In the last edition of Australian Triathlete magazine (issue 25.3, the March edition), we focused on recovery immediately after a major event – what you can do to assist your body with recovery. There we looked at a few variables that needed to be taken into account when optimising recovery after an event. These included the following:
- Athlete’s experience and time in the sport
- Athlete’s sporting background
- Distance of the event completed – i.e. Ironman vs. Standard Distance Triathlon
- The conditions of the event – i.e. the temperature
The focus of this article is to delve further into the aspects of optimal recovery and to take a look at what can be done on a regular basis to assist the body in coping with the day-to-day stressors of training, as well as racing. The previously mentioned factors – experience, time in the sport, sporting background, conditions, and event distance – are again relevant here, in optimising day-to-day recovery.
We’ve all had days when training feels great, we can push hard and our training numbers look good, and we’re able to smash our training and racing goals. The secret to days like this is recovery – allowing our bodies to absorb the training of the days or weeks prior.
The two main keys to recovery are nutrition and hydration, and sleep.
There are some other recovery techniques that help too, I will mention briefly, but proper nutrition and hydration, and sleep are the foundations of optimal recovery.
Nutrition and Hydration
Some athletes, in particular beginners, may only train two to four times per week so optimising nutrition and hydration may not be as critical to recovery and ultimately performance and health. However, once you start training every day and on some days you start doing two sessions in one day, optimising post-exercise nutrition and hydration becomes crucial. Getting post-exercise nutrition and hydration right will mean you perform better in your next training session, and you’re able to accumulate better quality training sessions compared to if no post-exercise recovery fuelling was done.
Maximising fuelling immediately after training involves taking in a combination of carbohydrates and protein preferably within 30 minutes of exercise. This will ensure liver and muscle glycogen stores are replenished and promote muscle synthesis. It’s also important to start replacing fluid and electrolytes with a sodium containing drink soon after your training session. Aim for approximately 400ml-1.5L of fluid per hour after exercise – quite a range. Practicing this will help you understand what you require. Over the next two to three hours after exercise, aim to consume a balanced meal containing good quality protein (aim for approximately 20g protein), complex carbohydrates and some healthy fats. This will further aid your recovery and stimulate muscle protein synthesis.
We all know how good getting enough sleep feels. Studies have shown that increased sleep or adequate amounts of sleep sees improved physical and mental performance. Lack of sleep leads to reduced motivation and impaired performance. It is suggested that adults aim for eight to 10 hours sleep per night and junior athletes around nine hours sleep. There is strong support for the 30-minute power nap throughout the day. Lack of sleep can also contribute to higher levels of cortisol in the brain (stress hormone), memory impairment and reduced endurance – just to name a few issues with lack of sleep. To assist with getting good quality sleep, try the following:
- Avoid caffeine too close to bedtime
- Avoid engaging with screens (iPhones, tablets etc.) close to bedtime
- If possible, avoid high-intensity training too close to bedtime. This will ensure that your sleep quality is better.
Other Recovery Techniques
There is a vast array of other recovery techniques (some low tech, some high tech) that you can incorporate into your routine. These include:
- Massage – can be costly but massage not only has physical benefits, it can help to relieve stress too, so the benefit often outweighs the cost
- Compression garments (mainly lower body) – there is a lot of support for wearing compression garments post training to avoid blood pooling in the lower limbs, especially true if travelling
- Foam rolling/stretching/yoga – all physical activities that can target areas of concern.
- Treatments from health professionals including, meditation, acupuncture, cupping, cryotherapy, hydrotherapy, sauna and dry needling
- Ice baths – cheap, easy and effective. This could be as simple as standing in the water at the beach (in winter if the water is cold enough) or tipping a bag of ice into your bath and sitting there
- NormaTec-MVP compression legs, which is a pneumatic compression device. Multi-segmented inflatable boots. This device you pull on like overalls and it rhythmically inflates and deflates to prescribed pressures.