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Recovering from Endurance Events
by our Sports Scientist Stephen Morehen
The hard work is done! You’ve finished your run, ride, swim or other endurance exercise and now your attention turns to recovery. Although the recovery process is a lot less strenuous than the training itself, it is by no means any less important in the grand scheme of enhancing performance. In this blog we will take a look at three important aspects of the recovery process; rehydrating, replenishing and resting.
Most of us will know the importance of keeping hydrated whilst we exercise and have our bottles by our side when we’re exercising. However, it can be all too easy to neglect the fluids once we’ve finished our workout.
Indeed, research has found that many athletes will begin a session of exercise in a state of hypohydration[1, 2], i.e. inadequately hydrated, likely due to insufficient rehydration following the completion of a prior bout of exercise. Commencing with further exercise in a hypohydrated state is inevitably going to elicit further hypohydration, exacerbating the detrimental effects that insufficient hydration can have on performance – low blood pressure, light-headedness and premature fatigue to name a few [3, 4]!
Unfortunately, the rate at which fluid ingestion following exercise engenders maximal rehydration efficiency has yet to be ascertained . A simple strategy to follow is to, when you’ve caught your breath, ensure you keep taking small sips and often in the 2-3 hours after exercise. As previously discussed in the “Hydrating for endurance exercise” and “Milk for hydration” blogs, there are a few options when it comes to fluid choice.
We already know that we use up the stored glycogen in our muscles when we exercise. Replenishing these stores after exercise is crucial to ensure we are set-to-go for the next session. After a long, strenuous session, consuming simple carbohydrates such as glucose, fructose and sucrose will provide a “quick fix” when it comes to replenishing glycogen stores as they are easily digested and stored in the muscles and liver. Complex carbohydrates such as starch are more slowly digested and as such will provide a gradual, transient top-up of stores.
In terms of timing, there is research which suggests that those consuming simple carbohydrates within 60 minutes of finishing exercise experiences greater glycogen replenishment and subsequently improved skeletal muscle recovery compared to those who waited longer than 60 minutes[6, 7]. The exact amount of carbohydrates you need is dependent on size, duration of exercise and your current goals so it is tricky to nail down a one-size-fits-all figure.
Next month, I will be writing an entire blog post on this topic, but it is so critical to overall health and performance that I believe it is worth touching upon briefly now – SLEEP! Getting 7-9 hours of good quality sleep per night has a plethora of benefits to recovery and subsequent performance – so many that entire books have been written on the importance of sleep to human function. Insufficient sleep can result in:
• Increased cortisol (“stress hormone”) production 
• Reduced alertness 
• Impaired muscle recovery 
• Negative effects on mood 
• And so many more…
Make sure you’re allowing yourself to rest after a hard session, giving your body the best chance to recover and ensure it’s ready for the next session! Stay tuned for next month’s post where we will look at the importance of getting your Z’s in more detail.
• Ensure you continue to ingest fluids after exercise to avoid starting your next session in a state of insufficient hydration – as this can significantly impair performance.
• Consumption of carbohydrates after endurance exercise is necessary to replenish glycogen stores in the body, meaning you’re full of energy for the next session.
• Make sure you’re getting sufficient, good quality sleep each night to avoid debilitating effects on performance and health.