Sports Performance Part 2: Maximising Recovery and Adaptation

11 Jul


The following article will explain the importance of both specific and general adaptations and how they impact performance. Outline methods of recovery and how to address and prioritise each one to maximise the effects of training and reduce the risks associated with over training.

Over training is very common amongst athletes in all age groups and the hardest job for a coach is to design and deliver a training programme that delivers the optimal amount of work load/ volume and intensities.

When working with smaller groups managing these variables becomes easier and adapting the training programme based off feedback is crucial for the athletes success.I regularly stress  to my athletes to record their sessions, their times, the weather and how they feel so I can use their feedback going forward.
This is particularly important for individuals in larger groups as athletes can easily slip through the cracks.

The primary goal to training is adaptation and this occurs between sessions and athletes must be able to tolerate and handle the intensities and volumes if they are expected to adapt. If these variables are too high, it can easily lead to over training.

Identifying Over Training

An effective training programme requires a balance between intense training sessions and periods of rest/recovery. Too much overload and/or not enough recovery can result in both physiological and psychological symptoms that limit performance or attendance.

Identifying over training can be difficult as the scope for measuring over training is very wide. More than 125 signs and symptoms have been identified in published literature which makes a definitive diagnosis very challenging.
However you notice

1. Decreased performance 

2. Increased perceived effort during workouts.

3. Lack of motivation

4. Chronic or nagging injuries

5. Irritability or high temperament

Progressive Overload and Recovery

The legendary Olympic Wrestler, Milo of Croton, was recorded to have carried a new born calf on his shoulders everyday.
Each day he became stronger as the calf grew. Initially people laughed at him but through through this process of progressive overload, he became the strongest wrestler in Ancient Greece.
His process may have seemed very simple but it worked and he avoided over training and allowed his body to adapt to a consistent method with small increments in intensity, which allowed him to regularly load the body until the Ox became too big.


Train like Milo

Without sufficient recovery we cannot adapt to the demands of training.

    • Listen to your body and take extra recovery time if needed.
    • Follow a well structured periodised training programme with varying periods of intense/high-volume training with extended periods of rest/recovery.
    • Recovery/rest between intense workouts is critical because this is when muscle tissue repair and growth occur; usually 24 to 72 hours depending on the intensity and volume of the session.

As a coach I take responsibility for my athletes training programmes and when necessary I adapt the sessions to fit their needs but what the athletes do between their sessions is their responsibility.

Prioritising Methods of Recovery.

The updated recovery pyramid created by Nick Grantham.

I am particularly fond of this as it prioritises the methods of recovery and covers almost every method to assist recovery between sessions.
If you’re not addressing level 1 by not consistently getting enough sleep, consuming nutritious food with the caloric demands of your event and needs or addressing proper body management, all the benefits gained from the levels above will negligible.
Today I will cover Level 1.

Sleep for Performance and Minimising Injury Rates

Speaking from experience, the more mature and goal driven the athlete, the more they value the importance of their sleep. There are many distractions and factors that can interrupt or delay sleep which is why it is really important to create and stick to a schedule.

Milewski et al. 2014 found athletes who slept on average less than 8 hours per night were 1.7 times more likely to have had an injury compared with athletes who slept for more than 8 hours.

A lack of sleep has not only significantly increases your risk of injury but also reduces accuracy and sprint times in basketball players.
Very few athletes will stay up late the day before a competition but wouldn’t think twice about doing it before the night before a training day. If your goal is to run fast, you need to be in a physical and mental state to do so for training, not just competition.


A healthy, balanced, nutritiously dense diet can vary depending on each person metabolic and caloric demands but it is very important serious athletes consume adequate amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fats to offset energy expenditure.

Research over the last decade has indicated that athletes engaged in intense training need to ingest about two times the usual recommended daily allowance (RDA) of protein in their diet to maintain protein balance.An insufficient amount of protein in the diet leads to the negative nitrogen balance, which can increase protein catabolism and can slow post-workout recovery. This may lead to muscle wasting, training intolerance and, certainly, over training.

By consuming carbohydrates with your protein, your body releases insulin. Elevated insulin levels help your muscles absorb amino acids/ Protein.

As exercise increases, muscle glycogen (where we store carbohydrates) becomes used up, which causes a higher need for carbohydrates. For children and teens involved in high intensity athletic activities, eating the right amount of carbohydrates before, during, and after an event is very important! Often teenagers are fooled into thinking low-carb and high protein diets will help them gain significant muscle mass. This is NOT true. A diet low in carbs will not only decrease muscle potential, it will also worsen overall athletic performance.

Recommended Amounts

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day for athletes, depending on training. Protein intake should be spaced throughout the day and after workouts.

Burke et al. Suggest Carbohydrate ranges of 5 to 7 g/kg/day for general training needs and 7 to 10 g/kg/day for the increased needs of endurance athletes.

It is recommended that athletes consume a moderate amount of fat (approximately 30% of their daily caloric intake). Higher-fat diets appear to maintain circulating testosterone concentrations better than low-fat diets.

Adequate consumption of essential fatty acids, especially polyunsaturated fatty acids, are of great importance among athletes. The best sources of essential fatty acids are “fatty” fishes (salmon, tuna, mackerel), some seeds (flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts) and olive oils, ideally unheated.

Body Management & Tools for Recovery

Can be either passive or active recovery, active recovery implies parting effort to directly assist your body’s mobility, flexibility or muscle tension and can inc. yoga, meditation, prehab/rehab or using tools for myofascial release or receiving a massage.
Passive recovery can be something as simple as enjoying your downtime by going for a walk in nature, or listening to music of relaxing with friends.

Below are a list of tools I recommend my athletes buy to assist their active recovery. If used correctly they can save you a lot of money on Massages or Physiotherapists.

1. Rumble Roller

I’ve used foam rollers for the best part of 15 years when the first ones to reach the market were basic foam. By far my favourite foam rollers are the Rumble Rollers.
The best results from foam rolling come from compression of muscle tissue that carries tension, this could be via knots or calcification and compressing and restricting blood flow to that area and overloading the pressure senses in the neurological system cause a greater relief in tension than the act of physically rolling.T
This method is often referred to as trigger point therapy.

2. The Peanut

I first made my peanut back in 2013 after reading Becoming a Supple Leopard by Kelly Starrett. Since then the Peanut can now be bought without taping two hockey or lacrosse balls together.
This tool is especially great for releasing any tension you may carry either side of the spine as the shape fits around the vertebrae nicely.

PROTONE double lacrosse ball for trigger point massage - peanut roller tool for deep muscle massage

3. Lacrosse ball

Brilliant for the glutes as the small surface area can find the spots that a foam roller can’t.

Captain-Lax Lacrosse Ball red -

5. The Massage Stick

The massage stick can be useful as a substitute for a foam roller if the foam roller is too large, I personally use the stick to roll the outside of the quads. You can also use the handles either side to work up and down the muscle but I’ve never been able to apply enough force to get a good result. This tool is also great for rolling your feet.

 PhysioRoom Trigger Point Massage Stick - Portable Flexible Self Massage Roller - Pre & Post Sport

6. Massage gun 

When the massage guns first hit the market they were incredibly expensive for what they were.
Eventually China started building budget options. I purchased a cheap knock off version about 8 months ago for less than £40.
When I compared my gun to my clients G3 Pro Theragun, pictured below. The matched up fairly well and I didn’t think the £300 price difference was worth it. The Theragun was more powerful, had a longer battery life and looked and felt better but the downside was that it was pretty loud and the cheaper option with the link below was much quieter and still leaves you feeling good afterwards.

With the percussive/ vibrating tools I came across World Strongest Man warming up for his Ski Erg world record using a car buffer and back in 2018, before the cheaper alternatives hit the market I would use the same. Video shown below.

Cheap alternative.


Top of the range Theragun.

Practical Applications

It’s one thing to know the information that helps us but to put it into practice is what really matters, below are a few methods I share with my athletes to help them create a structure to help them recover as best as possible between training sessions.


  • Get a minimum 7-8 hours of sleep per night
  • Minimise screen time before bed
  • Have a bed time routine
  • Nap between sessions or in the afternoon if you’re behind on sleep.
  • Use a red light filter on your computer or phone to reduce stimulation
  • Wear a night mask, especially if you have a very light room with light curtains.


  • Eat enough calories and macro nutrients
  • Consume nutrient dense foods
  • Cut down on processed foods & refined sugars
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Nutrition is highly personal and dependant on the demands of the individual

Body Management

  • Passively rest
    – Listen to music
    – Meet with friends
  • Actively rest
    – Massage, foam rolling
    – Go for a walk in the countryside
    – Flexibility & mobility training

Periodisation & Monitoring

  • Plan rest days & recovery sessions
  • Change your training based on performance and fatigue levels
  • Monitor physical and mental readiness by recording in your training diary
  • Avoid over-training

Connell Macquisten