Latest beliefs and evidence in exercise recovery

Latest beliefs and evidence in exercise recovery

What is the most effective method of exercise recovery?

It is important when we train that the stimulus is challenging enough to improve our capacity, whether this be aerobic endurance, muscular strength or power. However, we must also be able to adequately recover to see the optimal effect of this training. There are multiple strategies that aid us in exercise recovery: sleep, appropriate nutrition, ice baths and compression garments, just to name a few. So which of these are going to be the most helpful in ensuring you are ready to attack your next training session?  Let’s dive deeper to get a better understanding of each recovery strategy.


  • Optimising sleep in athletes has been shown to have a wide variety of beneficial effects on physical and mental performance.
  • Adequate sleep has been shown to increase our anabolic hormone levels (improving muscle growth and recovery) and helps reduce our feelings of fatigue.
  • Even a short nap can help improve our alertness and mood during the day.
  • Athletic performance is also improved with an extra 90 minutes sleep per night (up to 8-9 hours sleep per night) showing improvements in sprinting, endurance events and reaction times.


  • Adequate protein intake each day (1.4-2.0 g/kg) as well as timing this around physical activity will stimulate muscle recovery.
  • Sufficient carbohydrate intake during and after an exercise session can reduce exercise induced muscle damage, improve neuromuscular recovery and mitigate the decline in sports performance in the 24 hours post session.
  • It is important to refuel soon after exercise (within the first 2 hours) with a meal that has adequate carbohydrates to refill glycogen stores and protein to assist in muscle protein synthesis.


  • Massage (20-30 minutes) when undertaken 2 hours after exercise has been shown to reduce the effects of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
  • When combined with stretching, the two not only have a positive effect on DOMS, they will also reduce our perception of fatigue.
  • Massage has been shown to reduce the levels of certain inflammatory markers (creatine kinase) in the blood at 48 and 72 hours post intense exercise which in turn had a positive effect on DOMS.

Compression garments/Cold water immersion

  • When used after exercise compression garments have been shown to reduce fatigue and have a positive effect on DOMS for up to 96 hours post session.
  • Cold water immersion has been shown to have a beneficial effect on perceived fatigue post exercise session as well as a small effect on DOMS at 72 hours post exercise.
  • A similar effect is noted with contrast therapy (alternating between hot and cold water) which has also been shown to reduce creatine kinase concentrations in the blood after exercise.

Active recovery

  • An active recovery (low intensity exercise for 20-30 minutes) has been shown to have a positive effect on the rate of perceived soreness as well as a moderate effect on DOMS.
  • This will depend on the time of activity undertaken with higher intensity exercise sessions benefitting from an active recovery more than those undertaking low-moderate exercise.

It is safe to say there are multiple different ways to aid  recovery after exercise. From the research, it appears that sleep and nutrition have the largest effect. Once these are implemented, adding in massage, cold water immersion or an active recovery will only serve to aid you between training sessions.


Dupuy, O., Douzi, W., Theurot, D., Bosquet, L., & Dugué, B. (2018). An Evidence-Based Approach for Choosing Post-exercise Recovery Techniques to Reduce Markers of Muscle Damage, Soreness, Fatigue, and Inflammation: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analysis. Front Physiol, 9, 403. doi:10.3389/fphys.2018.00403

Moore, D. R. (2015). Nutrition to Support Recovery from Endurance Exercise: Optimal Carbohydrate and Protein Replacement. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 14(4), 294-300. doi:10.1249/jsr.0000000000000180

Vitale, K. C., Owens, R., Hopkins, S. R., & Malhotra, A. (2019). Sleep Hygiene for Optimizing Recovery in Athletes: Review and Recommendations. Int J Sports Med, 40(8), 535-543. doi:10.1055/a-0905-3103

Published September 28, 2022


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