Triathlon recovery is an absolute truth in every athlete’s training program, and most multi-sport competitors are keenly aware of this. However, many triathletes only consider the most obvious recovery methods: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. But what about the triathlon recovery methods you may not be using?
1. Active Recovery
While rest is obviously essential, believe it or not, staying active actually does more for your recovery process than sitting still. The latest research suggests that an easy spin on the bike, a low-intensity run, yoga, or even a short, brisk walk can work to “flush” your legs of metabolic waste products (Ertl, par. 1). These are Zone 1 (or below) activities performed at a conversational pace without any intent to be a normal training session.
Flush workouts also loosen sore, tight muscles and increase blood circulation. It’s important to remember that training is meant to break down your body while recovery is what repairs it. So active recovery sessions need to be done carefully, straddling the line between enough to flush metabolic waste and low enough intensity to avoid breaking the body down, with attention paid to being performed on the right days. Consult your coach with how and when you should be performing active recovery.
Who wouldn’t say yes to a massage? And yet, you might fall back on the excuse that a masseuse will cost too much time and money just to speed up triathlon recovery. However, massage in the traditional sense isn’t your only option. Foam rollers, massage sticks, lacrosse balls, and even frozen water bottles are creative ways to give yourself a massage without the aid of a masseuse or a personal trainer.
Remember that when using rollers or other massage tools, as Joe Friel (USA Triathlon and USA Cycling elite-level coach) advises, always massage toward the heart. Once again, improved blood flow supports faster recovery (Koch, par. 7).
Massage also stimulates your mitochondria, “the tiny powerhouses inside cells that convert glucose into the energy essential for cell function and repair” (Bakalar, par. 6). This stimulation increases mitochondria biogenesis (the production of new mitochondria). Or simply put, a massage encourages your mitochondria to replicate themselves, thus giving you more energy to utilize during the next demanding workout.
3. The Eat Window
We need calories to burn for energy. Plain and simple. But did you know that when you consume food post-workout has a direct impact on your triathlon recovery?
In general, the purpose of post-workout nutrition is to replenish glycogen, decrease protein breakdown, and increase protein synthesis (i.e. refueling and repairing muscle). Our bodies require raw materials to rebuild in these departments. But to use the materials, they need to be available. Indicating the availability of raw materials is what signals our bodies that it’s time to rebuild, thus priming us to take in nutrients (Andrews).
So the question then becomes, how do we improve availability? The answer is simple: increase blood flow to muscles and provide an amino acid and glucose-dense blood supply. In other words, “we improve availability by having more blood circulating more rapidly, and by having more nutrients in that blood” (Andrews, par. 17). And when does that happen? During and after workouts, of course!
Nutritional research shows that during and immediately after a workout is the “window of opportunity” when it comes to the availability of accepting the raw materials we need for muscle repair. This is also why nutrition during workout and racing is so important. During post-workout “your muscles are primed to accept nutrients that can stimulate muscle repair, muscle growth, and muscle strength” (Andrews, par. 19).
The eat window opens immediately after your workout and closes pretty quickly. Many, including Joe Friel, advise eating within 30 minutes of post-workout (Koch, par. 7) (Housefield, par. 4). At the very least, the window may close two hours after the workout, so it’s important to feed yourself as soon as possible. If not, you risk a decrease in muscle glycogen storage and protein synthesis.
What you eat is also important. There are a lot of opinions here, but it’s generally accepted that a blend of carbohydrates and protein are the best choices. A 4:1 or 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates to proteins is most effective (Housefield, par. 6). Whole foods in this form are acceptable, but for those with sensitive stomachs after a workout, it’s best to ingest something in liquid form. Also, whole foods digest slowly and we want the nutrients to be available quickly. So, again, a post-workout shake is probably best.
By utilizing these three triathlon recovery methods that you may have missed, you’ll be replenishing and repairing muscles faster than ever before. In turn, your body will be allowed to attack the next “breakdown” workout fresher and with the intensity required to improve.
Flushing metabolic waste, creating good blood flow, stimulating mitochondria, replenishing glycogen stores, and increasing protein synthesis are all processes your body uses to recover faster and more effectively. Encouraging these processes require methods you may not have been doing. But greater insight changes everything. Employ these techniques and you’ll discover a much improved triathlon recovery.
TRIDOT TALK: What other less obvious triathlon recovery methods do you use and how have they helped you?
JARED MILAM is a professional triathlete, TriDot coach, and member of the Tri4Him Pro Team. He has 16 years of competitive running experience and 11 years of competitive triathlon experience with a half Iron PR of 3:59 and a full Iron PR of 8:30. Coaching under the TriDot system since 2011, Jared loves working with aspiring triathletes of all ages and performance levels.