Having had a successful season thus far I entered into my last race of the season, the Mooloolaba Triathlon with my sights set on a podium finish– a fitting way to end a 12 month cycle of racing. But unfortunately life got in the way of my plans. Three days out from race day I had a fall off my bike – thankfully nothing was broken (except my ego) but I copped a few nasty grazes on my right elbow, hip, knee and shoulder. Not wanting to let this bring me down I packed my bags and my bike and headed to Mooloolaba for the Multisport Festival.
I woke up the day before the race with a nasty chest infection and a case of croup, and by mid afternoon when my mind set had shifted from aiming to podium, to purely aiming to finish. Sunday morning rolled around and after a very restless nights sleep I headed to the start line with tissues in one hand and strepsils in the other. I find it fascinating how your body shuts down with infection – my usual fit self felt flat and weak and unable to gear change from training pace to race pace. So at the 10km mark of the bike course I knew I needed to go into survival mode if I was to finish this race at all. 2hours and 27 minutes later I crossed the line in 5th position for my age group, taking 8 minutes off my time for this course 12 months ago.
While I am sad that I wasn’t able to execute my race day as planned, I am relieved I made it through in the time I did and I will now set my sights on next years race and getting that elusive podium.
So this week more than ever recovery is of upmost importance. People often ask me how long it takes to recover from a race and unfortunately there is no golden answer to this question. My general rule following an A-Race is ten days of “active recovery” as a bare minimum. The term active recovery refers to low intensity exercise performed in the days post competition to help the body to restore its normal function.
Active recovery helps to minimise muscle soreness after a race and help to maintain the strength developed during a hard workout. Studies have shown that active recovery is more beneficial than complete rest in aiding the restoration of physical function. The degree of activity require for active recovery depends on the individual’s fitness and the distance or intensity of the workout completed. The general rule is that the effort required to complete an active recovery session is about 50% of that required for a normal session.
In addition to helping the body recover physically, active recovery is also beneficial for emotional and mental well being. By engaging in light activity you are likely to feel you are maintaining your fitness levels and not going backwards.
Hydration also plays a key role in recovery. Dehydration leads to fatigue, impaired judgement and a decline in sports specific skills. Most people are aware of the importance of hydrating during a workout but what many of us don’t realise is that it is often too late if you are guzzling your water in the car on the way to the gym. Thirst is not an indicator of hydration – there is usually significant fluid loss before you feel thirsty. In terms of recovery, in the first 4-6hrs after a workout you should aim to consume 120-150% of the fluid lost during that workout. For example, if you lost 1kg of fluid during a workout, this equates to 1 litre and therefore you must replace 1.2-1.5L post session. Any easy way to equate your sweat loss is to weigh yourself before and after a workout.
Last but definitely not least is recovery nutrition. We have all seen the hype about post workout supplements and protein shakes, and while protein is essential for muscle recovery, most of us will obtain adequate protein from our daily diet without the use of supplementation. Sports Dietician Australia recommends that endurance and strength-trained athletes have between 1.2 and 1.7 g/kg of protein for the best performance and health. For example, if you are a 65kg endurance athlete, your protein requirement is between 78-110gm per day.
This equates to:
- one tin of tuna (40gm protein),
- one tub of yoghurt (21gm of protein),
- one soy latte (33gms of protein)
- ¼ cup of almonds (26gm protein).
This amount will vary depending on the type of training you are doing and how many hours per week you spend exercising. This amount is also dependent on individual body composition so I would recommend talking to a qualified sports dietician to help formulate an appropriate diet for your specific needs.
So while it may appear that athletes simply sit back and relax after a big race, there is a complex, multi factorial approach to recovery. Each component has been scientifically researched and scrutinised to the minute detail and most professional athletes will have a large team of professionals working with them to help return them to training as soon as possible. If in doubt always contact a professional for advice on nutrition and recovery strategies.
1. Beelen M, Burke LM, Gibala MJ, van Loon L JC.(2010) Nutritional strategies to promote postexercise recovery.Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab, Dec;20(6):515-32.
2. Van Loon, LJ (2007) Application of protein or protein hydrolysates to improve postexercise recovery. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2007 Aug;17 Suppl:S104-17.
3. Febbraio, et al (2010) Nutritional issues for special environments: training and competing at altitude and in hot climates. In Burke et al (eds), Clinical Sports Nutrition. McGraw-Hill, North Ryde, pp659-675.