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Regeneration in modern performance training

During the regeneration time, the organism is given the chance to adapt to the stress stimuli. The main functional changes in the organism, from which an increase in performance results, for the most part do not take place during the training work, but in the regeneration phase.

Regeneration from a sports medicine point of view

Training means that after incomplete regeneration (recovery), renewed exercise takes place. In addition, the incomplete regeneration is also the prerequisite for the organism to adapt to the load. After the strain, the stressed functional systems (e.g. cardiovascular system, musculoskeletal system) return to their initial state in a chronologically different sequence (see Tab. 1).

4th to 6th minute

Complete replenishment of the muscular creatine phosphate stores

20th minute

Return of heart rate and blood pressure to baseline

20th to 30th minute

Compensation of hypoglycaemia; After carbohydrate intake, a temporary rise in blood sugar begins

30th minute

Achievement of a state of equilibrium in the acid-base balance, decrease in the lactate concentration below 3 mmol / l

60th minute

Decrease in the inhibition of protein synthesis in stressed muscles

90th minute

Transition from catabolic to anabolic metabolism; increased protein turnover for regeneration and adaptation

2 hours

Mainly restoration of the tired muscles functions (first level of motor resilience)

6th hour to 1st day

Balance in fluid balance; Normalization of the ratio of solid and liquid blood components (hematocrit)

1 day

Replenishment of liver glycogen

2nd to 7th day

Replenishment of muscle glycogen in heavily stressed muscles

3rd to 5th day

Replenishment of the muscular fat stores (triglycerides)

3rd to 10th day

Regeneration of partially destroyed muscle fiber proteins

7th to 14th day

Structure build-up in dysfunctional mitochondria (gradual recovery of full muscular aerobic performance)

1st to 3rd week

Mental recovery from total organic stress and the ability to retrieve the sport-specific complex performance in short, medium and long-term endurance sports (LZA I and II, but not in LZA III and IV: marathon, 100 km run)

Tab. 1: Chronological sequence of regeneration after physical activity *)

*) Average values; individually strongly influenced by the duration and intensity of the load as well as the performance

The table shows that with multiple loads on the same day or on the following day, the state of recovery of the organ systems is very different, e.g. the heart rate normalizes much faster than the muscular fat stores have replenished. In order to compensate for all deficits, it is necessary that certain substrates are provided through food (see the following article "Nutrition after the competition").

Hormonal regulation

In order to objectively assess the extent to which the organism has already regenerated, the so-called catabolic-anabolic (decomposing / building) functional state is determined by the doctor. For this purpose, the insulin level and the cortisol (hormone of the adrenal cortex) are determined. If there is a high insulin level in connection with a decreasing cortisol concentration, this is a sign of the dominance of the anabolic, i.e. the anabolic state of the organism after high stress (see Tab. 2).

Catabolic metabolism
(Dominance of degrading regulations)

Anabolic metabolism
(Dominance of building regulations)









Serum urea


Testosterone (if dropped)


Creatine kinase


Serum urea


amino acids


Creatine kinase


Ammonia, uric acid


amino acids






Tab. 2: Identification of the degrading (catabolic) and building (anabolic) metabolic situation after high endurance exertion *)

*) Changes can last 1 to 5 days after exposure

On the other hand, the quotient of cortisol and free testosterone (male sex hormone) provides information as to whether the organism is more in a developing or degrading state. After several hours of endurance exercise (longer than a marathon distance), for example, the concentration of free testosterone can decrease and that of cortisol can increase by a factor of 2 to 4.
In order to stress the organism again without damage in the sense of training, it is crucial that the anabolic direction dominates and the renewed stress does not increase catabolic states.

The regeneration of muscle cells

For a long time, the cause of the fatigue problems expressed by athletes in the muscles, which were balanced by the experienced trainer with sports methodological measures, were not really known. In the meantime, it has been confirmed by muscle biopsy examinations that unusual stress can lead to muscle fiber tears and destruction of cell membranes (cell wall). The mildest form of this disorder is the well-known sore muscles. It has nothing to do with an overacidification of the muscle that has so far often been assumed. One consequence of this structural disorder is the high rise in creatine kinase. Not all increases in the CK value, especially if they are only 4 to 5 times the training average value, are, however, an expression of ultrastructural destruction. The strongest functional and structural disorders cause unusual eccentric muscle loads (against the usual direction of contraction of the muscle), such as running on hard surfaces and especially running downhill. Extreme endurance loads (marathon, Ironman, 100 km run, etc.) also disrupt the aerobic (!) Energy generation potential due to the persistent energy shortage. Therefore, the regeneration time required for this is much longer than it would be necessary to replenish the glycogen stores (carbohydrate stores). The regeneration of the heavily stressed muscles, which is of the greatest importance in the regeneration of the organism, is supported by sports method, dietary and physiotherapeutic measures.

The regeneration-promoting measures must always be seen in their complexity and also designed. The main goal is and remains to resume the load within the usual training framework.

Prof. Dr. med. habil. Georg Neumann
Institute for Applied Training Sciences; Leipzig

Regeneration from a sports methodical point of view

Regeneration measures (overview)

  • Cool-down programs with relaxation and stretching exercises
  • Regeneration, relaxation techniques and compensation training (REKOM)
  • Days of rest, relaxation weeks, active vacation
  • Heat applications such as fatigue baths, relaxation showers, saunas, mud packs, mud baths
  • Cold and ice applications
  • massage
  • solarium
  • Get enough sleep
  • Autogenic training
  • Compensation for fluid and energy deficits
  • Regeneration-promoting substances

Regeneration-promoting substances

Energy metabolism:

Complex hydrates, creatine, branched chain amino acids, medium chain fatty acids


Magnesium, zinc, selenium, chromium, vitamin C.


Vitamin E, Selenium, Vitamin C, Beta Carotene

Anti-catabolic agents:

Glutamine, branched-chain amino acids, beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate, arginine, ornithine, carbohydrate-protein mixtures


Coneflower (Echinacea), L-carnitine, wild boar, mistletoe, chamomile, etc.

An increase in athletic performance requires that stimulating stress is applied over a certain period of time and that the organism has the chance to adapt to the stress stimuli during the regeneration phases. The restoration of the initial level of the stressed metabolic substances (anabolic process) requires periods of varying duration (Tab. 1). Certain substances such as muscle and liver glycogen (carbohydrates) can even be stored beyond the initial level in the recovery phase with a high-carbohydrate diet. This effect is known as supercompensation. The supercompensation of the energy stores is extremely important for restoring performance in endurance sports, especially before competition. Many training concepts are based on the supercompensation theory, although it has not been proven for most metabolic substances. The replenishment of muscle and liver glycogen after strong depletion of the stores is possible in a few days, the regeneration of certain muscle fiber proteins (contractile proteins) or the psychological recovery from high stress loads can take significantly longer periods of time. The planned regeneration helps to process the load better and enables the early restoration of the initial performance. From a sports methodical point of view, the regeneration processes can be divided into four phases:

  1. continuous regeneration in the training session
  2. immediate regeneration after sporting (competition) loads
  3. post-active regeneration in the micro cycle (= detailed training over a week)
  4. extended regeneration in the macro cycle (= several week cycle)

The continuous regeneration

During a training session, fatigue from exercise and recovery run in parallel. In terms of sports methodology, continuous regeneration is of the greatest importance for planning the training structure, choosing the necessary exercises, determining their sequence and determining the length of the break or the duration of the break. Too early fatigue during training can be prevented through sport-specific recovery phases, the compensation of fluid losses and the supply of energy. These measures support the states of equilibrium that have been changed in the course of muscle work. After extensive interval or series exercise, the recovery phase is preferably designed to be active (e.g. easy running after an extensive interval run). The recovery time increases significantly with high-intensity loads (repetitions, series). Particularly long breaks require maximum strength training aimed at increasing muscle strength. After lifting a maximum exercise load, it will take approximately 10 to 15 minutes to fully recover. With normal break times of 3 to 5 minutes, the fatigue increases during a series load. It is ineffective to set a new stress stimulus if a certain degree of restoration of the stressed structures is not ensured. Speed ​​strength, maximum strength and sprint exercises are often carried out too close to one another in training practice.

The immediate regeneration

After extreme or competition loads, the motoric reloading should only take place after the tired muscles have largely been restored. After training loads, however, the recovery phase can be actively designed immediately afterwards. For this purpose, long-term exercise in low intensity and short duration (15-30 min) is recommended. In addition to sport-specific cool-down and stretching programs, compensatory loads from other sports are recommended (e.g. easy running, cycling or swimming immediately after strength training or play). In this immediate regeneration phase, it is particularly important to compensate for water losses and to replenish the carbohydrate stores (see article by Dr. Zapf).


Micro cycle from the point of view of the supercompensation theory: The recovery intervals between the first three training units are deliberately chosen too short to increase the stress stimulus. Only the longer recovery phase afterwards leads to a largely complete regeneration.

The after-effects regeneration

The feeling of success after a competition must not hide the fact that the muscles have to be used very carefully and carefully after extreme stress. Muscle regeneration of at least 5 to 10 days can be expected after running a marathon. During this time no new competitions should be planned or carried out. Athletes who did it in mental oversteer ran after their form for months. If you analyze the “after-effect regeneration”, you can draw conclusions about the so-called micro-cycle. This allows the correct timing of training units with different objectives, the use of additional days of recovery, etc. After extreme training and competition loads, the stressed organ systems can be stimulated in their regeneration with compensatory loads in the following days. The regeneration and compensation training (REKOM) has a different content after high-intensity exertion than after long-term extensive exertion. The selection of the motor programs is determined by the goal of the systems to be regenerated. A long bike ride can have a tiring effect on the muscles and the musculoskeletal system, but on the other hand it can be relaxing and regenerative for the functions of the central nervous system. So there are many sporting exercises that tire certain organ systems, but regenerate others at the same time. Therefore, a sensible change of the training equipment and methods in the micro cycle is necessary, on the one hand to influence the different temporal processes of regeneration and thus counteract "peripheral" fatigue, on the other hand to be able to further increase the training loads.

The extended regeneration

Extended regeneration measures to control a load cycle lasting several weeks (macro cycle) are necessary in order to avoid "central" fatigue. In general, central fatigue over a longer period of time is accompanied by symptoms such as reluctance to exercise, poor concentration, decreased appetite, sleep disorders, and decreased performance Essential regeneration measures are to recommend relaxation weeks with significantly reduced training loads, a change of requirement content and the embedding of psychologically relaxing activities. The aim of such active regeneration weeks (active vacation) is to reduce mental fatigue while maintaining stability of physical performance and to strengthen the immune system and to heal any injuries. Which activities are chosen must be decided according to individual needs and the respective initial situation: mountain hiking, alpine skiing, cross-country skiing , Surfing, bike tours are very popular for this. Basically, all measures that are used with pleasure and at leisure are recommended. This also includes naive relaxation techniques such as going to the cinema, listening to music, watching TV, etc.

Prof. Dr. Kuno Hottenrott
Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg

Regeneration from the point of view of nutrition

During intensive training or competition, there are varying degrees of fluid deficit, depletion of energy stores and fatigue or exhaustion. With the end of the exercise, the regeneration phase begins, in which the body recovers and compensates for all deficits. The duration of this process is largely determined by eating habits. Since every sports enthusiast who wants to achieve a personal best, regardless of whether they are a professional or a recreational athlete, uses their metabolism to the maximum, the same recommendations for the use of specific nutritional measures apply to both groups.

Eliminate fluid deficit

Compensating for water loss has first priority on the part of food consumption after training / competition (water deficit in liters = body weight loss in kg minus 0.5). Despite the loss of fluid, some of the fluid drunk is excreted with the urine. Therefore, depending on the composition of the drink, the amount of drink required is slightly higher than the calculated deficit (factor 1.3 - 2.0, with pure water 2.0). Pure water is excreted by the body faster than drinks that contain around 500 to 1000 mg / l sodium. Since a loss of fluid can also reduce the absorption of other food from the gastrointestinal tract, it should first be compensated for.

Refilling emptied carbohydrate stores (KH stores)

The rapid replenishment of emptied KH stores is the central point of regenerative measures from a nutritional point of view. The KH stores are usually largely exhausted in endurance competitions that last longer than 90–120 minutes. In the case of high-intensity, interval-like loads (e.g. games), they can be emptied after a much shorter period of time. In this situation, the body is in a catabolic (= degrading) metabolic state. He has to break down more fats, muscle protein and plasma amino acids in order to keep the drop in blood sugar level as low as possible and to secure the necessary energy requirements. If no carbohydrates are supplied with the food after the end of the exertion, the body remains in this catabolic state for a longer period of time because it has to produce the essential glucose itself from fats and proteins.Only when the KH supply is secured again through the supply of food, hormonal changes can bring the body back into an anabolic (= building) phase in which it can regenerate completely. In order to fully recover between two longer, intense loads, the organism needs a certain amount of time to replenish its carbohydrate stores. After the memory has been largely emptied, it is in the optimal case approx. 20 hours and depends on the time, the type and the amount of KH consumed. If the KH supply is inadequate, it can be extended to more than twice the duration.

Recommendations for the practical procedure

Immediate post-exertion phase (0-1 hour)

This phase is characterized by the need for fluid balance. Since the KH are absorbed the fastest in the first few hours, they must also be supplied from the beginning. Many athletes are not able to consume solid food immediately after the competition. In this phase it is therefore advisable to implement the KH supply through appropriate drinks. Suitable drinks have a KH content of 60-80 g / liter. Depending on taste and tolerance, cola beverages, malt beverages, diluted fruit juice spritzers or alcohol-free beer can also be consumed after compensating for the liquid deficit. Pure fruit juices in larger quantities are less suitable, as they irritate the mucous membranes of the already stressed gastrointestinal tract and thus trigger abdominal pain and a feeling of fullness.
Athletes who have no problems with the early intake of solid food can also eat easily digestible, carbohydrate-rich, quickly absorbable food in this phase (see Table 3).


Consumption that contains 50 g of carbohydrates

White bread

96 g (approx. 4 slices)

Boiled potatoes

294 g, 2-3 medium-sized

Cooked pasta

286 g (75 g dry)

Boiled rice

256 g (65 g dry)


85 g


403 g, approx. 3 pieces


250 g, approx. 2 pieces


1 ¼ bars

Fruit slices

75-80 g to 1 ½ pack.


770 ml


830 ml

Malt drink with sugar

375 ml


462 ml

Alcohol-free beer

870 ml

Apple juice spritzer 1: 1

900 ml

Tab. 3: KH content of various foods

Extended post-exertion phase up to 6 hours after the end of the exertion

Right from the start, the carbohydrate intake should averaging 25 g / hour. It does not matter whether this is done in many small portions or in a few large portions. In this phase, the carbohydrate intake includes drinks as well as solid food. This should consist of at least 70% carbohydrates that are absorbed by the body quickly to medium-quickly. The fat content should still be low in this phase, as should the protein content, which should primarily consist of easily digestible protein. A high fiber content is also rather undesirable in this phase, as it can cause a longer stomach retention time, a faster feeling of satiety or fullness and thus a reduced KH absorption. Sugary drinks, maltodextrin, raisins, energy bars, starchy products (cooked rice, pasta, potatoes, melted flakes, etc.) are suitable. Those who want to forego sugar-containing products can replenish their KH stores by feeding in starch-rich, quickly absorbable food with almost the same effect. Chocolate and cake are less suitable in this phase because of their high fat content. Meat and sausage products, full-fat dairy products, cheese, salads and raw vegetables in excess are unsuitable. The food supply of many organizers after the competition with cakes, sausages, sandwiches, etc. is often not optimal, especially in this phase. A pasta party without fat sauces would actually be more suitable here!

Late post-exertion phase (6 to 24 hours after the end of exertion)

If the next load does not take place on the same day (tournament games) or the next day (stage competitions, training camps), a normal diet rich in carbohydrates with medium-fast and slow-digesting carbohydrates (cereal products, rice, potatoes, vegetables, mainly cooked or boiled) is used for this period , Fruit) is recommended. In stage races, the supply of carbohydrates and energy with normal food is not sufficient, as the higher volume of food means that not so much can be eaten. The requirement of up to 12 g per kg of body weight must then be met with dietetic foods with a high energy and carbohydrate density (drinks, starch, sugar, maltodextrin). Many athletes prefer relatively high-fat food after competitions, so that the fat intake of 35–40% is much higher than recommended (20–30%). The result is not infrequently an inadequate KH intake in the first 24 hours after a competition. Since the fat stores are not a performance-limiting factor, there is no reason for additional fat intake with the exception of extreme (stage) long-term loads. The tolerance of vegetables can be significantly improved in this phase by lightly boiling or simmering them without causing an excessive loss of vitamins. Lean meat (e.g. poultry) is a valuable source of amino acids, iron, zinc, magnesium and B vitamins.

Replacement of lost vitamins, trace elements and minerals

The preferred consumption of wholesome food in this late phase favors another important regeneration factor: the replacement of important vitamins, minerals and trace elements. Sugar-containing, energy-dense food is usually characterized by its rapid availability, but it has a very low nutrient density, i. H. it is poor in micronutrients. The elements iron, zinc, magnesium, potassium, calcium, copper and chromium, the B vitamins, the antioxidant vitamins C and E and the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids are of particular importance. According to the current state of knowledge, the increased protein requirement in the regeneration phase can be covered by natural food, so that additional protein-containing preparations can be dispensed with. Whether an energetically balanced, full post-competition diet is followed, an additional supply of vitamins and mineral supplements cannot be clearly answered at the present time. The fact is that in the days after exhausting stress there is a temporary weakening of the body's defenses with increased susceptibility to diseases and infections of the upper respiratory tract, and the body is busy with numerous repair processes in the area of ​​the stressed structures. Although not yet scientifically proven, the temporary additional intake of B vitamins, antioxidant vitamins (eg vitamin C 1–2 g / day, vitamin E 500–1000 mg / day) and the minerals zinc (50–100 mg / day ) and magnesium (300–500 mg / day) contribute to the stabilization of the body's defenses and to accelerate the regeneration processes.


Author: Dr. med. Jürgen Zapf
ZaGoMed - Society for preventive health services and sports medicine