‘Good to Go’ tackles the real science of sports recovery

A new book puts supplements, beer, saunas and other postexercise fads to the test

working out

POSTWORKOUT ROUTINE  Which recovery shake is the best after your workout? A new book takes on the science of sports recovery and uncovers what — if anything — will actually make you “good to go.”


Good to Go cover

Good to Go
Christie Aschwanden
W.W. Norton & Co., $27.95

A tough workout, a long hike or a day reorganizing the garage can leave a body tired, sore and injured. Some kind of recovery is clearly in order. But relaxing on the couch with Netflix and some chips is so passé.

Instead, a sore athlete might stand naked in a chamber of air chilled to well below –100° Celsius (SN Online: 11/13/15). She could slurp on a protein-packed smoothie, squeeze into compression tights or shell out some money for an expensive shakeout on a vibrating device. Sports recovery has become an industry worth hundreds of millions of dollars. But which, if any, of these methods actually work?

In Good to Go, science writer and athlete Christie Aschwanden places everyone’s exercise-recovery darlings under the microscope of scientific skepticism. Recovery is relatively simple. It’s just about getting the body ready to perform again, hopefully harder, faster and better. And yet, she notes, athletes have “managed to make every aspect of it … vastly more complicated, expensive and time-consuming.”

In a fascinating, whirlwind investigation into recovery techniques, Aschwanden subjects herself to rigorous workouts followed by infrared saunas, cupping and drifting in a sensory deprivation tank.

When there’s no real research available to assess a claim, Aschwanden uses her skills obtained from previous lab work to design an experiment. She brings runners into a lab to find out, for instance, if her recovery beverage of choice — beer — really works. (It has liquid, carbs and some minerals. What could possibly go wrong?) The result is both enjoyable and insightful, as she picks apart her own experiment’s results.

The book offers a useful introduction to how scientific research works — and why, in sports science, it often doesn’t. Such insights make Good to Go appealing to more than just gym rats and weekend warriors. It’s for anyone who wonders how scientific studies happen, and how they influence the claims on products found in grocery stores and athletic stores alike.

Aschwanden’s take is clear-eyed, but also sympathetic. We all want to believe our recovery regimens work. Many of the effects we feel might be the placebo effect, Aschwanden concludes, but that’s not necessarily bad. What the body needs most to recover is rest and time, she discovers, and “your only choice is about what you’ll do in the meantime.” Fancy gadgets are fun, but old-fashioned rest, say, sitting down for a good book about recovery, might give a sore body the respite it needs to mend.

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Bethany was previously the staff writer at Science News for Students. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology from Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

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