sleep?


6. Foam Rolling

What is a foam roller and how do you use it? A foam roller is simply a cylindrical piece of some type of extruded hard-celled foam. Often described as the poor man’s massage therapist. Unless you are a professional athlete chances are you won’t have access to a massage therapist on a daily basis, so they are a great way of breaking down adhesion's or knots otherwise known as trigger points that build up post exercise. Rolling can provide great benefit both before and after a workout. Foam rolling prior to a workout can help to decrease muscle density and allow for better warm-up. It is also a great tool in showing you where you are developing a problem.


7. Listen to your body

The most important thing you can do to recovery quickly is listen to your body. If you are feeling tired, sore or notice a decrease in your performance you may need more recovery time or a break from training altogether. If you pay attention, in most cases, your body will let you know what it needs and when it needs it. Problems tend to arise when we don’t listen to these warnings. In sports, everything matters. The way you sleep, train, breath and eat can influence your performance tremendously. I always like to compare your body with a car. Would you drive it with no fuel, allow it to run without oil, let the tyres run bare or brakes to wear down. Without servicing it regularly it will get sick and fail you when you need it most, that big match or race? But that’s OK you can replace a car, you can’t replace yourself !

Tommy Conway3 Comments