There’s a marked difference between the recovery you need on a day to day basis and the recovery you need on the back of an ironman or marathon. An event of such magnitude, where the body endures hour upon hour of physical exertion, across a variety of different terrains, inclines and mediums is hugely stressful on the body and the post-event recovery needs to be treated with the respect it deserves.

In this article we look at the scientific approach to recovering after extreme endurance events, discovering exactly what the body goes through and how it needs to fully repair and recover post event.

Time to read: 8 minutes

Level: Intermediate

Key Points:

  • Generalised Recovery
  • Overarching Principles of Recovery
  • Tissue Repair
  • Nutritional Recovery
  • Hormonal Recovery
  • Neural Recovery
  • Waste Product Removal
  • Endurance-Specific Post Event Recovery
  • General Recovery Rules Post Endurance Events
  • Recovering with KYMIRA

There’s a marked difference between the recovery you need on a day to day basis and the recovery you need on the back of an ironman or marathon. See how science and KYMIRA help to improve your post-event recovery.

Generalised Recovery

Far too many people over-simplify the concept of recovery. They see recovering as simply ‘not doing’, but there’s far more to it than that. You can manipulate your recovery from a number of viewpoints, but you need to understand what it is you are recovering from in order to maximise the effectiveness of a recovery strategy.

Although recovering from different events share similar principles, we have to take into account the specific nature of an activity because there are nuances with each.

Overarching Principles of Recovery

Before we delve into specifics, we will begin by assessing the shared principles of recovery that a range of activities have. These same principles will hold true whether or not the activity you are recovering from is running, weight training, swimming, team sports and the like.

Tissue Repair

When we exercise we create microtrauma in the muscle fibres, the connective tissues and the bones. This microtrauma causes DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and associated pain. Depending on the nature of the activity this damage will range in severity. In order for us to perform optimally, this damage has to be fully repaired [1].

Nutritional Recovery

Exercise uses our fuel reserves which need to be replenished in some capacity. These substrates are replaced by our food or post exercise recovery drinks. There’s a number of nutritional recovery elements, including rehydration and electrolyte replenishment, muscle protein synthesis and muscle glycogen synthesis [2].

Hormonal Recovery

This is an aspect of recovery many people forget about, but there is a hormonal element to the post-event state. Evidence shows that during exercise concentrations of various hormones are raised [3] and these have to be returned to baseline in the recovery period post-event.

Neural Recovery

Beyond the obvious cardiovascular system and musculoskeletal systems that work during exercise, there’s a huge neural element to exercise. The nervous system is also stressed during activity as it sends the signals to the muscles to fire in sequence, to the heart to increase work rate and it is involved with thousands of other physiological processes. Evidence shows clearly there’s a neural fatigue linked with exercise [4].

Waste Product Removal

Post exercise, there are various waste products that have to be removed by the body, such as lactic acid. These vary in concentration (usually in response to the work performed), but they still have to be dealt with before we can be considered fully recovered.

Endurance-Specific Post Event Recovery

The big issue around long distance and long duration events is the orders of magnitude of the damage and therefore subsequent recovery.

In specific Ironman Triathlon research [5], various blood biomarkers of inflammation were tested 1, 5 and 19 days post event. The research concluded that although in the acute phase of recovery (1-5 days post event) much of the inflammatory markers withdrew, there was still a low grade systemic inflammation beyond this point, suggesting complete recovery takes beyond a week.

To further enhance our knowledge of the topic, research from 2017 suggests there may be a sex-difference in the tolerance of mechanical stress associated with endurance running [6]. Researchers involved with the study said “we saw high values of myoglobin, CK and AST. This ‘cluster’ is related to the breakdown of skeletal muscle”, but this cluster was in lower levels in the female athletes. An explanation for this could be in that oestrogen protects against muscle damage and is naturally higher in women.

The nutritional aspects of recovery have to be taken into account as well. Although athletes competing in extreme endurance events will fuel throughout the event, the reality is the sheer energy expenditure will result in weight loss.

In a single-person study on an endurance cyclist, various biomarkers and anthropometric data points were assessed [7]. The event consisted of 2,272 km distance covered across 5 days. Despite the athlete consuming nearly 40,000 calories during the 5 days, his energy expenditure was measured at over 54,000 calories and he subsequently lost nearly 2kg in weight. This was from an already very lean, endurance-trained man so arguably it’s more impactful.

General Recovery Rules Post Endurance Events

Taking the data as a whole, we have to consider the multiple elements of recovery that the body is dealing with at the same time.

Recovery processes occur at different rates, for example nutritional recovery (rehydration, mineral and nutrient replenishment) can happen very quickly. On the contrary, tissue damage can take 3-15 days depending on the severity. Finally, the hormonal element of recovery takes a little while longer, with some low-level systemic inflammation still being present beyond 2 weeks in some athletes.

We’re all different and recover at individual rates, but your training history has an impact. The more ‘used’ to endurance training your body is, the quicker it will recover [8], so expect your recovery time to reduce with time and experience.

Recovering with KYMIRA

Infrared clothing made by KYMIRA enhances recovery significantly. By stimulating blood flow, recovery agents are delivered to inflamed tissues quicker, vasodilation allows the faster removal of exercise-induced waste products, sleep is enhanced, pain is regulated and tissues are both oxygenated and relaxed, improving movement.

There is a significant body of research detailing how these individual processes work, and for more information visit the science page on our website, which details the scientifically-proven benefits that have allowed KYMIRA products to be medical grade certified.

KYMIRA has helped to put athletes on top of podiums around the world. Maybe you could be the next one?


January 21, 2021 — Stephen Hoyles

Leave a comment

Please note: comments must be approved before they are published.