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Rest and recover: Are they the same thing?

When we talk about athletic performance, it’s very normal to talk about rest and recovery.

Do you know what these two concepts are?

For now, I can tell you that, contrary to what you may think, resting is not the same as recovering, and one of these concepts is much more complex than the other.

In this article you’ll discover the main difference between recovery and rest, and the importance of both for your athletic performance.

Recovery vs rest

Recovering is a process that’s closely linked to sports performance.

On the other hand, rest is characterized by “doing nothing”.

So, a moment when you don’t train, sleep, take a nap, or do something that involves physical activity.

Recovery is somewhat more complex.

In other words, we can say that rest is a part of recovery, but it isn’t equal to recovery.

Recovering is a process that includes several other aspects, such as:

  • Hydration
  • Nutrition
  • Sleep
  • Rest
  • Leisure activities
  • Deload – reduction of training volume and intensity
  • Massages
  • Contrast baths
  • Ice baths

These are some of the factors that should be considered when we talk about recovery, and that define this process.

In the background, during recovery, and if it’s well done, several processes occur in our body.

During physical exercise, there is:

  • Wear of muscle fibers
  • A reduction in energy reserves
  • Dehydration
  • Muscle pains
  • Among others.

If you pay attention to:

  • Nutrition
  • Rest times
  • Fluid intake
  • Strategies for stimulation of muscles and joints

You can reduce muscle pain,  boost muscle building or replenish energy reserves during the post-workout

But when it comes to recovery, the question isn’t always how to recover, but: how much time do we need to recover our body?

How much time is needed to recover?


“So, how much time should we recover between sessions,” or “how much time should we recover between each leg workout?”.

These questions are very common, and the answer is usually 48h.

I always find it very strange when information of this kind is repeated over and over again by professionals and non-professionals.

I understand that it’s an easier way to explain to people the importance of recovery, however, why 48h? Can’t it be 47 or 49? This is referred to as an universal law, and those who don’t comply with it are almost an “outlaw.”

My answer is: the recovery time is variable.

This time depends on several factors, such as:

  • Training volume and frequency
  • Muscle groups trained
  • Experience of the athlete
  • Goal of the athlete
  • Type of training or sports modality

In the study “Damage and the repeated bout effect of arm, leg and trunk muscles induced by eccentric resistance exercises” the authors show that there are great differences in recovery time between muscle groups.

One of the keys to success is based on training volume and frequency, as such, this variable becomes indispensable in the process of training planning and periodization.

Muscles that recover faster may need a higher training frequency, while muscles that recover more slowly may benefit from a lower frequency.

There are several types of recovery, the best known are:

  • Acute recovery – refers to returning to the level of performance that we had before the workout. This kind of recovery can happen during your trainings, for example. Or in the days after your training – here you can continue to have physical activity, but with a lower intensity. The athlete’s level of experience is, usually, lower.
  • Long-term recovery/adaptation – is the type of recovery that usually depends on incomplete recovery periods. So, in a training week, the recovery periods are not total in order to promote adaptations so that, at the end of the week, this total recovery is contemplated, and, in this way, the body adapts, and you elevate your level of training. It’s done for longer periods and is a common practice among elite athletes.

The big difference is that in acute recovery the body returns to the initial state, and in adaptation the body becomes stronger due to the process explained above.

Strategies to optimize recovery

As you can see, there are several factors that influence recovery.

Here I will highlight some:


172_hydration and rest

It seems that one of the strategies that has the most consensus in terms of hydration, is recovery with intake of water and salt, the salt has an antidiuretic effect, retaining more fluids after training.

The intake of minerals, which you can find in most fruits and vegetables, is also recommended, because with transpiration there’s release of minerals that are important for the good general functioning of your body.



Another strategy is to maintain good levels of protein in post-workout meals, and you should give preference to high-quality proteins, such as proteins of animal origin or whey protein.

If you have some kind of intolerance, or if you follow a diet based on foods of plant origin, you can always opt for a vegetable protein.

See some options here.

Intake of carbohydrates can also be recommended, especially because this macronutrient will help you to replenish energy levels and to better absorb protein when consumed together.

Attention! The type of sport is especially important in this nutrition component.

Taking the example of running and bodybuilding and applying it to nutrition:

After running, before worrying about muscle recovery or reducing muscle pains, energy levels need to be replenished and hydration should be the priority.

On the other hand, after a bodybuilding workout, in which the destruction of muscle fibers is more evident and aggressive, giving priority to protein intake is the most important to begin this process.

Have good quality sleep


Having good quality sleep is essential, as this can contribute to lower levels of stress the next day and promote better regeneration and recovery.

In this article you can see, in more detail, some strategies to recover effectively, and some recommendations for nutrition and supplementation.

In Short…

I think it’s clear that recovery isn’t the same as rest, although rest is an important part of the recovery process.

However, if you just choose to rest, you won’t be recovering properly.

Follow some of my suggestions and, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment!


The information included in this article concerns the authors opinion only.

About Tiago Sousa

Tiago Sousa
Tiago Sousa has a degree in Sports & Physical Education, he is a Personal Trainer and also a Crossfit L1 Trainer. He is a former competition swimmer with his own outdoor training business. He aims to bring more science to his area, helping people to achieve their goals in a safe way.

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