Recovery

Little research has examined the ability of aging muscles and tissues to recover from training. What research has been done has tended to focus on aging non-athletes, rather than aging athletes. A number of studies on both rats and humans have suggested that there are age-related differences in both the susceptibility of muscle to exercise-induced muscle damage and the ability of this muscle to repair.

It appears that for the same relative intensity (%) of exercise, older muscles are damaged more, at least in older non-athletes. However, a recent study found that after eight weeks of strength training, younger (20-30 years) and older (65-75 years) men displayed similar muscle damage when examined under an electron microscope. This suggests that training may help prevent muscle damage in older people. To my knowledge, no studies have examined differences in muscle damage in masters versus younger athletes.

Most human and rat studies suggest that recovery from a training session that induces muscle damage is impaired in aging people. Certainly my own anecdotal evidence based on years of observing my own response to training and listening and observing other aging athletes from endurance sports, is that recovery takes longer as we age following intense training sessions. A number of reasons have been put forward for this increased muscle damage and longer recovery. They include:

  • The age-related decrease in muscle size and strength. Strength training is thus an obvious solution to overcome this issue as it can increase both the size and strength of muscle.
  • The age-related decrease in flexibility or range of motion about a joint. This means that when an aging person exercises, damage is more likely to occur in connective tissue surrounding joints and muscles because with age that tissue is less elastic, less lubricated, and less pliable. The solution is to ensure that flexibility training become a vital part of a masters athlete’s training program.
  • The age-related decrease in antioxidant and antioxidant agents (enzymes) within most tissues including muscle and connective tissue. This suggests the need for antioxidant supplementation and / or multivitamin – multimineral supplementation.
  • The age-related decrease in the inflammatory response within muscle. This means that the appearance of cells to remove damaged cells is compromised with age, thus delaying the repair of muscle and connective tissue. Both warm-down and active recovery as well as following hard training with easy training may address this issue.
  • The age-related decrease in muscle protein synthesis (building) rates. This may slow the rebuilding of muscle and connective tissue after training-induced damage. Protein intake following training sessions may enhance this process.

Or you may be smart enough to use the advice below to help you recover between events on the same day or from day to day.

The table below shows the major sites of fatigue in endurance athletes and the ranking of the recovery methods required following endurance training.

Rank Function Site of Fatigue
1 Nutritional Fuel and fluid stores
2 Physiological Muscles
3 Neurological Peripheral (limbs) nervous system
4 Psychological Brain

The table below summarises the elative importance of recovery methods based on the site of fatigue in speed, strength and power athletes.

Rank Function Site of Fatigue
1 Neurological Peripheral (limbs) nervous system
2 Physiological Muscles
3 Nutritional Fuel and fluid stores
4 Psychological Brain

The table below highlights what research has shown as the guidelines and recovery strategies required for each type of fatigue experienced in masters endurance athletes.

Function Nutritional Physiological Neurological Psychological
Guideline Restore fluid and fuel stores Increase blood supply to fatigued muscles Promote muscle relaxation Promote psychological recovery
Activity
  • Rehydrate
  • Nutrition (high GI foods and protein)
  • Active recovery
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Massage
  • Compression garments
  • Active recovery
  • Stretching
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Massage
  • Rest/Sleep
  • Visualization
  • Breathing
  • Massage
  • Meditation
  • Rest/Sleep

Below is a list of recovery strategies that sport science has shown to work and the rating each has received from research.

Recovery Strategy Rating
Active recovery (easy jogging, swimming etc)AcupunctureAnti-inflammatories

Compression garments (e.g. Skins)

Contrast water therapy (hot/cold showers)

Food and fluids

Hyperbaric chambers

Ice therapy / cold water immersion

Massage

Pool recovery / deep water running

Sauna

Spas with jets

Stretching

Medium-HighMediumMedium

High

High

High

Low-Medium

High

Medium-High

Medium-High

Low

Medium-High

High

From the above list, you can see that some real world strategies are ranked as high and don’t require too much expense, equipment or effort. These include wearing compression garments such as Skins, alternating hot and cold showers (30 sec cold, 90 sec hot) three times, eating high glycemic index (GI) foods (carbohydrates that are absorbed into the blood quickly) in the 30 minutes after an event, cold water immersion (e.g. hotel pool or bath), massage, and stretching.

Practical high GI foods and drinks include breads, soft drinks, sports drinks, lollies such as jelly beans, sweet corn, and watermelon, all of which are cheap and readily available. See the website:  www.glycemicindex.com/ for a more information on this concept and a very comprehensive list of foods that are high GI foods or drinks.

Chapter 15 of The Masters Athlete discusses in detail the recovery strategies above while chapter 16 discusses in detail the crucial role nutrition plays in recovery from endurance training.