There is a lot written about how to prepare before a triathlon race or a significant triathlon training session. Carb-loading and achieving a proper hydration level are always mentioned with respect to this.
There is also lots of information about sports nutrition and hydration needs during an event or training session.
What is sometimes lacking is attention given to what a triathlete does after a triathlon race or training session in terms of recovery.
This is particularly true when it comes to training.
After an actual race, a triathlete will easily find themselves a nice post-race spread of food and sports drinks. All the work has been done for you.
But in your training, the responsibility lies solely on you to take proper post-session recovery measures. This is where triathletes are sometimes lazy.
Triathletes usually focus on training, but they often neglect recovery — specifically the crucial step of refueling as soon as possible after each training session. That is a major mistake.
Why Post-Training Recovery Is Important
The reality is that properly refueling your body immediately after your training session is as vital as anything you did during the session. To reap the maximum benefits of your hard training, you must give recovery as much attention as the actual training itself.
When it comes to a swim session of 1+ hour, run session of 2+ hours, or bike session of 3+ hours, you must especially pay close attention to what you do immediately following your training. This would also apply to any combined session that is more than 2+ hours.
Giving your body what it needs as soon as possible after training accomplishes some very crucial things for the triathlete:
Stimulating the rebuilding of muscle tissue
Strengthening your immune system
Restoring muscle glycogen levels for your next training session
Replenishing lost electrolytes and sodium
What You Eat Affects Your Recovery
Water: 0.5 – 0.7 fluid ounces per pound of body weight
Carbohydrates: 30-70 grams of high quality complex carbs
Protein: 10-25 grams of high quality protein
Immediately after training is the best time to take in the above nutrients.
Try doing so within around 30 minutes following exercise. Research shows that this 30-minute window of time is when the body’s sensitivity to insulin is at its highest, so muscles can quickly absorb nutrients for maximum restoration and storage of muscle glycogen. A triathlete’s body is depleted of muscle glycogen rather quickly; therefore immediate consumption of carbohydrate is very important.
Maximize Recovery With Carbohydrates & Proteins
You can achieve this through solids, liquids, or a combination of the two. The ideal carbohydrate to protein ratio for recovery nutrition would be a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio.
There are sports nutrition products on the market that figure it out for you. For example, Hammer Nutrition makes a 3:1 ration product called Recoverite, which is a sports drink mix that has the proper combination of complex carbohydrates, high quality whey protein, and other vital nutrients. A glass of Recoverite immediately following a training session will assist in rapid and enhanced recovery and prepping your body for your next training session. Cytomax Recovery is a similar product; there are many options.
With all of these sports drinks and recovery mixes lining the shelves, you may find it hard to believe that you can actually practice proper post-training nutrition guidelines using real food! Believe it or not, low-fat chocolate milk has proven to be a very successful recovery beverage providing 84 grams of carbohydrate, 26 grams of protein, 2 grams of fat, and 345 mg of sodium in 24 ounces.
Other great real food choices for recovery nutrition include:
Make sure you wash these foods down with an appropriate amount of water.
Rest Is Crucial To Recovery
Rest is also a neglected area of recovery for many triathletes.
Few people appreciate the physiological benefits that take place during rest, especially sleep. While sleeping, the body releases growth hormone to repair damage from the day’s training stress and to strengthen any of the systems weakened by training. Without adequate sleep, fitness is lost regardless of how long or intense training sessions are.
The greater your commitment to maintaining a balanced focus on eating, sleeping, and training, the greater your progress and performance will be as a triathlete. Eating the proper foods fuels the body for training and speeds recovery by replacing energy and nutrient reserves and providing the building blocks for a stronger body.
Both sleeping and training help build and maintain fitness levels because each causes the release of growth hormone, which speeds recovery, rebuilds muscles, and breaks down body fat.
Better Recovery = Higher Fitness Levels
The bottom line is that proper training, eating, and sleeping results in higher levels of fitness sooner. Get lazy in any one of these 3 components and it will take longer, or could perpetually be keeping you from making the progress you desire and work so hard for.
Keep in mind that even after your 30-minute window of recovery hydration and refueling, your body is still recovering. Within 2 hours after the session, you are going to need to consume a balanced meal packed with protein, vegetables and a large portion of starch.
Sample healthy and balanced meals include:
I’m over 40 years old, but I don’t give up easily. It wasn’t too long ago that I was exploring the idea of doing my first triathlon. If I can do it, you can too! I'm proof that with a little determination and training, you can get a great deal of fulfillment participating in marathons, triathlons… even ultramarathons.