Older Athletes Need More Time to Recover. Or Do We?
There is a common perception among older athletes that recovery from training and competition takes longer and longer as we age.
“Recovery” may mean different things for the older athlete, including recovery from injury, recovery between training days, recovery from competition and even recovery from post- race partying. In this blog I’m going to focus on recovery from post-race partying…. no wait, that’s a future blog, I need to do more research on that first.
This blog will focus on recovery from training and competition.
Even though the perceived wisdom is that older athletes take longer to recover than younger athletes (sub 30-35) the available evidence and research on this is somewhat unclear and in some cases, contradictory. This common belief, that recovery is impaired with age, is clearly popular if you pay attention to the abundance of articles about this on the internet and social media. Despite all this anecdotal evidence there is very little research to support this belief, especially when it comes to well -trained Masters Athletes.
The proposed mechanisms commonly put forward for longer recovery in masters’ athletes are- 1. Greater fatigue than younger athletes as a result of the same exercise bout resulting in the need for a comparatively longer rest/ recovery period 2. Slower rate of recovery leading to impaired physiological adaptation and 3. Both of these mechanisms combined.
To understand why recovery from exercise and athletic performance is vitally important it’s best to review the principles of training and adaptation first.
According to Fell and Williams, in “The effect of aging on skeletal-muscle recovery from exercise.” Journal of Aging and Physical Activity-
“Most forms of physical training lead to the progression of fatigue, which effectively reduces the capacity for peak performance. However, this mechanism is essential to the training process as it provides the stimulus for recovery processes that enable the stressed systems to adapt and improve.”
In other words training creates a stressful load on our physiological systems which then adapt and get stronger preparing us for the next training load.
Well at least that’s what should happen.
The key here is that our body needs time to adapt and rebuild after a bout of exercise or a competition. In other words- recover. It’s during this period of recovery and rebuilding after we exercise, that we become faster and stronger. This process is known as “Supercompensation”.
The period of recovery is dependent on several variables- the sport/ activity, the phase of training or competition season, the goals of the athlete and, maybe, age.
The key, although counter-intuitive, concept here is that you don’t get fitter, stronger or faster while you’re in the gym lifting or running or whatever. These activities place a stress on your body and your body adapts- gets fitter, stronger, faster- while you’re recovering after the exercise event. The process when your body adapts and jumps to a higher level of fitness is called in coachie technical speak, supercompensation.
OK- I get it, I hear you say. So what if I don’t take time to recover, I’m a tough guy, I go hard or I go home.
Well tough guy, according to Fell and Williams (those science guys from before) here’s what will happen-
“(With Inadequate recovery)… there is a greater risk of subsequent training bouts taking place before complete recovery has been achieved, leading to progressive decreases in performance potential and progressive overtraining.
(which will) … limit the potential for improvement in athletic performance.”
And not even tough guys want that.
I hope I’ve made the case that recovery is an important part of your training and exercise programme.
In the next blog I’ll explore whether the research supports the contention that older athletes and exercisers take longer to recover. (I know I promised that up front, I got carried away).
In the blog after that I will look at effective ways to recover after workouts and competition.