Best Ways to Optimise Recovery for GAA Players

Best Ways to Optimise Recovery for GAA Players

When it comes to creating gains in you levels of strength and conditioning and skill development, your time in the gym and on the field and the exercises you choose are vitally important. Just as important is the time you spend recovering and helping the mental and physical recovery process. 

What players do in the 23 hours outside of a training session in terms of following recovery protocols is critical to your success both on and off the field. Firstly we must examine the symptoms of overtraining in order to understand the vital role recovery plays in the mental and physical performance of a hurler or gaelic footballer.

Symptoms of Overtraining

First, let’s talk overtraining or what I like to call it “flogging a dead horse”. This is an important topic because it can be different for every player but it requires a very locked in coach/trainer/manager to recognise the signs and symptoms. 

Common symptoms of overtraining include:

  1. Fatigue both mental and physical
  2. Excessive muscle soreness
  3. Unexpected weight loss or gain
  4. Excessive sweating
  5. Loss of appetite
  6. Increased thirst
  7. Irritability
  8. Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep 
  9. Increased incidences of soft tissue injuries
  10. Impaired match performance
  11. Impaired skill execution

There are more, but this list is more than enough to trigger the alarm bells of a player and coach.

Best Ways to Help Your Body Recover

Just as hard as our bodies work during exercises in the gym or training on the pitch, players need to work equally as hard to help our muscles recover. The recovery process starts as soon as the gym sessions or field sessions are done. 

Below are some of the best ways to help your muscles, body and mind recover to make the most out of each training session. If you are in a phase of the season where you are lifting weights, especially heavy weights, recovery is going to be an extremely important part of their training program. And when you transition to more field training and skill development it is vital that you taper your lifting loads in the gym.

Proper Cool-Down

The first step you should take with a client is to ensure they are performing a proper cool-down after each session - PLEASE AVOID THE TERM “WARM-DOWN”.  

This helps with recovery to reduce inflammation and muscle soreness. A cool-down should be completed after any weight training or weight training session. Skipping a cool-down can lead to tight muscles and increased muscle soreness in the hours after your session. After a tough field session for instance, players should do easy jogging for 5 minutes to bring their heart rate back down. This then should be followed by some gentle mobility and flexibility exercises with a focus on breathing exercises to further replenish the bodies oxygen levels.


As a coach, it is helpful to educate your players on nutrition. The saying is that 80% of fitness goals happen in the kitchen, not what’s done in the gym. Think of nutrition as fuel and the better quality of fuel you put into your body the better your body and mind performs.

  1. Post-workout nutrition. Players should be consuming protein and carbohydrates within 30 to 60 minutes of completing a training session. 
  2. Drinking enough water. Even 1% of dehydration can affect a person’s performance. 
  3. Skip the junk food. Players need to stay focused on healthy decisions even when they’re not at the gym or the hurling/football pitch—opt for foods that boost recovery and support a healthy diet rather than binging on junk. Remember a snack box will not help you win a county championship.


If you are putting in the hours training and eating right but only sleeping 4 or 5 hours a night, you are not going to see improvements in performance. Eventually, a lack of sleep will lead to fatigue and overtraining, and leave you susceptible to injury. 

Here are some examples to help clients improve sleep:

  1. Shutting off the lights 1 hour before bed
  2. Limiting screens 1 hour before bed 
  3. Sleeping in a cool dark room  - in Ireland this is definitely not a problem
  4. Go to sleep and wake up the same times each day
  5. Aim to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night

Rest Days and Active Recovery

Rest days are important to maximise a training block or in the days after a tough physical battle on the field of play. This doesn’t mean sitting on the couch binging on Netflix and pizza all day. A rest day can entail a full rest day or it can be an active recovery day. 

Rest and active recovery days are about doing things that your body needs. This could be anything from taking an extra nap, going to a yoga class, doing some stretching, going for an easy walk or bike outside or if your lucky going for a swim in the ocean. 

Foam Roll

Though some people will disagree, foam rolling is an important part of muscle recovery every day. This can and should be done as both part of the warm-up and cool-down, especially before jumping into weight training. The areas are dependent on how the player feels and what they have coming up that day in the workout. Foam rolling is also helpful on rest days to work on tight muscles and mobility. It can also save on trips to the physio and cut down costs for a player and a club.

Infrared Sauna

One of the newer ways to help your muscles recover is the infrared sauna. This is becoming popular among athletes as part of their regular training program. Especially with the endurance athletes, the sauna has become an important part of keeping their bodies healthy by reducing muscle soreness.

The infrared sauna is different than the normal dry sauna or even steam room in that it uses infrared lamps to warm you. The infrared heat from the lamps can be absorbed by the body much deeper than just skin-level. This promotes blood flow throughout the body, reducing inflammation. 

Also, the infrared sauna is not as hot as a typical sauna, usually staying between 120-130 degrees. 

Major benefits of the infrared sauna can include:

  1. Decrease muscle soreness
  2. Increase in sleep quality
  3. Detoxification
  4. Improved blood circulation
  5. Increased metabolism
  6. Increase in the immune system 
  7. Lessen joint pain
  8. Reduces stress

The Ice Bath

The ice bath is not for everyone, but it can help with muscle recovery, especially after tough workouts. This is recovery method has passed its peak wave of popularity but it can still be very effective for players with a tolerance for extreme cold. 

Typically, an ice bath is kept between 44 and 58 degrees and you can stay in it up to 15 minutes. For your first visit, you’ll start with just a minute or two and work up to longer periods of time. 

Utilising a cold tub is said help flush the toxins from the body and reduce inflammation, fatigue, and muscle soreness.

Compression Therapy

Another popular method for muscle recovery is compression therapy. The compression facilitates blood flow through the area being compressed and helps to reduce muscle soreness and fatigue. This can not only be a relaxing activity which is great for rest days but has many benefits that go along with the relaxation. 

Some of the benefits are:

  1. Decreasing swelling and inflammation
  2. Increase in muscle recovery
  3. Reducing muscle soreness
  4. Improving with range of motion and flexibility
  5. Decreasing muscular fatigue 

Sports Massage

As with most recovery protocols there is very little scientific evidence to support their effectiveness but they all assist in the recovery of the body. Anyone who is a fan of exercise should strongly consider massage therapy as part of an overall lifestyle choice. It is the perfect way to include stress relief in your exercise program. The overall focus of massage is to help muscles relax and relieve tension in those muscles.

Other benefits include:

  1. Improved circulation. Massage is accompanied or followed by an increase interchange of substances between the blood and the tissue cells, which increases tissue metabolism. Massage maximises the supply of nutrients and oxygen though increased blood flow, which helps the body rebuild itself.
  2. Improved range of motion and muscle flexibility. This results in increased power and performance, which helps you work efficiently and with proper intensity to facilitate the body’s muscle-building response.
  3. Helps shorten recovery time between workouts. Waste products such as lactic and carbonic acid build up in muscles after exercise. Increased circulation to these muscles helps to eliminate toxic debris and shorten recovery time.
  4. Can help prevent over-training. Massage has a relaxing effect on the muscles, as well as a sedative effect on the nervous system. This can prevent over-training syndrome, which has a limiting effect on muscle building.
  5. Helps in the prevention and healing of injuries. By stretching connective tissue, massage improves circulation to help prevent or break down adhesions. Massage also influences the excretion of certain fluids (nitrogen, phosphorous, sulphur) necessary for tissue repair.

There are so many for methods of recovery recovery but these are some of the most common ways to get started. My final bit of advice is listen to your body. If you’re not feeling at your peak or your not seeing the results your efforts merit please talk to your coach or please feel free to contact me and I can answer any questions you may have.