Debunking Our Most Commonly-Held Beliefs About Recovery

Source: Science Friday with Ira Flatow

Science writer Christie Aschwanden debunks our most commonly held beliefs about sports recovery with science.

How do you start to recover? Ibuprofen, ice, lots of water, and stretching might sound like good place to start.

But it turns out that following these seemingly logical steps for a faster recovery achieves just the opposite. Icing your muscles slows down the process of recovery. Too much water can be harmful. And stretching? You can put that in the same category as compression boots and cupping—they don’t help recovery one bit. Science writer Christie Aschwanden, author of Good To Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery, a new book on the science of recovery, joins Ira to share what she discovered debunking our most commonly-held beliefs about recovery with science.

Excerpt from the interview:

JENNY: So I have a question about using heat on your muscles instead of cold for recovering from a run. I’ve noticed that my lower back hurts a lot after I run, and if I use a heat pad on low setting, it seems to relax my muscles. Is there anything wrong with that? 

CHRISTIE ASCHWANDEN: No, I don’t think so. And in fact, I think heat is a really nice way of relaxing. Heat actually increases blood flow, and that can be a good thing. If you think about the reasons why I think it isn’t helpful, you can imagine that heating would be helpful because instead of slowing blood flow it’s actually increasing it. So it’s sort of opening up the blood vessels and allowing more to flow through. 

There’s an idea that that can help speed the removal of metabolic, things that are left after your exercising. So I say if heat makes you feel good, go ahead and do it. It’s probably a pretty good thing to do, and it’s certainly very relaxing. 

The Power of Recovery

by Karl Nygren

The power of recovery cannot be over exaggerated. Without recovery the body is unable to elicit a positive response from training and is merely worn down. Proper recovery is, without a doubt, the largest missing link in skier’s training plans. While training breaks the body down, recovery is what allows the body to super compensate and rebuild stronger then before. Recovery is fundamental to successful ski racing and encompasses everything from small daily details to broader lifestyle choices.

Recovery commences the moment training terminates. Following training small recovery efforts provide enormous returns. Immediate dry clothes, water and food when the body is worn down provide the initial impetus for recovery. Waiting until the onset of cold and hunger is foolishly counterproductive. Food digested very soon after exercise is preferentially stored as muscle glycogen and the primary fuel source for future exercise. Therefore, a small snack with a mixture of carbohydrates and protein such as yogurt and a banana or chocolate milk is crucial. Taking care of the bodies immediate needs after training greatly aids proper recovery.

Once home stretching and showering help soothe the body into a relaxation mode. While working hard during training now is the time to take it easy. The ability to relax and rest is largely dictated my work schedules, family obligations, and the ins-and-outs of daily living but simple choice to maximize rest and minimize stress greatly aid recover. Actively seek to stay well hydrated and feed. The quality of what goes into the body dictates the quality of work produces so strive to eat healthy foods. Maximize rest and sleep while maintaining mental stimulation without which athletes often feel lethargic.

The power of recovery is seen most strikingly in the mentality with which skiing is addressed. Accepting that less is often more and that training rested allows for optimal performance is the first step. There is simply no reason to train exhausted. When worn down take time off. The largest obstacle here is accepting that rest is not lost training. Rather, rest is the training needed that day that will allow the greatest improvements. Therefore embrace rest like training and strive to do it well, free of guilt.

Ideally athletes would train multiple times every day, entering each workout 100% recovered and ready to flawlessly execute each session. Never starting tired the maximal benefit would be obtained from each practice and dramatic improvement would ensue. Such a world does not exit and a limit must be placed on training based on an athlete’s fitness so that exhaustion and over training do not occur. A training plan should be taxing yet productive. The goal of training is to elicit a positive response in the form of fitness, strength and speed. This can only occur if the body is allowed to adequately recover. It is not possible to enter every workout 100% recovered but recovery and training must be monitored so on-the-whole an athlete’s body is built up rather then worn down. A training log monitoring morning heart rate, daily training and how the body feels helps illuminate downward trends and when rest is required.

Training and recovery compliment each other in a delicate balance. Each provides no benefit without the other and therefore both require great attention. Recovery is training’s limiting factor. Therefore, it is only possible to effectively train as hard as your body can recover. For some this might mean additional training is possible. However, for many either less training or better recovery is necessary for optimal performance.


Sleep to be an all-star. So how much sleep do the professional athletes get?

by Fatigue Science

In 2008, Usain Bolt broke records at the Beijing Olympics by being the first person in history to hold both the 100m and 200m world records. By the 2012 Olympics, Bolt became the first man in history to win 6 Olympic gold medals in sprinting.

Screen shot 2013-10-25 at 10.29.15 AMSo what does Bolt consider to be the most important part of his daily training regime? None other than sleep.

“Sleep is extremely important to me – I need to rest and recover in order for the training I do to be absorbed by my body” – Usain Bolt. 

Here at Fatigue Science we know how important sleep is to an athletes performance, reaction time and recovery time. Our fatigue measurement technology is used by professional sports teams such as the Vancouver Canucks to ensure enough sleep is incorporated into athletes training regimes.

So how much sleep do the professionals get? And how can sleep reduction effect your performance. Find out by reading the below infographic. 

Key Infographic (see below) Takeaways:

  • By incorporating adequate sleep into their routine, tennis players get a 42% boost in hitting accuracy
  • Sleep improves split-second decision making ability by 4.3%
  • After 4 days of restricted sleep, athletes maximum bench press drops 20lbs
  • Roger Federer gets 11 to 12 hours sleep per night
  • Lebron James gets 12 hours of sleep per night