What is the correct amount of rest, recovery and regeneration?

Posted by Bob Allison on

Living With Vitality: Rest, Recovery and Regeneration

What are the most important days in your workout schedule? Is it Heavy lifting days? Long run days? High intensity interval days? No; most important are your rest and recover days.

We sometimes forget that exercise stresses and fatigues our system, and it is during the recovery period where the real training effect occurs. This is where our body repairs and adapts to exercise.

When we recover from exercise our tissues adapt returning not only to baseline but beyond, resulting in a positive training effect. If exercise is added during this period of “super compensation” further improvement will result. If no additional exercise is applied, our tissues will return to baseline levels. If exercise is applied too early in the recovery phase, the tissues with further break down and tissue integrity and impaired performance may result. If this cycle is allowed to continue, tissue quality will decline.


Although true overtraining syndrome is rare in recreational athletes, under-recovery is common and can negatively affect tissue quality leading to overuse injury. Many factors affect recovery, but the rest period is the easiest to manipulate. Despite this, athletes, coaches and trainers often overlook the importance of building appropriate rest into workout programs.

In addition to managing rest periods, the following strategies also can effectively aid in recovery:

Nutrition – Exercise creates micro-damage in muscle and depletes the glycogen stores. Research shows replenishing protein (0.2g-0.4g/kilogram of bodyweight) after exercise helps in muscle recovery. Replenishing carbohydrates (0.8g-1.2g of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight) stimulates insulin response and maximizes glycogen synthesis and aids in protein repair. Keep in mind, when exercise is of shorter duration, excess carbohydrates could be converted and stored as fat. Carbohydrate intake closer to the 0.8g/1kg bodyweight will get results while preventing excess fat gain. Post exercise nutrition is ideally taken in liquid form (a recovery shake) for faster utilization by the body. Suggestions for timing of post exercise nutrition vary, but it is generally considered most effective 30-60 minutes after exercise.

Active Recovery – This method is well supported by research and involves following bouts of hard or high volume work with low intensity, low or moderate duration exercise. Applied within specific exercise sessions, it can decrease lactate levels by maintaining enough blood flow to allow enough recovery to perform high intensity interval training. Used between exercise sessions, low intensity exercise, like a light run, moderate hike, or easy bicycle ride, can help speed recovery and net better results.

Contrast Water Therapy – Research remains mixed on the effect of cold water immersion and contrast water therapy (alternating hot and cold) on recovery. Cold water immersion has been shown to have acute effects on recovery from distance running, but can have a negative effect on recovery from anaerobic exercise; resulting decreased blood flow can hinder removal of waste products. Using contrast water therapy can help create an anti-inflammatory effect, but also maintain blood flow to adequately remove metabolites.

Replace Fluids – You’ve heard that you are mostly made up of water. Beyond that, water is linked with every metabolic function in the body and is essential for distributing nutrients throughout the body. You lose fluid during exercise, which should be replaced during exercise. Drinking water after exercise is an easy way to boost recovery.

Massage – The use of massage or foam rolling is helpful in muscle recovery after exercise by improving tissue quality and pliability.

Sleep – Although seemingly obvious, a surprising number of adults live in a constant state of sleep deprivation. The restorative power of sleep is required to recover and rebuild tissues that are broken down during the day.

Sometimes great results don’t always come from maximizing your strengths, but from reducing your weaknesses. If inadequate rest and recovery is your weak link, try these recovery techniques to improve performance and get better results.

By: Mark Pitcher - chiropractor & exercise physiologist.

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