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Exercise Recovery

DSER Staff: Dr Stuart Goodall, Dr Kirsty Hicks, Dr Karen Keane, Prof Glyn Howatson 

Collaborators: Prof Malachy McHugh and Dr Susan Kwiecien (NISMAT), Dr Jonathan Leeder, (English Institute of Sport), Dr Angus Hunter (Stirling University), Dr Jessica Hill (St Mary’s University), Professor Gareth Davison (University of Ulster). 

Recovery is an established principle of medicine to maintain physiological homeostasis that dates to Hippocrates (c.460 BC) and is based on the premise that rest was central to healing.  The pursuit of gains in athletic performance has led to an avid interest in recovery following exercise, which is particularly pertinent when training and competition schedules are extremely demanding.  

Achieving an appropriate balance between physiological stress, recovery and subsequent adaptation is critical to optimise performance in training and competition. This can be done through reducing exercise-induced stress, accelerating recovery to allow for a greater training load, and optimising preparation in times of competition congestion. Athletes also adopt a wide range of recovery strategies such as the use of compression garments, functional foods and cryotherapy (cold water immersion). Despite their widespread use, the evidence-base on their efficacy is often limited. 

The recovery research from Northumbria has been conducted for over a decade and we are established as one of the field leaders in the area of exercise recovery strategies. There is an established track record of high-quality  research publications in areas such as compression garments, functional foods, cryotherapy  and more recently, phase change materials (PCM) – the use of materials which release and absorb energy to provide heating or cooling.   

Many of these finding have been used with our Olympic athletes to support them in recovery during competition and strenuous training. Previously, we collaborated with elite sport partners to formulate guidelines in the lead-up to, and throughout the 2016 Rio Olympics that was adopted by the British Olympic Association and applied to athletes  across the 23 Team GB sports.   

More recently, in a course of research led at Northumbria that examined the efficacy of phase change materials in athletic recovery, we worked with Dr Jonathan Leeder at the English Institute of Sport (EIS) Innovation Team. Together we development the application of PCM ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. The intervention has already been used by British athletes during international competition, and six teams are using it in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics. 

Since 2019, all five EIS key treatment centres have also used the new technique to support injury management in their athletes. 

The exciting work in this space  is extremely valuable to support athletes in recovery from strenuous exercise and acute injury management. By understanding more of the physiological stress athletes are exposed to and how we might best manage the return to normal function after the damage from strenuous exercise will help maintain athlete performance and return to normal function at an accelerated rate.   Importantly to the wider population, many of these recovery strategies have the potential to be applied in clinical groups to manage signs and symptoms associated with chronic conditions, such a low-grade chronic inflammation. 

Find out more:

Bell, P.B., Stevenson, E.J., Davison, G.W., and Howatson, G. (2016). The effects of Montmorency tart cherry concentrate supplementation on recovery following prolonged, intermittent exercise. Nutrients, 8, E441.

Bongiovanni, T., Federico Genovesi, F., Nemmer, M., Carling, C., Alberti, G., and Howatson, G. (2020). Nutritional interventions for reducing the signs and symptoms of exercise-induced muscle damage and accelerate recovery in athletes: current knowledge, practical application and future perspectives. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 120, 1965-1996.

Brown, M.A., Stevenson, E.J., and Howatson, G. (2019). Montmorency tart cherry (Prunus cerasus L.) supplementation accelerates recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage in females. European Journal of Sport Sciences, 19, 95-102.

Kwiecien, S.Y., McHugh, M.P., and Howatson, G. (2020). Don’t Lose Your Cool with Cryotherapy: the application of phase change material for prolonged cooling in athletic recovery and beyond. Frontiers in Sports and Active Living.

Leeder, J.D.C., van Someren, K.A. and Howatson, G. (2019). Cold water immersion improves recovery of sprint speed following a simulated tournament. European Journal of Sport Science, 19, 1166-1174.

Mullaney, M.J., McHugh, M.P., Kwiecien, S.Y., Ioviero, N., Fink, A. and Howatson G.  (in press doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000002447). Accelerated muscle recovery in baseball pitchers using phase change material cooling. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

Naderi, A., Aminian-Far, A., Gholami, F., Mousavi, S.H., Saghari, M., and Howatson, G. (doi: 10.1111/sms.13883). Massage enhances recovery following exercise-induced muscle damage in older adults. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports.


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