Training recovery is recognized as one of the most important aspects of physical activity and overall well-being. As we examine the myriad of recovery strategies and their varying levels of scientific support, it's important to remember that both scientific and anecdotal evidence point to the value of an appropriate recovery plan to encourage adaptation, well-being and performance.

To understand recovery well, you need to start getting familiar with certain concepts. Homeostasis is a state of equilibrium within the body that occurs when variables in a system (eg, pH, temperature) are regulated to keep internal conditions stable and relatively constant (Pocari et al. 2015) .

Stress is a stimulus that exceeds (or threatens to exceed) the body's ability to maintain homeostasis.

Recovery is the body's process of restoring homeostasis .

An intense and acute attack of physiological stress followed by adequate recovery, which allows adaptation and restores homeostasis, is generally considered healthy (Sapolsky 2004). However, physiological stress that is not followed by adequate recovery can, over time, compromise homeostasis and immune function, increasing the likelihood of injury, disease, and the occurrence of overreaching or non-functional overtraining .

Sleep, good nutrition and hydration are certainly a good start. But today, especially for athletes who both at an amateur and professional level subject their body to great stress, it might not be enough.

The term that is used by sports science to define the right amount of overload is functional overreaching or " functional overeaching " ( FOR ). This is what occurs when there is a short-term decline in performance towards the end of a training "lockout" period, without causing significantly adverse effects on the athlete's health, mood and immune capacity, and which allows simply put have all the benefits of the supercompensation process. Athletes are certainly stronger and more resistant after a short period of recovery from FOR.

The opposite of FOR is known in scientific literature as non-functional overreaching ( NFOR ): in this case there is no progress from the training load carried out and the negative aspects illustrated above tend to become chronic, reducing the progress that should be from correct programming of the workout .

A great start to monitoring our recovery process is to evaluate our heart rate variability (HRV). This simple parameter can provide valuable insight into the dominance of our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) or parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), the latter of which is responsible for rest, repair and recovery.

Another way to monitor recovery is to check blood test parameters . The most common markers are those that analyze specific hormones such as cortisol and testosterone by comparing them to each other, or cortisol with ACTH , or even more non-specific indicators such as CK ( creatine kinase ), LDH ( lactated deidogenase ) and protein C-Reactive , which have a good correlation with the stress produced by training (although unfortunately they lack the specific sensitivity to make them reliable in many sports and certain types of athletes).

Energy balance plays the most important role in the recovery process. When you're in an energy deficit, the deficit itself is the main trigger for catabolism . Calorie restriction reduces muscle protein synthesis and key cell signaling pathways for survival and activates AMPK and cytokines, which sidetrack mTOR activity in muscle building and increase protein turnover (Cassandra, M.Mciver).

Regarding the minimum amount of energy for recovery, the International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends 50-80 kcal/kg/day for strength athletes and team sports. The recommendation for female athletes is instead a minimum of 40-45 kcal/kg/day (Tomas, Erdman).

If you don't recover, you won't be able to perform at a high level.

Tailoring total energy intake (and the balance of protein, carbohydrates and fats) to your individual needs, training block and ultimate goals is the goal of any sports nutritionist.

Protein is a building block for life. They promote recovery in many ways, chief among them being muscle repair and improved immune function . If you are a bodybuilder or a physique-focused athlete and for the cutting phase you create a calorie deficit for a certain period, it becomes even more important to increase your protein consumption .

Carbohydrates are a critical fuel for recovery from intense workouts and in preparation for future performance. Many athletes don't fully understand how important carbohydrates are to the recovery process. Athletes need carbohydrates to perform high-intensity workouts, to prevent fatigue, to fight colds and flu (carbohydrates are a big factor in immunity), and to prevent the catabolic cascade of events that occur through energy deficits that they can cause various problems and possible injuries (Francis. Holway).

Now let's review some of the most popular methods for post-workout recovery.

Active Recovery

One study found that active recovery after repeated intense exercise resulted in a more rapid return to homeostasis than passive recoveries using no movement (Ahmaidi et al. 1996). Another study found that after high-intensity work with active recoveries performed at 60-100% lactate threshold, these helped muscles recover faster than they did plus passive recoveries performed at intensities below 0-40%. % of lactate threshold (Menzies et al. 2010).


One study found that massage performed immediately after exercise resulted in reduced blood flow and reduced removal of lactate and hydrogen ions from muscles, thereby slowing recovery (Wiltshire et al. 2010). Conversely, other researchers have found increased muscle activation and proprioception and a reduction  in delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS)  with massage (Shin & Sung 2014).


Miyamoto et al. examined markers of muscle damage (eg, creatine kinase, interleukin-6) and found no clear evidence of attenuation of these markers with compression, which would indicate accelerated recovery rates (Miyamoto et al. 2011) . While there is somewhat minimal research into the true effects of compression, there appear to be some small recovery benefits with little concern for harmful side effects (Hill et al. 2014).


Cryotherapy temporarily reduces muscle temperature, stimulating vasoconstriction and reducing inflammation and pain. Critics of cryotherapy point to a general slowdown of normal regenerative inflammation and an increasing risk of further injury due to prolonged exposure of the skin and nerves to cold temperatures (Schaser et al. 2007).


Surely the science of recovery represents an extremely interesting field of knowledge and specialization for professionals in the sector, new research or studies are opening up new frontiers for us to work on, also thanks to the help of technology, allowing us more and more to identify the right relationships between workload and rest times in order to maximize our sporting performance and the prevention of any injuries.


Pocari, JP, Bryant, CX and Comana, F., 2015. Exercise physiology. Philadelphia: FA Davis.

Sapolsky, RM 2004. Why zebras do not get ulcers (3rd ed). New York: Holt Paperback.

Cassandra M. McIver, Thomas P. Wycherley, and Peter M. Clifton, “MTOR signaling and ubiquitin-proteosome gene expression in the preservation of fat free mass following high protein, calorie restricted weight loss,” Nutrition and Metabolism 9, no. 1 (2012),; Tyler A. Churchward-Venne et al., “Role of protein and amino acids in promoting lean mass accretion with resistance exercise and attenuating lean mass loss during energy deficit in humans,” Amino Acids 45, no. 2 (2013),

T. Thomas, K. A. Erdman, and L. M. Burke, “American College of Sports Medicine joint position statement. Nutrition and athletic performance,” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 48, no. 3 (2016),; J. S. Volek, “Nutritional aspects of women strength athletes,” British Journal of Sports Medicine 40, no. 9 (2006),

Francis E. Holway and Lawrence L. Spriet, “Sport-specific nutrition: practical strategies for team sports,” Journal of Sports Sciences 29, Supplement 1 (2011),; P. D. Balsom et al., “Carbohydrate intake and multiple sprint sports: with special reference to Calcium (soccer),” International Journal of Sports Medicine 20, no. 1 (1999),

Menzies, P., et al. 2010. The clearance of lactate in the blood during active recovery after an intense running encounter depends on the intensity of active recovery. Journal of Sports Science, 28 (9), 975–982.

Shin, MS and Sung, YH 2014. Effects of massage on muscle strength and proprioception after exercise-induced muscle damage.  Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 29 (8), 2255–2260.

Hill, J., et al. 2014. Compression clothing and recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage: a meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 48 (18), 1340–1346.

Schaser, KD, et al. 2007. Prolonged superficial local cryotherapy attenuates microcirculatory failure, regional inflammation and muscle necrosis after closed soft tissue injury in rats. American Journal of Sports Medicine, 35 (1), 93–102.