Within all sports, we focus on nutrition, specific conditioning and skill based performance. But there is one area we often neglect; rest and recovery. This phase is vital in ensuring that players remain fresh and on top form, and it’s during recovery periods that our bodies develop physically in terms of increased strength and fitness, and mentally in how we take in the information we learn during games and training.
Recovery begins the second the game or session ends. We gradually cool down, consume the appropriate post game nutrition and remain hydrated. Later in the day we stretch and the following day we train light and repeat the stretching. Or that’s how it should really go…
If you’re fortunate enough to have access to a sports massage, then I’d highly recommend them. They’re brilliant in aiding recovery.
Cool Down and Stretching
Regardless of what your position on the field is the game of rugby is, without doubt a highly intense activity, opening the body’s systems up to shock, exhaustion and potential injuries whether minor or more serious.
Taking 15 minutes’ post-game to correctly cool down will speed up recovery, allow the cardiovascular system to return to normal circulation rate and prevent blood pooling in the limbs – mainly the legs. If blood pooling occurs, you’re opening yourself up too many potential long term health complications including deep vein thrombosis.
Stretching also helps to return the muscles back to their natural and resting length further preventing the risk of injury and soreness.
Even the simplest post-match jog out to the 22 and back to the try line, slowing the pace to a brisk walk, and then down to a normal walk (every two minutes) can be a great form of recovery.
Complete this then move on to a range of full body, static stretches, holding each stretch for between 20-30 seconds. Focus on the muscle you’re stretching and avoid any bouncing movement.
It would also be hugely beneficial that just before bed on the night of the game to repeat all the static stretches for 20-30 seconds just to speed up that recovery rate.
As part of the cool down phase, when showering it’s advised to take a cold shower to aid in muscle relaxation rather than a warm shower.
Post-Game Nutrition and Hydration
During the cool down make sure you’re consuming lots of water – try to go through a bottle during the warm down period.
Top Tip: One way to monitor fluid loss and ensure correct rehydration is to weigh a player before the game and immediately after. For every 1kg of weight loss drink 1.5 litres of water within 30 minutes of completing the cool down.
Also within 30 minutes of the game finishing, eat a banana and a handful of raisins, or alternatively any solid fruits are good in replacing natural sugars and carbohydrates. Both vital in restoring muscle energy stores.
Within two hours of the game finishing, a meal packed with protein and carbohydrates is vital in order to promote recovery to its full potential. Pasta mixed with tuna, lasagne made with lean mince or a stew packed with lean meat and vegetables are all great examples.
Although it’s generally tradition following a game to head to the bar for a few pints, sports drinks and energy drinks, this is possibly one of the worst things to do for the recovery process. These will dehydrate the body, add unusable calories and generally slow down how the body can effectively recover.
The day following a game is just as important in the recovery process. Light exercise and stretching for 10-20 minutes is the best way to rebalance the muscles and body. Sessions within a pool are the best as it is low impact and can be made easy on the system. incorporating light stretches into the pool session. If you cannot access a pool for whatever reason a light jog followed by static stretches or light resistance (very light) session incorporating full body movements followed by static stretching. Again the stretches should last between 20-30 seconds each and be focused around the muscles in use.
Sports massage treatment
Sports massage following a game (within 24 hours) can increase blood flow therefore improving oxygen rate to the recovering muscles, aids in reduction of aches and pains caused by lactic acid. Due to the nature of physical contact within the game of rugby, bruising and injuries are common following games and although the massage may be uncomfortable it will aid in the long term recovery and prevention of injuries.