How to Properly Recover and Prepare the Muscles for Your Next Race
Triathlons can be intimidating. Overcoming initial fear of open water swimming is just one reason why you should try it. A common side effect of participating in one such event is that you immediately sign up for another.
This is when recovery and consistent training will be the make-it-or-break-it factors.
“I see quite a lot of mistakes people make in the recovery stage,” Justin Metzler, a professional athlete, says. The biggest one has to do with impatience. “You have to make sure your body is completely recovered before you apply more stress,” he adds.
There is no way around it; you can’t shop your way to a speedy recovery. “Most people jump straight into their usual train training routine.” This certainly leads to mediocre practices and can easily lead to severe injuries.
“I take at least three days after a race, two of which are active rest,” Metzler says. He usually swims or bikes for 30-40 minutes at a low-intensity level just to get more oxygen to the body cells. “No strength exercises though and no running,” he adds, “Because you don’t need to put that much pressure on your legs.” Functional exercises to get the muscles warmed up are another option for him.
Active recovery can cleanse the body soon after a race, according to research, which is why it should be considered as an immediate recovery technique.
During the first day after a race Metzler does nothing but rest. Make sure you take enough time-out days, which is as important as your training sessions, throughout the week. Most professional athletes have at least one day during which they don’t do anything but sit, relax and let the body do the rest.
“The most critical part of training is to get enough sleep,” Metzler says. He recommends at least 9-10 hours after an intense training session. “This is actually when the muscles are doing the repair,” he adds.
The body is a good regulator of how much shuteye it needs. You won’t oversleep; if you’re rested, your body will wake you up.
“As a professional, I probably train more intensely than most recreational triathletes, which is why I probably need more sleep, but you really need at least seven hours to recover to the best of your ability,” Metzler says. “Anything less than that is not efficient.”
Protein before bed
“It’s a good idea to take some sort of protein in your system immediately before bed,” Metzler says. The muscles will use it to repair while you’re resting. Milk doesn’t have enough of the nutrient for muscle recovery, he adds. Egg whites, a scoop of whey protein powder or Greek yogurt will do. Anything between 20-30 grams of protein before you go to sleep will suffice, according to him.
Metzler uses compression clothing when he travels. Spending several hours on a place where you’re seating all the time, not really moving much, can lead to swollen calves and legs. The clothing will help alleviate some of the inflammation.
A study has found that athletes can improve their performance in high-intensity cycling by wearing compression clothing. Wearing compression garments during recovery from exercise seems to be beneficial for performance recovery and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
What Metzler eat depends on how he manages his body composition. “When I’m trying to improve it, I keep a strict diet,” he says. “I am more controlled – eat a lot of vegetables, fruits and lean meat.”
After a race, he often eats more “traditional foods” and is more relaxed with his nutrition because he’s “only human.” “But I do make sure I get a high quality source of protein at the same time.”
It’s very important to eat some protein and carbs immediately after a race, at the very least within an hour, Metzler says.
You’ll never go wrong with a shake that is a high mix of protein and carbs, 10 and 50 grams, respectively, within minutes after a training session, he adds. Just make sure the carbs (fruits for example) are simple so the body can absorb them quicker.
Acupuncture is a good recovery method because it can shift the energy in the body, increase blood flow, and rejuvenate, Metzler says.
Athletes that have acupuncture and cupping done weekly, if not twice weekly during the last 6 weeks prior to race day, report better stamina and less post workout muscle fatigue, according to Lakeside Holistic Health.