It’s been a while since I did a proper Blog. Spare time is at a premium as I’m back in training…all I do when I have spare time is rest. Now that the season is getting going, I think now is a good time to talk about recovery, one of the most important and neglected aspects of training.
Imagine him, Ally T Gear, the obsessive triathlete with the biggest kit bag ever. He’s just done a 2 hour brick session and wants to recover as quickly as possible so he can race the following day. Having read every magazine article ever on recovery, he decides to get in his specially plumbed ice bath wearing his compression tights, whilst drinking a protein shake and calling his massage therapist to arrange an evening appointment. We all know that man! Do Ally’s recovery strategies have some merit and do we need to go to the same length as him to recover or has he no idea? (Geddit…. Ally T Gear… no idea?). In this week’s blog, I look into why we need to recover and then I provide a number of strategies to help you do so.
What is Recovery?
During training and competition, the body is stressed, resulting in increased energy consumption (with resultant decreased carbohydrate stores), damage to the cells including muscle fibres and suppression of the endocrine and immune system. The harder or longer you train, the greater the stress will be. Recovery is the process the body follows to repair itself. With specific training and adequate recovery, the body will not only recover to pre-training levels, it will grow stronger. This process is called adaptation. Without adequate recovery this adaptation will not occur. Rather, with over-training, the body is excessively stressed and maladaptation occurs i.e. the body gets weaker.
Some individuals naturally recover quicker than others so a recovery strategy that works for Al and Jonny may not be the best for you. Furthermore, if you are new to training or getting a bit long in the tooth, it will generally take longer for you to recover.
To understand how well you recover, it is important to monitor what training you are doing and how you recover from it. Keeping a training diary or using online software such as TrainingPeaks will help you monitor how well you do so. You may wish to record:
- Sleep: This is one of the best forms of recovery. However, after hard training it is sometimes difficult to sleep well. You may have twitchy legs or simply feel restless. This is ok once in a while, but if it becomes regular, then you need to back off until your normal sleeping patterns return. Make sure your room is dark and quiet as this will improve your quality of sleep. A milky drink and a light carbohydrate snack shortly before bed may help you sleep better.
- Feel good factor: which may include your motivation to train or how irritable you are. If you feel low, sadder or grumpier than normal, then this may be a sign that you need to recover more.
- Resting heart-rate: is worth recording first thing in the morning. If is around 5 beats higher or lower than normal, this may be a sign that you’re not recovering or you have a bug on the way. I fell into the trap of continuing to train when my resting HR went down to 29rpm.
- Performance: If you’re not able to achieve the performance you were expecting, this may signal that you are fatigued and require more recovery. The British Cycling Team monitor power output closely and if riders are not able to put down what is expected for a particular session, then it may mean that riders need to rest. The same type of monitoring can be done with swimming pace or run speed.
- Testosterone: Cortisol Ratio: With hard training, there can be increases in hormone cortisol. This can lead to a poor mood state, fatigue and a loss of muscle mass. Testosterone, a muscle growth hormone, levels can also drop. Therefore, a decreased testosterone: cortisol ratio is an indicator of over-training. For most of us, monitoring sleep, feel-good factor etc is good enough. However, for elite athletes with access to sports medicine support, measuring this ratio could be worthwhile.
Developing a Recovery Regime
So you’ve just done a 5 hour Sunday run with your mates and are exhausted. You get home and there is nothing in the fridge, your compression tights are in the wash, you’re late for the family trip to the DIY megastore and you’re having dinner at the in-laws in the evening. Having a recovery regime will help you plan to avoid such scenarios.
A structured cool-down in particularly important after intense activity such as an interval session or a race as it will aid the recovery process. A suggested bike cool-down is provided below.
|5 mins||Easy||Relaxed pedalling. Keep your cadence at 90rpm or more.|
|5 mins||Moderate||Moderate intensity, keeping your breathing even and relaxed|
|5 mins||Easy-very hard||5 seconds maximal effort above 100rpm in a medium gear, followed by 55 seconds easy spinning.|
|5 mins||Zone 1-2||Spinning at 90rpm. Keep drinking|
If you’ve done a longer less intense session, simply finishing off with some light exercise is generally sufficient. Make sure you have warm clothing and a hat available if you are unable to get showered immediately. You may also wish to develop a stretching regime, especially to mobilise tight areas of the body.
Nutrition is essential for training adaptation as it helps the body to regenerate and repair itself. Ensuring that you eat and drink during longer sessions is essential for that process as it will help your body’s carbohydrate stores from being overly depleted. This will help prevent you from being ravenously hungry, meaning you don’t feel like eating the contents of the fridge immediately after the ride. You don’t have to use sport specific products. I like flapjacks and dried apricots but have to admit that rhubarb and custard torq gels is a favourite!
A small carbohydrate rich snack is recommended immediately after the ride. This should be followed by a more substantial meal within 2 hours. A valuable inclusion to recovery meals is protein, as it is essential for muscle repair and enzyme synthesis. A good quality chocolate milkshake is great for recovery as it has an ideal balance between carbohydrates and protein, it contains calcium a small amount of sodium and is good as a fluid replacement. What’s more, it tastes good and is comforting to the stomach.
Baths, Tights and Massage
Recovery strategies such as having an ice bath, wearing compression tights or having a post-exercise massage are relatively common within many sports, but do they work? Well, if you’re going to the lengths of filling your bath with ice, then you’ll be good enough to have a professional support team to advise you. Otherwise, save the ice for a well deserved gin and tonic.
Compression tights are now a common sight at races, they certainly have individual perception of value and they are unlikely to do any harm. One suggested mechanism for their benefit is that they promote venous return through increased pressure on the limbs. This requires that the garment fits well and is sufficiently tight.
Most pro-cycling teams include massage therapists with good reason. There is certainly a feel good factor associated with massage, it may influence oxygen supply/waste removal in the recovering muscles and it may help with efficient muscle action to name a few benefits. A good therapist may also be able to spot potential injuries so regular massage can be very beneficial.
Young riders on British Cycling performance programmes have it drilled into them how important rest is. Often pro-riders don’t train more or harder than good amateurs, they just have more time to focus on recovering.
Immediately after a hard ride, the immune system is suppressed so it’s easier to pick up bugs. If possible, try and stay away from large groups in the first few hours after your session. Put your feet up, have a snooze or rest passively by reading a book or listening to music. This relaxation time will benefit you both physically and psychologically.
A Few Well Dones!
My finer half Rosemary deserves a big well done for winning her first triathlon, the Kendal Sprint. Great performance from her and Lucy to win the Female Pairs in the Open 5 series too. Great work.
Well done to my mate Monica Eden who has recently been appointed as an Olympic Talent Coach. The girl works tirelessly in cycling and deserves her success. Very proud of you lassie.
To Roddie Riddle, who I’ve not seen for years. who recently ran the Marathon des Sables to show that an athlete with type 1 diabetes can compete in one of the toughest foot races on earth. Great effort loon.
Lauryn Therin who’s recently left the office to join the GB para-cycling programme. What a multi-talented girl.