Post Game Recovery

By Sam Mayes, Physiotherapist, Physioworks Health Group.

There has been increased emphasis in recent years on an athletes’ recovery post exercise. Injury management, minimising injury risk, restoration of function and resolution of muscle soreness are all specific aims of post exercise recovery to optimise performance in the following days and for the next game.

There are a number of strategies and programs that athletes, clubs and coaches have implemented to aid their own recovery or the recovery of members of their team.

Warm down

A warm down, or active recovery, is performed at varying degrees by many athletes, and can range from 5 minutes to 15 minutes depending on exercise duration and intensity.

An active recovery has been shown to be more effective in removing lactate from the body’s circulatory system than a passive recovery. The clearance of lactate appears to be related to the intensity of which the warm down is performed. The recommended intensity of a warm down is around 50% of the athletes VO2max (i.e Maximum rate of oxygen consumption)

Deep water running

Deep water running involves mimicking the action of running at the deep end of a swimming pool, whilst wearing a buoyancy vest. This is an excellent method of maintaining fitness when injured or requiring a period of reduced impact exercise for the lower limb joints. It has also been used as a recovery method to ease muscle soreness and restore muscle function.

Ice Immersion

Cold therapy has been used for a long time to help with muscle recovery particularly after exercise. Its main role in tissue healing is to lower the hemodynamic response to injury. By decreasing the temperature of the effected tissue, we cause constriction of the blood vessels in the immediate area, hence lowering the accumulation of swelling. It is also thought that this decreases the muscles metabolism, hence lowering the oxygen requirement and reducing the inflammatory response. Other effects include reduction in muscle spasm and slowing nerve conduction velocity, lowering perceived pain.

A commonly used method of ice immersion, particularly at suburban footy level, is the use of wheelie bins with waist deep water at between degrees 2c-10c. The athlete should stand in the water for 1 minute then get out for 1 minute, repeating this action 2-3 times. Despite its widespread use and anecdotal support, ice baths have limited scientific evidence to support their use in recovery.


Rehydration post exercise is very important for the body, due to the potential for large amounts of fluid loss during training and/or a game. It is recommended that the athlete replace 150% of the fluid loss during the event in the first 4-6 hours post exercise. Fluid loss during exercise can be estimated by weighing the athlete before and after exercise. Every kilogram of body weight loss equates to approximately 1 litre of fluid lost.


Poor nutrition can lead to an increase in risk of injury due to its effect on recovery. Inadequate glycogen replacement causes a reliance on fat and protein stores. This can cause an increase in protein breakdown, which can lead to soft tissue injury. Glycogen is the major energy source for muscular activity, repetitive exercise depletes muscle and liver glycogen stores, hence the need to replace it to maintain optimum performance.

Glycogen is stored in our body for future use; we get glycogen from the carbohydrates we ingest in our food. Post training/game it is important to start replacing the glycogen within the first half hour. It is recommended in the first 4 hours an athlete should consume 1-1.2g of carbohydrate per kilogram per hour. High GI* carbohydrates are recommended in the early recover phase due to the ease at which the body is able to digest and break down the food to absorb its nutrients. High GI foods include lollies, white bread, potato, honey, watermelon and short grain rice.

Ideal recovery foods will contain carbohydrates and proteins, but low amounts of fats. Co-ingestion of protein and carbohydrate has been shown to result in twice as fast glycogen storage rate in the first 40 minutes post exercise, than solely carbohydrate feeding. Good sources of protein include low fat cheese, eggs, lean beef, fish, chicken, yogurt, milk nuts and seeds.


Lifestyle factors can also play a major role in recovery, despite some areas being short of research. Sleep and rest are thought to be important factors in the recovery process, however there is limited research into this area.

Alcohol consumption post exercise has been researched more heavily. Studies have shown that alcohol consumption immediately post exercise event resulted in muscle glycogen storage impairment and displaced carbohydrate intake from the recovery diet. More importantly, it is thought that alcohol is likely to impair the athletes’ ability and interest in recovery dieting to restore glycogen stores, than directly influencing it. So go easy on the beers post game!!

About the Author - Samuel Mayes

Samuel Mayes

is a physiotherapist consulting at Physioworks Health Group Cranbourne and Pakenham clinics. He is the club Physiotherapist at the Pakenham Lions Football Club and for the SEFNL Representative team.

About Physioworks Health Group:

Physioworks Health Group has a team of dedicated physiotherapists and health professionals providing a range of specialist health services at clinics in Cranbourne, Pakenham and Camberwell. Physioworks is the Medical and Health Care partner of the SEFNL. Physioworks Director David Francis is the Head Physiotherapist to the Collingwood Football Club.

*High GI = High Glycaemic Index, the glycaemic index is a measure of how fast blood sugar levels rise after ingesting a type of food. High GI (GI of 70-100) indicates a rapid rise in blood sugar, meaning the food is quick to break down. Medium GI (GI of 55-70) indicates a moderate rate of increase in blood sugar. Low GI (GI of 0-55) indicates a slow rise, meaning the food takes longer to digest.










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