Focus On Recovery When Training For An Ironman Triathlon

You may think that recovery methods have been covered time and time again, and you know everything there is to know about having your recovery shake right after a tough session. However, you will read some stuff here that is ‘street smart advice’ that you may have never heard before. We will be going over every trick you can pull out of the bag to aid recovery and the tools needed to monitor your recovery.

Why Is Recovery So Important?

There are multiple reasons why recovery is essential:

The main reason is that your body asks your adrenal glands to pump out adrenalin and make adrenal steroids during tough sessions. This stresses out your body in the ‘fight or flight’ state.

You can’t ask your body to tear this effort out 24/7, and you need to refill your stores and give those glands a break. If you don’t recover, you will deplete your body’s testosterone levels and produce a massive amount of cortisol which inhibits your body in recovery and produces growth hormone decreasing the ability to recover as quickly as you would like.

During intense training, when muscle fibres tear, you get calcium leakage, and you produce prostaglandins, making your body send white blood cells and fluid to the damaged area to start the healing process. You can’t throw in another workout until the inflammatory process has taken place and gone away. A chronic injury is this process never going away (i.e. a lack of recovery). There may be underlying biomechanical issues that cause it, but a lack of recovery makes it chronic.

Your body has finite storage of fuel (carbs, for example), and you need to allow it to refill these or you are will be sub-par in training due to this lack of recovery. Also, there is a mental motivational component to consider. It would be best if you had a break to allow yourself to come back and perform to the best of your ability in your sessions.

There are so many things that recovery gives you that many people miss out on. It is a discipline in itself. As Mark Allen famously said,

“you are better to be 10% undertrained than 1% overtrained”.

Markers for Recovery

Use one, some or all of the below markers which provide you with indicators that will allow you to make an informed assessment of your state of recovery before undertaking your day’s training:

Resting HR — elevated morning pulse is from an overworked nervous system, which indicates overtraining. Many people find this difficult (especially after waking up by an alarm clock).

However, you need to consider if your heart rate is especially low; it could be a result of becoming fitter. If you are fatigued, you will have other symptoms below. You can use iPhone apps for tracking your heart rate or something like a Fitbit.

Body Mass- losing weight (2% in one day) is usually a sign that you have a loss of hydration combined with a loss of body mass. This is a warning sign that you could not be recovered.

Quality of sleep- when you are not recovered proper, testosterone is down, and you’re not recovered. Waking up early or not falling to sleep early can be signs of not being recovered.

Waking up but not needing a big wee is a sign that you are not recovered. You could be just hungry, so have a banana dipped in peanut butter, and if you are still struggling to sleep, it will be probably due to a lack of recovery.

Performance- if you often have dead legs, notice that you are not getting faster (if already doing interval training), or your performance in your sessions is down on the previous day’s performance (pace, speed, watts). These are all sure-fire ways of your body telling you to take a rest and recover.

Oxygen Saturation- 96–99% is the banding you are looking for. A Finger Pulse Oximeter & Heart Rate Monitor will allow you to determine this to assess your recovery.

DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness)- is a normal reaction to training (especially following interval training), but if persistent, it is a good indicator that you are not recovering properly.

Hydration — the colour of your pee is a great and easy way of reviewing your hydration. You are dehydrated if you are peeing yellow, and hydration is key to recovery.

Appetite — your appetite goes down if you are not fully recovered or not recovering properly.

PAMS (Profile Of Mood States)- score your mood. When this is low, and you are anxious, it can indicate a lack of recovery or overreaching in training. Well-being and happiness are promising signs of a decent job of recovering.

Supplements, Diet and Recovery Aids.

You want to give the body more of the tools it needs to speed up the recovery process naturally. Taking Ibuprofen or the like can stop the body from sending white blood cells to the area and shut down the recovery process.

If you treat the area with ice and a little bit of heat to get better blood flow, it gives the body what it needs to speed up the recovery rather than covering the issue up with drugs.

Diet

An anti-inflammatory diet includes foods that naturally contain flavonoids and polyphenols. Foods with those compounds are dark fruits (e.g. pomegranate), dark leafy greens (e.g. bok choy, kale), cumin, turmerics and other Indian type spices. Thai and Indian food with curries in your diet help your body shut down inflammation naturally.

Night Shades; potatoes, tomatoes and peppers are high in alkaloids which can inhibit recovery. If you eat a ton of these, they will hinder your recovery.

However, the Night Shades pale into insignificance compared to sugars and starches (high carbs, fruit juice, scones, crackers, pizza, pasta, biscuits, and bagels based diets). Eating these foods is one of the worse things you can do to stop your body from being set up to repair and recover, as it poses natural anti-inflammatory potential.

You should replace sugar and starchy foods with less starchy foods and a high-fat diet (e.g. avocado, oily fish). You could take the white pasta and replace it with quinoa or rice pasta or substitute it with squash, cauliflower, beans, lentils, sweet potato, etc.

These changes will still give you fuel, energy, and glycogen to burn but are not as inflammatory as wheat-based starches. Don’t be concerned about your energy levels without eating pasta.

Recovery Shake; It seems to be a general consensus that after training, you need to have a protein and carb-rich meal within 30 minutes! However, most of the studies that have been done to underpin this claim were done on athletes in a fasted state with low blood sugar levels.

If you are training in this state (i.e. before breakfast), it is applicable to use the “30 minutes window”. Otherwise, what you eat during the day is enough to keep your body fuelled.

You need to ask yourself whether you fuelled before your session. If so, there is no need to rush to find a banana and protein powder. If you are eating when you are hungry and eating healthily, your body will restore its glycogen stores within 8 hours, so if you plan on working out again within this time frame, fill up your body stores within the 30 minutes window. If not, just eat your regular diet.

Eating before you go to sleep; if you are trying to lose weight, you may be better served by going to bed hungry without pumped up insulin levels which will store the energy as fat.

If weight loss is not an issue, you will get a bit of a release of growth hormone to aid recovery if you eat before bed. If you do not want to eat but still want the increased growth hormone, you can try gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) before bed. Deep sleep also aides repair and recovery during sleep which can be aided by magnesium.

Supplements

Free radicals are produced during exercise, which holds back the recovery process, and your body needs help after training with anti-oxidants. You need different anti-oxidants to do this.

You want to combine eating a healthy diet with taking an anti-oxidant that is as full a spectrum of anti-oxidants as you can find meal replacement from Living Fuel (Super Berry or Super Greens), assuming you are eating plenty of nuts and seeds and fruits and veg in your diet. Mt. Capra Solar Synergy Sports Drink or Synergy Natural Organic Super Greens Powder are good alternatives.

Calcium leakage occurs during exercise. Magnesium displaces calcium which rapidly alleviates post-workout soreness. Oral use of magnesium is good for sleep, but spray-on magnesium is far superior for post-race / workouts. You can find several options on Amazon, but my favourite is Better You Magnesium Oil Original Spray.

Protolithic enzymes are a blend of extract from meat, pineapple, and papaya, such as Quest Enzymeand Health Plus Digest Plus Digestive Enzyme Supplement. Eat steamed chicken, yoghurt or take an amino acid powder.

Also, taking amino acids before your workout can stave off the use of amino acids from your muscles during exercise.

Protein- Protein powder should be considered a real food that can be mixed with coconut milk, oatmeal, or quinoa in the morning.

Protein powders are very good at giving your body what it needs for repair and recovery. Still, its importance seems to have been blown out of proportion which is maybe crossover from bodybuilding to the world of endurance and triathlon.

Most people eat more protein than they need, which can cause problems for the liver and kidneys with the production of additional ammonia and toxic bi-products. The best way is to take on a bunch of protein is right after your workout, as this is a good way to send a big recovery message to your body.

Eat just enough protein to give your body what it needs to repair and recover (about 0.8–1.0 grams/lb per day or 1.8–2.2 grams/kg per day), but no more. Consume meat or protein powders during the day, amino acids before a workout and most of the rest of what you eat should come from high amounts of fat and an intelligent quantity of carbs injected when appropriate. The total percentage of your daily calorie intake should be 25–30% protein.

During training sessions, it is also an excellent option to choose gels/liquids that offer Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) in them (Gu Roctane). BCAA can decrease post-workout soreness levels to help you recover faster and go harder in the session.

Compression Gear- allows your body to milk fluid and inflammatory bi-products up out of an area much easier as it pulls blood from the area you have inflammation and shovels it up towards your heart.

With 110 Compression Wear, you can put ice packs in that compresses the blood vessels a little bit which dilates and increase blood flow and secretes post-workout soreness and recovery.

It is suitable for increasing recovery but don’t get too excited asity won’t improve performance. However, if you wear them during an Ironman (for example), it will help with your muscles being constantly jarred, especially towards the end of a marathon. You won’t go any faster, but you’ll be less sore during and the next day.

Electrostimulation- a component you attach to the muscle with a pad that simulates massage and forces the muscles to contract and get the blood flowing and increase recovery and reduce soreness, especially if you are going to be sitting down pretty quickly after finishing.

Massage or foam roller or muscle stick- can be used to reduce muscular adhesion after exercising. This allows the muscle to move more freely and to increase blood flow. Compression wear and a foam roller are massive for recovery. If you are getting a massage, don’t time it right before or right after a tough session or race.

A Bath- A cold bath after exercise can be used if no compression/ice is not available. Magnesium / Salt baths the day after exercise (but not right after) can really help absorb some of the calcium and soreness.

Ice baths- can help with soreness after a long run or bike. Fill the tub with ice before you set off and jump in for 20 minutes (grit your teeth and stick with it). Most professional sports teams now use ice baths, so that alone speaks for itself.

Swimming for recovery- is good the day after hard workout days and races and is really good as it is non-weight-bearing and increases blood flow (Just don’t overdo it!). Active recovery is good if it isn’t weight-bearing and increases blood flow; walking, riding a bike, swimming etc.

How do you track your recovery?

Of the markers for recovery above, the favoured ones are morning resting heart rate/oxygen saturation, a comparison of how your legs feel against the previous day’s session and your pee colour. Also, make sure to pay close attention to sleep (8 hours a night optimal like a log). Pay attention to appetite (if not hungry, you are not recovered). Additionally, pay attention to sex drive; you are probably down on your recovery if it is down in the whole.

Restwise- is an online software programme where you answer questions online to assess your recovery.

To Sum Up

It can’t be stressed enough how important recovery is, and 90% of athletes are not recovered on the start line of any race, and they are pretty much screwed before the race has even begun. You do not want to be tracking recovery intensely so much so that you are not enjoying training. Just pick a couple of parameters above and monitor how you progress.

You invest so much time on your training. You also need to spend a huge amount of time on your recovery.

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Andrew Crabtree

Andrew Crabtree

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Husband, Dad, Programme Manager in the Nuclear Industry | ex-pro rugby player, 4x Ironman finisher, ex-Bank Manager | getintonuclear.com