Welcome back to the recovery blog, I will now follow on from the part 1 which explained why recovery is important for fencing. This time, I will give more details on the different recovery strategies and what the research shows!

Firstly, I am going to discuss sleep as a recovery strategy.  

Anyone who knows me, knows I am obsessed by my sausage dog, so I had to get a photo in some where. There is a really good infographic by @YLMSportScience which shows the benefit of sleep for performance.  What is interesting is that your tissues regenerate at night due to the release of growth hormone and this occurs during deep sleep. Therefore with less sleep, you are more susceptible to injury.  What is also important for fencing specifically, is that cognitive function such as reaction times and decision making is reduced if you do not have enough sleep (less than 7 hours). If you are unable to get sufficient sleep at night, napping has actually been shown to be beneficial and help restore some of the performance losses from lack of sleep at night. So as you can see, sleep is quite vital to recovery and performance.

Image taken from: https://ylmsportscience.com/2015/05/29/recovery-how-does-sleep-loss-influence-your-performance-an-illustrated-summary-by-ylmsportscience/

Nutrition is also vitally important for recovery. We mentioned that tissue growth and repair occurs overnight, so actually having protein in the evening is good to support this process. I won’t go in to too much detail about nutrition as it is such a huge topic. But our muscles are better at replenishing carbohydrate stores within 2 hours of finishing exercising. We mentioned previously that recovery from an individual competition to a team competition within 48 -72 hours of competing is important. One nutritional strategy you could implement is having a drink high in polyphenols such as cherry juice. This is not the watery juice you will find at the supermarket but a very concentrated juice that you will find somewhere like Holland and Barret. Research shows that this can help reduce DOMS and improve power and strength when you have about 48-72 hours to recover.

You will have probably seen people getting out the foam rollers at training or competitions. Some of you might be wondering why they are doing this. The idea is that it is a sports massage, but you are doing it to yourself. A recent meta-analysis[1] has shown that there is no apparent benefit to recovery using foam rolling. This is actually quite similar to the findings of sports massage. Essentially it is thought that foam rolling and sports massage will actually increase blood flow to the muscles and help washout waste products and help prevent injury. However, most research shows that neither have a beneficial effect except athletes perceive it to have an effect on recovery. Don’t underestimate the power of perceived effect! If this is something that you like to do and you feel it helps with recovery, continue to do so. If you are not doing it and are worried that everyone else is… don’t rush out to go and buy one! Well, not for the purpose of recovery! Foam rolling does seem to have potential benefit for flexibility… but that isn’t what we are discussing here! I once attended a talk by someone at UK Sport who did a study using male athletes and they found the best recovery strategy was when they received a sports massage by a beautiful masseuse… this sums it up really!

[1] Meta-analysis – this is where authors review lots of different studies on a subject area and combine all the results. This means instead of a small study looking at 10-15 participants they combine lots of studies and end up with a larger sample size and means they can draw a stronger conclusion.

Let’s get to those lovely ice baths that I have previously talked about. Should you or shouldn’t you have one after a competition? The research on the whole shows no effect with some studies even showing a negative effect on recovery!! I love going on the website ylmsportscience.com as they create lots of great infographics to summarise the findings of research in a simple way. Look at the infographic below, you can see in this study there was actually a negative impact on performance. If you really don’t enjoy freezing cold water or ice, you are not going to get a benefit from doing this. If you are a little bit crazy and enjoy the sensation, you may get a benefit.

Finally, if we look at compression garments that I sometimes see fencers wear under their kit. The idea behind them is that they create an external pressure gradient and help increase blood flow back to the heart. This will help wash out waste products and help with the recovery. But as you can probably tell now, there is a bit of a theme here. When it comes to the research there is limited evidence for them working. It is generally that they are perceived to help, but physiologically there appears to be no benefit.

So what does this mean for you?

I would do whatever makes you feel good. If having a sports massage makes you feel like you will recover better, then continue with it. Just be aware, that if you aren’t able to do your recovery strategy for whatever reason, it is a catastrophic event. It physiologically has limited benefit to you.