Endurance athletes are always seeking out new ways to improve. What type of intervals will improve my VO2max or what kind of power output will help me go faster without blowing up? Without a doubt, this search drives new developments in training and shouldn't be underestimated in it's importance. However, most of the focus relates to the activity side of training. By placing more emphasis on recovering you will become a better athlete.
Why You Need a Recovery Plan
An annual training plan will tell you when, how much, the intensity, and the type of workouts you should do over the course of the entire season. Most plans usually don't include what should be done between workouts. To put that into perspective, you might spend 1-5 hours of a 24-hour day actually training. On a weekly scale, 6-30 hours out of 168, or roughly 1-18% of your week is spent actually doing the workouts (30 hours training is a very generous estimate-most spend around 8-10 hours). Clearly, what you do in the remaining 80-90% of your week will make a difference in the way your body responds to the training. The obvious solution is to place a little more emphasis on the recovery.
What to Include in the Plan
Numero Uno: Sleep Well
Of the 80-90% of non-workout time mentioned above, you will spend about 30-35% of that sleeping. Because the remainder of your day is spent doing various tasks (work, home, family, etc.), this is the bulk of your "true" recovery time. Physiologically, your body does a significant amount of rebuilding during your nightly sleep cycles (see previous blog post from September 2013). So, invest some effort in to assuring you get the best sleep possible.
Some generic suggestions are:
In keeping with the theme, the remaining 45-50% of your day is just life. During a workout, the "fight-or-flight" response is in full effect with all of its hormones and chemicals that regulate this alarmed state. The same hormones and chemicals are being released during non-exercise stress. The catabolic nature of this state hinders recovery tremendously.
While deadlines and traffic jams may be unavoidable, doing what you can to keep your emotions in check will help you in your recovery and ultimately, your training. Here are a few suggestions for managing your stress levels:
Use the Tools During Opportune Times
From foam rollers to ice baths to compression boots, multiple tools exist to promote recovery. Find ways and time to use these tools. It can be as simple as doing a little foam rolling in the evening while catching up on some of your shows, rubbing your thighs/IT band while riding in the car, or using a foot roller under your desk at work. The point is to find ways to incorporate recovery into your daily activities.
Probably the second most important thing (besides sleep) you can do in your recovery is to eat right. Eating right includes proper foods and proper timing. After ending a workout, especially if it's a long session or very intense session, you should consume the right calories (carbs and protein) within 30-45 minutes to begin your recovery. Throughout the day, food selection should also include the right percentages of carbs, fats and proteins.
The brevity and simplicity of the nutrition section isn't a reflection of it's importance. Multiple pages are needed to really do this section justice.
In the end, training is a very small percentage of your actual preparations for endurance events. Training doesn't end when you take off your shoes or get off your bike. The bulk of your training is resting and recovery so make sure you invest some effort into doing it right!
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Scott Flynn, owner, coach and triathlete of 10+ years with Threshold Multisport Coaching, holds a MS in Exercise Science and multiple nationally recognized fitness certifications (CES, CSCS). For more about Threshold coaching packages click here.