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Recovery- Stefan Timms


By Stefan Timms

Recovery is an around the clock process.  You may be one of the hardest trainers in the world, but if you don’t let your body recover you will never reap the rewards of your hard work.  It is in the interval between workouts that your adaptations for increased muscle strength and endurance occur.  It is crucial that the proper nutrients in the correct proportions are ingested before, during, and following a workout or race.  It is also important to ensure that you are getting enough rest, and to look after all those aches and pains through adequate stretching, icing, and massage.  You also need to monitor your resting heart rate to watch for signs of fatigue or illness, which can tell you that you are not getting enough recovery.

Consumption of carbohydrates, specific proteins, and other supplements during and after exercise can bridge the gap between potentially excessive training and racing, and exceptional performance.  Your ability to perform repeatedly at peak levels during the racing season is limited by how well your muscles recover and repair themselves after each workout.
The R4 System

Dr. Ed Burke’s book Optimal Muscle Recovery (1999, Avery Publishing Group) presents a new science-based model for optimizing muscle recovery – the R4 System – that is very interesting and helpful.  It offers a simple and real system in which to aid recovery.  By understanding the science behind the following four principles of the R4 System, you will make enormous strides in improving recovery and performance:

1. Restore electrolytes and water

2. Replenish glycogen stores rapidly

3. Reduce muscle and oxidative stress

4. Rebuild muscle protein
Restore Electrolytes and Water

Fluid and electrolyte replenishment is crucial for maintaining cardiac output and regulating body temperature during exercise. Elevations in body temperature can sharply impair performance. Studies have shown that fluid replacement must occur both during and after exercise. Electrolytes usually found in sports hydration drinks can accelerate re-hydration by speeding intestinal re-absorption of fluids and improve fluid retention. The key electrolytes are sodium, potassium and magnesium.  Your thirst mechanism may be insufficient in motivating you to restore your fluid and electrolyte balance. You must be aggressive in drinking fluids containing electrolytes throughout and after your race.  Never find yourself feeling thirsty!
Replenish Glycogen Stores Rapidly

Immediately following your workout or race, the first thing you need to do is replenish glycogen stores.  Early studies focused on replenishment of glycogen stores by consumption of a carbohydrate supplement both during and after exercise. The regulator of glycogen replenishment is the hormone insulin, which increases the transport of glucose from the blood into the muscle and stimulates the enzyme responsible for the conversion of glucose into glycogen.  Insulin is so important in recovery from exercise that it should be termed the  “master recovery hormone”. Recent studies have shown that by combining a carbohydrate supplement with protein and the amino acid arginine, you can stimulate insulin levels and glycogen replenishment in a synergistic fashion. The ideal ratio of carbohydrate to protein is extremely important to obtain this synergy.  This Optimum Recovery Ratio should be 4:1, four grams of carbohydrate per gram of protein. By further stimulating insulin, muscle glycogen is restored more quickly, which results in improved performance and faster recovery.
Reduce Oxidative and Muscle Stress

Muscle cells undergo considerable trauma during higher intensity training and racing.  This trauma leads to soreness and the need to rebuild protein.  It is only recently that the causes of oxidative and muscle stress have been defined. During exercise there is a buildup of free radicals. This is called oxidative stress. Free radicals are largely responsible for damage to the muscle cell membrane. Antioxidants such as Vitamin C and E have been shown to reduce free radical buildup during exercise and protect against muscle damage. It is common in the middle of the racing season, while physical stress is at its highest, for athletes to experience a compromised immune system, making them more susceptible to colds and infection. The natural herb ciwujia and the amino acid glutamine have been shown to stimulate and boost the immune system.
Rebuild Muscle Protein

Repair of damaged muscle proteins begins immediately after exercise. Insulin stimulates muscle repair by increasing amino acid transport into the muscle. Most athletes get enough protein in their diet. However, during a heavy training period, extra protein to help offset tissue damage can be helpful.  Dr. Burke states, “During hard exercise your body uses certain amino acids such as isoleucine, leucine, and valine (the branched-chain amino acids) for energy”.

Dr. Burke, in discussing the details of rebuilding muscle protein, has advised that branched-chain amino acids make up one-third of muscle protein and are involved in the body’s response to stress and the building of muscle. Sufficient amounts of branched-chain amino acids are found in any quality whey protein supplement.

A critical aspect to recovery is the replacement of carbohydrate and protein within the first 30 minutes following races.  Your body is several times more capable of absorbing and replenishing these fuels immediately following the race than at any other time.

Burke pointed out that at an American College of Sports Medicine’s annual meeting, two groups of investigators reported on studies of a sports drink based on the R4 System.  In the first trial, subjects were depleted of muscle glycogen, and then they consumed the R4 drink or a leading sports drink during a recovery phase.  Following the recovery phase, subjects underwent a performance test measuring how long they could exercise at 85% of their VO2 Max. In the second trial, conducted by Dr. John Seifert and Dr. Burke, subjects ran for 45 minutes, consumed a leading sports drink or the R4 drink, bicycled for 45 minutes and then completed a performance trial. The researchers found that the sports drink based on the R4 system produced equivalent rates of rehydration and:

* Increased endurance performance by 56%
* Reduced total free radical buildup by 69%
* Stimulated insulin levels by 70%
* Decreased muscle damage by 36%

These studies provide powerful support of the benefits of the R4 System in enhancing aerobic performance by speeding muscle recovery.
Morning Heart Rate: Your Wake-up Call

Monitoring resting heart rate is a valuable tool in gauging the recovery process and establishing individual recovery patterns.  Monitoring resting (sleeping & morning) heart rate is so crucial that you may be asked to strap on a heart rate monitor as they sleep.  Downloaded heart rate data from hard training periods can then be used to assist in gauging recovery patterns.  Generally, in a hard training phase an athlete’s average sleeping heart rate will continue to drop off by 1-2 bpm. This pattern will continue for 3-7 days and normally after 7 days his/her average sleeping heart rate will begin to rise by 1-2 bpm. While the average sleeping heart rate is dropping the perceived effort during workouts is rising.  This is normally a tough time for the athlete and his/her results may also drop.  Once the athlete’s average sleeping heart rate begins to climb again the perceived effort during training generally becomes easier.  This indicates that the athlete is beginning to adapt to the stress of the training and he/she is getting stronger.

You should keep your heart rate monitor next to the bed so they can quickly strap it on in the morning to check your morning heart rate.  You should record your morning heart rate before getting out of bed.  Recording this heart rate data over a long period of time can help indicate heart rate trends that can be matched to a pattern of individual recovery.  Look for lower and/or higher morning heart rates that correspond to a greater perceived effort in your races or workouts, or as a sign of oncoming illness.  After a few months of recording this data you should soon see trends in morning heart rate that can help you establish your individual recovery pattern.


Sleep is an integral part of your body’s natural recovery cycle.  A nap is great for recovery and rejuvenating the spirit.  Try to build in an afternoon nap as part of your training program, but do not use it as a replacement for sleep.  Nightly sleep should range between 8-10 hours.  If you are dropping below 8 hours of sleep per night, you could be eating into your body’s natural recovery cycle.
What Should You Do On Your Recovery Days?

Way back in 1963, a physician at McGill University, Dr. Hans Selye, who is considered to be the father of stress related research, demonstrated that if rats were stressed and then allowed to recover they became stronger. If however, the rats were stressed again before they recovered, they became weaker. These rats were victims of the overtraining syndrome. When it comes to stress similar adaptive-defence mechanisms exist in human life forms.

The implications of this information are that after a particularly intense workout or race it is critical that it be followed up by a recovery workout. While this will facilitate stress adaptation it will also serve to flush your system of lactic acid.  Full recovery between races or intense training sessions may take on a different protocol for each athlete, but the concept remains the same.  You need to be icing any small aches that have popped up, you need to keep stretching to ensure that you stay flexible, and you need to get massage to help flush your system.  On top of this regime you also need to exercise enough to stimulate active recovery but not enough to introduce a training load.  Simple workouts of 30-120 minutes at a low heart rate, 25-40 beats below lactate threshold, at a comfortable speed will aid recovery.  For example, after winning the 2001 Canadian National Championships race and with only 6 days before the Toronto World Cup race, Simon Whitfield spent his time relaxing, getting massage, and doing a few workouts.  All but one of his training sessions were at low heart rates, with his only workout around lactate threshold being his track session held on Wednesday. The speed workout helped “open him up” and activated the clearance process of removing lactate. The recovery workouts helped him to avoid inducing training stress, but also helped speed the recovery process by increasing blood flow, accelerating the inflow of nutrients, and reducing muscle soreness.  It obviously worked as he went on to win the Toronto race.
10 Steps For Quicker Recovery

1. Make sure you begin to replenish depleted muscle glycogen stores with high glycemic index carbohydrates within 30 minutes after a workout.

2. Make sure recovery workouts between intense training sessions are only long enough to stimulate the active recovery process.

3. Select a sport drink based on the R4 system, one that will maximally stimulate insulin, to speed glycogen replenishment and rebuilding of protein.  A carbohydrate to protein ratio of 4 grams carbohydrate per gram of protein is ideal.

4. Power Naps — take them as often as you can.

5. Limit the amount of protein and fat consumed in the immediate post-exercise period. Too much protein post-exercise hinders recovery by slowing hydration and carbohydrate replenishment. The optimum ratio is 4 grams of carbohydrate per gram of protein.

6. Keep your intensity below 65% of maximum heart rate during recovery workouts.  This helps promote the recovery process by increasing blood flow and reducing muscle soreness without inducing fatigue.

7. Incorporate antioxidants into the nutrition program.  Antioxidants can help protect against post-exercise muscle damage, thereby reducing soreness.

8. Drink fluids containing sodium, potassium and magnesium during and following your races.

9. Massage. The professionals get one just about every day.

10. Record your morning heart rate with a heart rate monitor to begin establishing trends in your sleeping and morning heart rate.

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