Recovery: Strategies for Regaining Performance

Recovery: Strategies for Regaining Performance

By Athena Kepler DVM (Venture Compete Heal)

Recovery is the term often used to describe the body’s ability to get back to optimum performance after strenuous exercise or competition. This is a long-term recovery involving the muscles, bones, joints, heart, and blood. Although it is considered “long-term”, often we need recovery in our dogs in a couple
hours before the next phase of the event, by the next day for another day of competition, or the next consecutive days for long training workshops or seminars. This type of recovery, which we will call PER (Post-exercise Recovery), is primarily nutritional-based (fitness is also important but, here, we assume
the athlete is at an adequate fitness level). With poor recovery, fatigue will begin, and injuries can start. We want to avoid injury at all costs and maximize performance. So, let’s talk about some research on recovery and what they found to work well.

The research we will discuss was a review of multiple studies that summarizes all the results. This review was on elite soccer (futbol) players during “tournament-style” game play. They assessed strategies for PER that allowed the players to return at optimum performance for another game the same day or the following days. The important strategies included pre-loading (pre-exercise), refueling (post-exercise), maintenance of repair and adaptation, rehydration, and reduce inflammation and muscle soreness.

Pre-Loading and Refueling

Carbohydrates are needed for high sprint-style sports and muscle recovery. Endurance style sports require primarily fats, however carbs at lower amounts can be used for muscle recovery. Here, we discuss sprint-style sports as its similarities to soccer (futbol) in the research. Carbohydrates at 6-10g per kg of body weight (3-4.5g per lb of body weight) on days where muscle recovery and loading are needed— meaning same intake for pre-exercise and same for post-exercise. All-in-all total energy should match what is used. This is coupled with a decrease in training volume and intensity leading up to the activity. Check out for a carbohydrate breakdown of your current kibble. The Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats by the National Research Council (NRC) shows research of approximately 25-30% carbohydrates (250-300g in a 2000 kcal daily diet) is recommended for sprintstyle sporting dogs. Higher carbohydrate intake caused severe muscle cramping in dogs.

Sources of Carbohydrates:

Grains, potatoes, supplements, sugars

Repair & Adaptation

Repair and adaptation of muscles is very important. Every workout session, every competition stresses muscles. This is where soreness comes from.
Protein is the essential nutrient for muscle recovery. Replacement with 1.5g-2g per kg of body weight (0.7-0.9g per 1 lb. of body weight) per day is necessary to repair damaged muscles and allow body adaptation to the demands of the sport. Separating meals/snacks of protein to 4 per day can be adequate between competition or exercise days.

Sources of Protein:

Eggs, fish, meats (mixed types), essential amino acids (especially Leucine, Lysine, Phenyalanine, isoleucine; but others include Histidine, Methionine, Threonine, and Tryptophan), and specialized supplements


Rehydration is key to recovery. You should aim to have the athlete intake 3-5 times the amount of weight they have lost in Liters – meaning if the dog lost ½ lb. of weight then the dog needs 1 ½ -2 ½ liters of water. Now unless you carry a scale regularly and you weigh your dog before and after, it is hard to know how much exactly. Strategies to know your dog’s rehydration needs can be 1) once with your dog, you should weigh them before strenuous exercise or competition and weigh immediately after and then, always use that number as the number of liters to rehydrate. 2) You can use the rule of thumb from the National Research Council, 3-5 liters of water after heavy exercise or activity for medium/large sized dog. Now, how fast the rehydration takes place is very important. The water intake needs to be within 2-3 hrs. after exercise/activity— meaning start rehydrating at a steady pace so that all rehydration takes place by 2-4 hrs. after exercise/activity. Electrolytes are also needed— most important is sodium (salt)
and, secondly, potassium.

Sources of Rehydration and Electrolytes:

Pedialyte, Gatorade, supplements that have electrolytes and promote drinking.

Reducing Inflammation and Muscle Soreness

The key for reducing inflammation (swelling) and muscle soreness is antioxidants, anti-inflammatory foods or supplements and Omega-3s. Antioxidants help remove the bad products that comes from the damage in the body from exercise/activity. Anti-inflammatory foods or supplements help reduce the amount of “hot” or “toxic” environment created by the damaging stresses of the work just completed. Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory and allow a good slow burning energy to support body function.

Sources of Anti-inflammatory and Antioxidants:

Blueberries, raspberries, sprouts, broccoli, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, Vitamin A (carefully), Selenium (carefully), carotenes, L-Carnitine, Omega 3s (plant or fish based).


So, now you know about recovery. The key strategies that provide great recovery are Loading & Refueling, Repair & Adaptation, Rehydration, and Reducing Inflammation & Muscle Soreness. These strategies get your athlete back on the field and keep them at prime performance. Developing your own specific regimen for your dog beforehand is essential to keep fatigue away and help prevent injuries. Whether it is types of food or supplements you prefer to use, all are beneficial to Post-exercise Recovery.


  • Keys to recovery
    • Loading & Refueling using carbohydrates
    • Repair & Adaptation using proteins
    • Rehydration using water and electrolytes within 2-3hrs
    • Reducing Inflammation & Muscle Soreness using antioxidants and anti-inflammatories
  • Most essential amino acids are Lysine (greatest) and Phenylalanine
  • Essential antioxidants are Vitamin E, L-Carnitine, Beta- Carotenes
  • Greatest natural anti-inflammatory is Omega-3s
  • Specialized supplements can replace foods as sources of nutrients


1. Borsheim, E., et al., Essential amino acids and muscle protein recovery from resistance exercise. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab, 2002. 283(4): p. E648-57.

2. Matsui, Y., et al., Effect of a leucine-enriched essential amino acids mixture on muscle recovery. J Phys Ther Sci, 2019. 31(1): p. 95-101.

3. Ranchordas, M.K., J.T. Dawson, and M. Russell, Practical nutritional recovery strategies for elite soccer players when limited time separates repeated matches. J Int Soc Sports Nutr, 2017. 14: p. 35.

4. National Research Council et al. “Physical Activity and Environment.” Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats. The National Academies Press, 2006, pp. 258–312.


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