Recovery is an essential part of athletic training but one that is often overlooked or undervalued. Athletes and coaches understand the importance of intense physical training with the aim to increase both physical fitness and skill level, however most of the beneficial adaptations to intense training occur at rest and if there is inadequate recovery, the athlete will not undergo the adaptations necessary to benefit from the training. Sometimes for athletes, “to do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world” – Oscar Wilde.

There are three main processes involved in recovery from training and competition:

  1. Hydration and nutrition
  2. Sleep and rest
  3. Relaxation and mental recovery

The main goals of hydration and nutrition during recovery from intense training or competition are to replenish fluid and glycogen stores and facilitate muscle repair.


  • Males need approximately 3.4L of water per day, of which 2.6L should be consumed in fluids with the rest coming from food
  • Females need approximately 2.8L of water per day, of which 2.1L should be consumed in fluids with the rest coming from food
  • These are average fluid values not taking into account the extra fluid intake needed to replace losses associated with heat loss and exercise
  • Exercise leads to metabolic heat production by the body – the main way we lose this heat from the body during exercise is evaporation of sweat from the skin surface
  • Up to 2L or more of sweat can be evaporated during a period of intense exercise
  • This sweat loss leads to dehydration which can have negative effects on physiological systems and athletic performance
  • To reduce the effects of dehydration on health and performance, an athlete needs to pay attention to fluid replacement before, during and after training and competition

Before exercise

  • The goal is to start with normal levels of hydration (euhydrated) and with normal plasma electrolyte levels
  • Drink fluid with pre exercise meals and snacks
  • Drink 4 – 7mls of fluid per kg of body weight (eg 240mL – 420mL for a 60kg athlete) at least 4 hours before exercise (but more if there are signs of dehydration such as dark urine)
  • Salt in foods or fluids (hydrolyte) can help with water retention

During exercise

  • The goal is to prevent excessive dehydration (>2% body weight) and electrolyte imbalance
  • Drink fluid during exercise for any exercise that lasts longer that 30 minutes
  • Drink to thirst during exercise and don’t over hydrate
  • Salt should be added to fluids (hydrolyte) if exercise lasts longer than 2 hours or if you are a “salty sweater”
  • Cooled drinks are preferable
  • A mixture of water and sports drinks are best for prolonged, intense exercise
  • Hypotonic (< 4g/100mL of carbohydrate) and isotonic (4 – 8g/100mL of carbohydrate) are absorbed as fast or faster than plain water but drinks with higher amounts of carbohydrate (eg soft drink, juice, cordial with >8g/100mL) are absorbed slower

After exercise

  • The goal is to replace any fluid and electrolyte lost through sweat, preferably within 4-6 hours
  • 150% of the fluid lost through sweat should be consumed
  • The easiest way to work this out is to weigh yourself before and after the training session or match – for every 1kg weight loss, 1.5L of fluid needs to be consumed
  • A mixture of water (no sodium), sports drinks (low sodium with carbohydrate) and hydrolyte (higher sodium levels) can be used
  • Water alone is not ideal post exercise as it may cause a rapid reduction in salt concentration in the blood which then leads to the kidneys producing more urine and the water is lost again through urine rather than being absorbed
  • For fluid loss more than 1.5% of body weight, sports drinks and hydrolyte should make up at least half of the fluid replacement, with more focus on hydrolyte if > 2% of body weight is lost – adding carbohydrate to the fluids makes them more palatable and also helps with restoration of glycogen stores



  • The main focus of carbohydrate consumption after exercise is to replenish liver and muscle stores of glycogen
  • The liver has the capacity to store 100g of glycogen which equates to approximately 20min of intense activity
  • The muscles can hold an additional 300 – 400g of glycogen which will fuel another 80 min of intense activity
  • There is 6-10g of glucose in the blood which lasts for 10 min of activity
  • These stores need to be replenished fully after exercise to ensure optimal performance
  • Recovery snacks and drinks should be consumed as soon as possible after the training or competition
  • The aim is to have 1.2g of carbohydrate per kg of body weight per hour for the first 4 hours after exercise – this would be 72g of carbohydrate every hour for 4 hours for a 60kg athlete
  • If protein is consumed at the same time as carbohydrate then less carbohydrate is needed (0.8 – 1.2g/kg is ok)
  • After 4 hours the athlete returns to their normal daily intake of carbohydrate
  • Suggested daily intake of carbohydrate depends on the intensity of exercises performed each day
    • Light exercise = 3-5g/kg per day
    • Moderate exercise (<1hr/day) = 5-7g/kg per day
    • Heavy exercise (1-3hrs of mod-heavy exercise/day) = 7-12g/kg/day
    • Extreme exercise (>4hrs mod-high exercise /day) = 10-12+g/kg/day
  • General fueling pre-competition for exercise that lasts less than 90 minutes is the same in the 24 hours prior to the exercise as normal amounts per day for heavy exercise (7-12g/kg/day)
  • Carbohydrate loading for endurance events lasting longer than 90 minutes should be 10 – 12g/kg/day for 36 – 48 hours prior to the event
  • For any endurance competition lasting longer than 60 – 90 minutes, carbohydrate should be consumed during competition – there should be 30 – 60g of carbohydrate per hour for exercise lasting 1 – 2.5 hours and 90g/hour for events lasting > 2.5hours
  • Glucose transport is saturated at 60g/hour but with a combination of glucose and fructose (multiple transportable CHO) absorption can increase to 90g/hour so this should be used for exercise > 2.5 hours in duration

Suggestions for recovery snacks

These snack contain approximately 50g of carbohydrate

250 – 350mL milkshake or fruit smoothie
2 slices of bread with jam, honey or banana
2 cereal bars
2 sports gels
700 – 800ml sports drink
Fruit salad with 200g of yoghurt
Sandwich with meat filling
Tortilla wrap with filling


  • Exercise increases both muscle protein breakdown and protein synthesis
  • Protein is needed after training and competition to repair damaged muscle fibres, stimulate molecular adaptation, to promote protein synthesis and the attenuation of muscle breakdown
  • Whey protein is superior for protein consumption after exercise (compared to soy or casein) because it is digested and absorbed quicker and it contains a high proportion of the key amino acid leucine which is the main trigger for augmenting muscle protein synthesis
  • Leucine can be found in animal proteins such as chicken, beef and fish as well as in whey protein (and branched chain amino acid) supplements
  • 20 – 40g of protein should be consumed as soon as possible after exercise (containing 6-9g of essential amino acids)
  • After this, 20 – 25g of protein should be part of the meal plan every 3 hours after exercise to enhance recovery
  • 6 x 20 – 25g protein snacks every 3 hours in the first 24 hours is optimal for stimulating maximal protein synthesis
  • Good quality protein sources such as meat and fish contain 25g protein per 100g
  • Other sources such as milk, nuts, yoghurt and beans can contribute to this
  • Daily requirements of protein depend on the nature of the athlete – 0.8 – 1g/kg body weight per day of protein is sufficient for a recreational athletes but adolescent athletes and those starting resistance training programs may benefit from 1.5 – 2g/kg body weight per day
  • Endurance athletes need 1.2 – 1.8g/kg/day with established athletes needing less than athletes new to endurance training
  • Females generally need 15- 20% less protein than males

Suggestions for protein sources

These options contain approximately 10g of protein

40g of cooked chicken, lean beef, lamb or pork
300mL milk
2 eggs
40g cheese
50g tinned fish
120g tofu
200g yoghurt
50g nuts
220g baked beans


Sleep is essential for optimal physical health, immune function, mental health, cognition and athletic performance. 7 to 9 hours of sleep is recommended for 18 – 64 year olds, 7-8 hours for over 65 year olds and substantially more for children and adolescents. Good sleep hygiene is critical for obtaining adequate, quality sleep on an ongoing basis.

Sleep hygiene

  • Stick to a schedule – same bedtime and wake up time, even on weekends or rest days
  • Have a bed time routine and start winding down 1-2 hours prior to your desired sleep time
  • Avoid naps, especially in the afternoon if you have trouble sleeping at night
  • If you do need a nap, keep it to 20 min (set your alarm) – this can help alleviate daytime fatigue, sleepiness, and even provide cognitive benefit
  • Reduce light and sound in the bedroom as much as possible
  • Exposure to bright natural or white light in the morning on waking can help maximise alertness and maintain regular circadian rhythm
  • Avoid caffeine (and alcohol) in the evening
  • Stop using your phone or computer at least 30 min before bed and avoid blue light in the evening if possible (electronic devices have filters than can do this)