Timing to Enhance Your Training
Supercompensation is the body’s adaptation to a bout of exercise stress that leads to enhanced strength, speed, and endurance as a response to training. Supercompensation is a process that has four phases. The initial phase is catabolic, where the damage from activity has not yet begun to be repaired and lasts the first one to two hours post-training (Bompa & Buzzichelli, 2019). The second phase lasts up to 24 to 48 hours post-exercise, and during this time, the body starts to replenish and prepare for future stressors (Bompa & Buzzichelli, 2019). During phase two, the body must repair cellular damage and replenish the energy sources lost during exercise for performance improvements to occur. The third phase is that of supercompensation, during which, the body has restored energy and possesses greater strength, speed, and endurance than before the training stimuli (Bompa & Buzzichelli, 2019). This phase lasts anywhere from 36 to 72 hours post-exercise, and it is during this time that the athlete is at their best for another training session. The body’s ability to reach supercompensation is dependent on adequate rest, an appropriate training stimulus, and fuel replenishment during phase two. Finally, if the body is not exposed to another training stimulus during the supercompensation phase or is not adequately replenished, the physiological benefits acquired from the previous training session will start to fade (Bompa & Buzzichelli, 2019). This fading of physiological benefits is the final phase of supercompensation and last for three days to one week after training.
Energy availability is the foundation for movement, and adequate energy replenishment is a requirement to reach supercompensation. The body has three energy systems to produce movement, all of which are used during exercise and interact for recovery following exercise. The first and fastest of these energy systems is the phosphagen system, which replenishes ATP stores by combining the phosphate group from creatine phosphate to ADP to create ATP (Powers & Howley, 2018). The phosphagen system contributes to nearly all energy in the first ten seconds of exercise but is depleted quickly. While the phosphagen system depletes quickly, it plays an essential role in initiating mitochondrial respiration, enabling the body a more sustained energy source (Walsh et al., 2001). After the initial 20 seconds of activity, glycolysis must take over, and after two minutes, ATP must be mainly produced via oxidation of primary glucose, and to some extent fatty acids.
While these three energy systems are often examined individually, it is imperative to remember that they all work together to produce movement and support recovery. Since the body cannot reach supercompensation without adequate energy restoration, these systems have a big job following exercise. There is far more interplay between the systems than initially hypothesized both during activity and for optimal recovery. It is now clear that aerobic capacity helps the body restore anaerobic energy systems (Tomlin & Wenger, 2012) and that depletion of both the phosphagen system and glycolysis are strong signalers for oxidative metabolism (Walsh et al., 2001). There is growing evidence to suggest that athletes with a higher aerobic capacity replenish oxygen faster and remove lactate at an accelerated rate (Tomlin & Wenger, 2012), leading to accelerated recovery from exercise.
Restoring oxygen and glucose, removing excessive lactate, and synthesizing proteins are the first steps during the second phase of supercompensation to successfully attain performance enhancements. While the previously discussed energy system interplay contributes to this recovery, ensuring that the athlete’s diet is adequate in protein and carbohydrate following exercise is essential. During phase one, carbohydrate ingestion can enhance glycogen storage by 45%, ensuring that glycogen is completely restored by 24 hours post-exercise (Bompa & Buzzichelli, 2019). During phase two, 24 hours post-exercise, protein synthesis is increased by 109%, requiring adequate protein intake for the body to repair the damaged muscle tissue (Bompa & Buzzichelli, 2019).
Replenishing both protein and glycogen ensures that the athlete has the fuel needed for efficient training and the protein to synthesis new muscle mass. If muscle glycogen is not restored, future training sessions will occur with suboptimal energy availability, leading to decreased performance. Likewise, if protein levels are not adequate, muscle cells will not be repaired, and force production will not improve. Both of these situations will lead to an athlete that is not physically capable of meeting the demands of a greater training stimuli. In order to attain enhanced performance, adequate fuel is required to power the energy systems responsible for responding to exercise and repairing the body for future training. An athlete’s ability to reach the phase of supercompensation and thus experience enhanced performance is dependent on this combined interplay between fuel replenishment and energy utilization.
Bompa, T. O., & Buzzichelli, C. (2019). Basis for Training. In Periodization: Theory and methodology of training (6th ed., pp. 1-28). essay, Human Kinetics.
Gastin, P. (2012). Energy system interaction and relative contribution during maximal exercise. Sports Medicine, 31, 725-741.
Powers, S. K., & Howley, E. T. (2018). Bioenergetics. In Exercise physiology: theory and application to fitness and performance (10th ed., pp. 40–67). McGraw-Hill Education.
Tomlin, D., & Wenger, H. (2012). The relationship between aerobic fitness and recovery from high intensity intermittent exercise. Sports Medicine, 31, 1-11.
Walsh, B., Tonkonogi, M., Soderlund, K., Hultman, E., Saks, V., & Sahlin, K. (2001). The role of phosphorylcreatine and creatine in the regulation of mitochondrial respiration in human skeletal muscle. The Journal of Physiology. 537(3), 971-978.