What is recovery and how do you do it?

It is no secret that to get fit you need to put the training hours in. It is also no secret that recovery is an equally important component of a training programme. It can be easy to think of recovery as a passive and simple process. Something that will “just happen” without any real consideration, and we can easily get sucked into the marketing promises of gadgets that detract attention away from what really matters.

Recovery is multifaceted and it is a mistake to think of it as a  simple background activity. Not getting it right could be costing you a lot of wasted time, effort, finances and goal achievement.

Joe Staunton is a cycling coach and performance nutritionist at Ceyreste Performance.

What is recovery?

When we exercise or put the body under stress, it alters the body’s normal state of balance. Work and life stress in the form of psychological strain also count towards overall stress here and can be more damaging than exercise stress.

Recovery is a series of processes our bodies go through, both to re-establish balance and ensure that we are better prepared for the stress if we are to encounter it again in the future. This is how physical training (adaptation) works: we push the body past what it is accustomed to, to try and make it adapt so it is better able to deal with the same stimulus in the future.

Recovery is both an acute and long term process, and should be carefully planned and adapted within your training programme.

What to focus on

There are a lot of processes the body is undertaking to help you build back stronger after training and much research has been done to understand what influences your ability to enhance these things.

Thankfully, the complexity of recovery can be made simpler by concentrating on the following three main areas that have been proven to be the most effective.

Hydration and nutrition

Making sure that you are well hydrated and eating a diet sufficient in both quality and quantity is one of the most powerful ways to enhance your recovery.

When we exercise, we damage our muscle tissue. For us to both repair and adapt our bodies need to be adequately hydrated. We also need sufficient protein in our system as a building material to repair and build new muscle tissue. Being dehydrated will considerably slow down your recovery (as water is used in muscle protein synthesis and just about every other bodily function), and not having enough building material in the form of protein will delay or reduce the progress of your training.

If we are dehydrated our blood becomes thicker, which makes the heart work harder to ensure it can pump oxygenated blood to all areas of your body. Making your heart work harder than it needs to after training slows down your recovery, as your heart muscle is continuing to work at a higher rate when it really should be relaxing (1).

A simple method of checking hydration status is looking at the colour of your urine. It should be a very pale, straw colour. If it is darker than very pale, you should immediately drink a large glass of water and check again at the next passing of urine (and repeat).

When we train, we use a lot of energy (see our blog on fueling your training). For the hours, days and sometimes weeks after hard training, our bodies are using more energy than normal trying to recover and re-establish balance from what it’s been put through. Ensuring that you are adequately fuelling at the right times will vastly improve your recovery speed and effectiveness. For endurance exercise, carbs are king when it comes to both performance and recovery, so make sure that your diet is high in quality carbohydrates.


Not only is sleep essential for your overall health and quality of life. It is also the cheapest, simplest and most potent form of recovery. At its simplest, ensuring that you achieve 7-10 hours  of good quality sleep a night is probably the quickest and most effective change you can make to boost your recovery and training performance “overnight”.

Bizarrely, humans are the only species known to deprive themselves of sleep and it is estimated that 2/3rds of the global population do not achieve enough of it. When it comes to sports recovery, impaired sleep increases your rate of perceived exertion (2), decreases your ability to restore glycogen (energy) levels (3), and literally slows you down (4). It has also been demonstrated that poor sleep (less than 5-7 hours per night) will significantly enhance your risk of both getting an injury and illness (5,6,7).

There are many online articles with tips and tricks dedicated to “sleep hygiene”. I often find it easiest to try and imagine how we evolved to sleep in our ancestral caveman ages (darkness, no artificial light and peacefulness) to create the right sleep environment.


Another free and painfully simple but effective recovery tool is just chilling, man.

Physical and mental rest are essential for letting your body quickly and effectively recover. It gives the body a break to let all the recovery processes happen uninterrupted which will, of course, speed things up.

It is the practice that most competitive and motivated athletes find the hardest to do, as they consider not doing much to be lazy. But taking one full rest day every 7-10 days will go a long way to ensuring that your training days are effective and recovery has a good chance to happen between them.

Other things…

There are many other things athletes do to try and enhance their recovery (if you are interested, this review covers a lot of them (8). A lot of these methods work (stretching, massage, foam rolling, etc) but they are several orders of magnitude less effective than sleep, nutrition & hydration and rest. I therefore tend to ensure that my athletes are confident they are maximising their efforts on these fundamentals before moving to less impactful practices.

Enjoyed these tips? Follow @ceyresteperformance for more training tips or get in touch with Joe@ceyresteperformance.com for training help.


1- Noakes TD. Commentary: role of hydration in health and exercise. BMJ. 2012 Jul 18;345:e4171. doi: 10.1136/bmj.e4171. PMID: 22810384.

2 -Fullagar HH, Skorski S, Duffield R, et al. Sleep and athletic performance: the effects of sleep loss on exercise performance, and physiological and cognitive responses to exercise. Sports Med. 2015; 45:161–86.

3 – Skein M, Duffield R, Edge J, et al. Intermittent-sprint performance and muscle glycogen after 30 h of sleep deprivation. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 2011; 43:1301–11.

4 – Oliver SJ, Costa RJ, Laing SJ, et al. One night of sleep deprivation decreases treadmill endurance performance. Eur. J. Appl. Physiol. 2009; 107:155–61.

5 – Cohen S, Doyle WJ, Alper CM, et al. Sleep habits and susceptibility to the common cold. Arch. Intern. Med. 2009; 169:62–7.

6 – 32. Prather AA, Janicki-Deverts D, Hall MH, Cohen S. Behaviorally assessed sleep and susceptibility to the common cold. Sleep. 2015; 38:1353–9.

7 – Charest J, Grandner MA. Sleep and Athletic Performance: Impacts on Physical Performance, Mental Performance, Injury Risk and Recovery, and Mental Health. Sleep Med Clin. 2020 Mar;15(1):41-57. doi: 10.1016/j.jsmc.2019.11.005. PMID: 32005349; PMCID: PMC9960533.

8 – Braun-Trocchio R, Graybeal AJ, Kreutzer A, Warfield E, Renteria J, Harrison K, Williams A, Moss K, Shah M. Recovery Strategies in Endurance Athletes. J Funct Morphol Kinesiol. 2022 Feb 13;7(1):22. doi: 10.3390/jfmk7010022. PMID: 35225908; PMCID: PMC8883945.