Recovery vs adaptation

Asker Jeukendrup’s point of view

The question “What is recovery?” seems too obvious to answer. Surely everyone understand what we mean by recovery.


Everyone also has an understanding of the foods that are good for recovery. These are foods with protein, no? Maybe with carbohydrate as well. When I ask athletes and coaches what recovery is I get different answers. Recovery is a broad term that refers to restoration of performance capacity. After a workout you are fatigued and performance capacity is down. In the hours and days after the workout you “recover” and performance capacity returns to normal (and can even become better). The time course depends on many factors including how hard the workout was (intensity and duration) as well as environmental factors such as altitude and heat.

The fundamental questions on recovery

This blog will address the first of 3 questions I want to discuss:

1. What exactly do we mean by recovery?

2. What nutritional methods do we have to improve rapid recovery

3. Is there a role for protein in rapid recovery (hours after exercise)


In this blog I want to make the point that acute recovery is very different from long term adaptation. Often these two different processes are referred to as “recovery” and often we talk about recovery but sometimes we refer to rapid recovery in the hours after exercise and sometimes we refer to longer term effects. The two are linked, but they are not the same.

Short term recovery and long term adaptation

Especially the last few years it has become clear that what may be good for acute recovery, may not necessarily be good for long term adaptation. Here are a few examples.

Studies have suggested that antioxidants may reduce muscle soreness and help with recovery short term, but high doses have also been linked to reduced effects long term.

High doses of antioxidants may interfere with the signalling that is needed to stimulate training adaptation.




Similarly, reducing inflammation with non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen may help in short term recovery and might help with reducing soreness. However, it may also impair long term adaptation.


The same has been said for ice baths. These may help at least perception of recovery short term, but may reduce training adaptation long term.


There are many more examples and in general, removing the signals of stress (which may help short term recovery), will also reduce the signals needed to adapt.

Recovery strategies

So when developing a recovery strategy, it is always important to keep the main goal in mind: is it being able to perform again several hours later, or are the main goals further away.


In competitions with several rounds and only a few hours or days between rounds, you would want to optimise all short term recovery strategies. At the beginning of a season in preparation for competition, acute recovery is not always the highest priority and it may be better to choose a strategy that enhances the adaptation to training.

In summary

So what seems a simple term (recovery), is actually a little more complex. Most important is that we don’t just list a number of recovery foods and methods that are used in all conditions. Rather it is important to state the goals and develop strategies accordingly.


Professor Asker Jeukendrup is one of the world’s leading sports nutritionists/ exercise physiologists who spent most of his career as a professor at the University of Birmingham (UK). Dr Jeukendrup authored 8 books and over 200 research papers and book chapters. His expertise stretches from exercise metabolism and sports nutrition to training and overtraining. He is currently a (visiting) professor at Loughborough University and director of his own performance consulting business “Mysportscience” and communicates science through the popular website Asker works as Performance Manager for the Dutch Olympic team and is Head performance Nutrition for the Lotto Jumbo Pro cycling team. He also works with FC Barcelona, and other elite football clubs. Asker practices what he preaches and completed 21 Ironman races including 6 time the Ironman world Championship in Hawaii.