The Four Fundamentals of Sports Recovery

Every athlete knows that competing is about being in top form when it comes time to perform. So how do we position our health and bodies to be at their best when it counts? Read on to find out.

Every time we train or exercise, we apply load and strain to our body. It’s a necessary part of improving our training capacity and making sure our bodies are ready to perform at their best. Recovery is what we do between training sessions to refresh our bodies so we can train harder next time. Not only does it allow us to reduce fatigue, but also minimise the risk of injury and pain which can force us to stop training altogether.

So, what are you doing to recover?

In this article, we will go through the four fundamentals of recovery. Everybody is different, so an individualised approach is best. It can take a bit of trial and error to find out what works for you, but it’s well worth the effort to be competition ready when you need to be.

The Fundamentals of Recovery

There are four fundamentals when it comes to recovery:

  1. Sleep
  2. Nutrition
  3. Hydration
  4. Training Load Management


Sleep is the ultimate recovery tool. When we sleep, our mental and physical reserves are restored so we can be in peak condition to deal with the stressors of life and training the next day.

For the average adult, at least 7-7.5 hours per night is recommended. Anything less than that builds up sleep debt. The more sleep debt you have, the more you suffer the detriments of sleep deprivation on your body and mind.

Recent studies also show that adolescent athletes who slept <8 hours on average were 1.7 times more likely to injury themselves than those who slept >8 hours. On the other end of the spectrum, elite athletes have been known to aim for up to 10 hours sleep to maximise their physical condition before competition!

If you want to learn more about Sleep Hygiene, read this article: How To Get A Better Night’s Sleep


Food is the fuel that restores what we use during our training. When your recovery nutrition isn’t right, you may feel more fatigued, have poorer performance, produce less gains in training, and feel sorer for longer.

Eating in the first 60-90 minutes after your session is the most effective time, especially if you have intense training sessions back to back. In terms of what to eat, a mix of carbohydrates to restore energy stores and protein for muscle repair is generally recommended. It’s always best to tailor to what suits your body and digestion.

If you want to learn more about Recovery Nutrition, Sports Dietitians Australia has great fact sheets you can read here.


Proper hydration keeps your whole body system working well, from your heart to your metabolism to your brain. Many people don’t realise that if you have a dry mouth or feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. When you are dehydrated, all of these systems operate less effectively: it can make a workout feel harder, make you feel hungry when you aren’t, and make it harder to concentrate.

So how much water should you drink? A good rule of thumb is 35ml per kg of bodyweight – for the average woman that’s 2.1L and for the average man it’s 2.6L. Bear in mind, if you are exercising or the temperature is high, you may need more than usual so keep that water bottle filled and close by!

Lastly, how can you tell you if are well-hydrated? Check your wee! A hydrated person will have light coloured, odourless urine – a key sign that you are hydrated and to keep drinking water at the same rate.

Training Load Management

Training for big competitions can often spans months, sometimes even years for some athletes. So how do you make sure you can keep this consistency going over an extended period of time without injury?

Managing training load is key. Sudden significant increases in load can lead to pain and injury if the body isn’t able to adapt quick enough. For example, a novice runner going from one 5km run a week to three may find they are stopped quickly by increased tension and pain. Gradual increases in intensity and duration are best – slow and steady wins the race!

The other important reason to manage your training load is to avoid overtraining, also know as ‘burn out’. Overtraining occurs when an athlete trains excessively without resting or recovering properly. After a while, the training begins to have a detrimental effect on the body. You may notice a decrease in your performance or gains despite hard training. You feel sorer, you get injured more often, and you feel unmotivated to exercise. While this may prompt you to train harder, it may actually make you feel worse in the long run.

Incorporating “deload weeks” into your training schedule can go a long way to preventing overtraining as well as improving your gains. Deloading is deliberately stopping or limiting your training for a short period before returning with renewed intensity.

Proactively planning lighter weeks into your schedule can ensure you’re injury-free and feeling at your best as you head towards competition. However, it is important to be reactive if you notice symptoms of overtraining. As always, listen to your body and make time to rest when it needs it.

To learn more about how to load your body safely, read Volume, Frequency And Intensity- The What And Why?

Other Recovery Methods: The icing on the cake

Once you have the fundamentals of recovery covered, then you may want to look into supplementary recovery modalities. Cryotherapy, massage, compression garments, and foam rolling are some of the most common methods athletes put in place. For the most part, the evidence for each is anecdotal – some people find these other methods helpful for recovery while other people do not. Everybody is different, so it’s important to trial these methods for yourself and assess how your body responds.

Don’t forget that there are other factors in our lives can also create “load” on the body. Longer hours at work, stress, moving house are just some of the common lifestyle factors to keep aware of if you are starting to feel the strain.

Plan Your Recovery

Just like with your training itself, being intentional about your recovery will make sure it’s effective!

A proactive approach will reduce the risk of injury taking you by surprise. Identifying what’s missing in your recovery and taking the steps to address it now means you won’t find yourself forced to rest due to injury later. However, be ready to flex if circumstances change! As your training intensity increases, so should your emphasis on recovery.


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