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Top Ten Tools to Speed Recovery

Recovery: "The regaining of something that has been lost or taken away". Websters dictionary.

Spring is the time of year when many athletes ramp up their training, in order to prepare for racing. Athletes should also ramp up their recovery habits to stay in balance. Over reaching is required to stimulate your body to adapt. Full recovery is required to allow that adaptation to take place. Partial or no recovery leads to partial adaptation, lack of performance gains and eventually overtraining.

Training + Recovery = Super-compensation
Training + Inadequate Recovery = Performance reduction, Illness, Injury, Burnout

The quicker and more complete your recovery from a workout, the faster you can move on to your next quality training session. The more total sessions you have the energy for, the faster you will ultimately be.

Top Secret Ergogenic = Full Recovery

No matter what you do, when you extend yourself, your body requires a specific amount of time to refuel and repair. Full recovery takes time. Quality training time is extremely valuable. By quality I mean when you are fully recovered and able to put in complete effort and focus. These sessions should be spent wisely.

Plan adequate rest into your weekly routine and have a rest week every third or fourth week in your schedule. Manipulate volume and intensity during rest weeks to unload accumulated fatigue, maintain fitness and sharpen performance.

Recently, I did a big volume, three day block of training. As an athlete, it was thrilling to put down some huge training. As a coach, I know it should take a week to recover and produce benefits from this type of training. The coach and athlete in my brain started arguing during the planned recovery period. After five days of recovery, my athlete side wanted to get back on it and ride a century with my buddies. My coach side told me, patience - allow for full recovery to reap full benefits from the training block.

Lynda's Top Ten List of Tools to Speed Recovery

#1 Daily Nutrition Habits
Daily nutrition habits dictate the health status of your body, plus the amount of training you can withstand and adapt to. What you eat and drink every day sets your athletic potential. If you eat poorly on a daily basis, your athletic potential ceiling will be low. Ultrafit coach Tom Rogers says "You can wear yourself out with bad nutrition even faster than by exercise without discipline". Maintaining daily optimal health through a nutritious diet will do more to speed your recovery from workouts than any other factor.

· Read "The Paleo Diet" by Loren Cordain, PhD for some no-nonsense information about what and how to eat for long-term health. The first area to improve is to eliminate all processed foods. Get rid of the junk. Most of your calories should come from lean meats, seafood, fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts. Make sure everything you put in your mouth has a high nutrient density.

· Avoid eating and drinking empty calories.

· Track your calorie intake to ensure you are imbibing sufficient total calories per day to replace what you burn. Don't trust your appetite as fatigue can decrease appetite. A daily calorie deficit will leave you with low fuel stores and slow recovery. Even a small daily deficit added up over weeks and months can be debilitating and lead to injury and illness. Progressive glycogen depletion is the top cause of overtraining.

· Track your protein intake to ensure you are consuming a minimum of 0.6 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass per day. Increase this to 0.8 grams, if you are training for three or more hours that day. www.fitday.com is the most useful tool I have found to track calorie and nutrient intake on a daily basis.

· Maintain proper hydration status by drinking enough water to pee clear once a day. If you are peeing clear once an hour you are over-hydrating.

· Keep your prescriptions current.

· Take a multi-vitamin, iron and calcium only if recommended by your doctor.

· Supplementing your diet with antioxidants, such as vitamins E and C, may also help.

#2 Daily Sleep Habits
Sleep is vital for recovery. Sleep time is when your body does its best repairing and rebuilding. Skimp on sleep and you will delay recovery. Through the course of a nights sleep, you cycle through several phases. During the slow-wave stage, growth hormone is released by the pituitary gland, stimulating tissue repair.

· Get eight hours of sleep per night.

· Ingrain a routine. Go to bed and rise at the same time every day of the week, even at the weekends.

· Take a 45 minute nap in the afternoon if you have the time available.

#3 During Exercise Nutrition Habits
Fueling and hydrating properly during exercise will put you at the end of a session, in the best possible shape, needing the least total recovery. For easy workouts of less than an hour, water will suffice. For workout lasting longer than one hour you should consume a sport drink containing carbohydrates, electrolytes and possibly protein (if your GI system is receptive to this).

Hydration and electrolyte replacement: Your body's thirst drive depends on two things: an increase in blood salt concentration and a decrease in blood volume. Both of these things occur when you sweat. Research has shown your body will absorb and retain more fluid, when electrolytes such as sodium, are added to whatever you are drinking. Drinking plain water dilutes the sodium in your blood and shuts off your thirst mechanism. When your thirst mechanism is shut off, you drink less and tend not to hydrate fully.

Refueling: An athlete can burn over 900 calories per hour during exercise. However, research contends the maximum rate carbohydrate can be absorbed from the stomach and processed by the liver, is one gram per minute. This is a measly 240 calories per hour, so replacing every calorie burned is an impossible task. Focus on replenishing as much carbohydrate as your body can process. Consuming more than this will just leave you bloated.

Food choices: Exactly the right solid, semi-solid (gels) and liquid food combination to consume during exercise is highly personal. One athlete may thrive on bananas and Gatorade. This menu may send another athlete sprinting for the port-a-potty. This is an area in which you must use trial and error to figure out what works for you. It is vital to practice in training many times what you plan to consume in a race.

· During exercise, drink a sports drink containing at least 75mg of sodium per eight ounces of fluid.

· During exercise, drink a sports drink containing a 6% carbohydrate solution. This concentration is absorbed into the body faster than plain water. A drink with higher than a 6% carbohydrate solution, will probably cause gastric distress.

· Aim to take in 8 ounces of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes. More if it is a hot day.

· Use a sports drink with a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio, unless trial and error shows this combination produces gastric distress.

· Longer sessions may require you to add some semi solids such as sport gels and/or some solid food such as a banana or an energy bar.

#4 Post Exercise Nutrition Habits
The job of post exercise nutrition is to regain hydration status, replenish electrolytes lost, replace carbohydrate burned, provide protein for muscle repair and antioxidants to reduce cellular damage. Taking care of each of these details will speed your recovery.

During exercise your muscle cells take up glycogen at a higher rate than when at rest. At the end of an exercise bout, this effect lasts up to 30 minutes. Glut-4 molecules hang out on the muscle cell membrane and grab glucose from the blood. Glut-4 molecules are super-activated by high intracellular calcium and insulin levels produced during exercise. Refueling within 30 minutes of the end of an exercise bout enables you to take advantage of the Glut-4's while they are still ramped-up. This will quickly replenish your muscle glycogen. If you miss this window it can take up to 48 hours to fully replenish your muscle glycogen fuel stores. Also, immediately consuming protein may reduce post exercise muscle breakdown.

· Immediately upon finishing an exercise bout, consume 0.5 grams of carbohydrate and 0.125 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Many commercial recovery drinks have the perfect combination of nutrients.

· Consume another 0.5 grams of carbohydrate and 0.125 grams of protein per pound of body weight, in frequent small amounts over the next two hours.

· Weigh yourself before and after exercise. Drink 24 ounces of fluid to replace every pound lost. Choose from water or a sports drink. Avoid sodas and alcohol.

· Consume the antioxidants vitamin C and E to reduce free radical damage.

· After strength training, consuming the branched chain amino acids L-valine, L-leucine and L-isoleucine may decrease muscle breakdown, reduce central nervous system fatigue and help maintain your immune system.

· Immune system function is depressed after a race or hard training session. Another amino acid, L-glutamine, is a primary component in white blood cells. Supplementing with L-glutamine, may enhance immune system function and may reduce the risk of illness during heavy training periods.

#5 Remove Heat Stress
In hot climates, immediately after a race or workout, remove heat stress from your body. At most triathlons you finish near the swim start. Walk waist deep into the water and stay there for five minutes or until your body temperature feels down to normal. This will stop you from sweating halt the dehydration process and loss of electrolytes.

#6 Time Management
A day spent running all over town, doing a month worth of errands in a day, does not equal a recovery day. Poor time management can also eat into sleep hours.

· Identify time wasting hours in your day. Do you watch TV? Spend hours surfing the internet? Activities like this can be relaxing but will slow your recovery if you sacrifice sleep for them.

#7 Stress Management
Chronic stress causes illness, injury and burnout. Obviously these are not good things for athletic performance.

· Identify what your sources of stress are and if possible eliminate them.

· Design a strategy to manage the stress source if elimination is not possible. Some options are to increase your coping skills and recruit emotional support.

#8 Pre Exercise Nutrition
Ensure you begin a workout with your carbohydrate tanks full and you are fully hydrated. If you workout first thing in the morning, consume some low glycemic index carbohydrates with water to replenish stores after your overnight fast.

#9 Yoga
Stretching, relaxation and meditation all have been shown to speed recovery.

· Practice a method of yoga, such as Hatha yoga, which focuses on balance, flexibility and meditation.

#10 Massage
Massage speeds recovery by increasing circulation, flushing away waste products and bringing in fresh nutrients. It also feels so good, it promotes relaxation.

· Visit a certified massage therapist for a professional massage.

· Use a foam roller or tennis ball to give yourself a massage daily. Order a full-round 4' roller at www.optp.com.

Don't save these ten recovery tools for your big days and races. Make them a part of your daily routine.

About Lynda Wallenfels

Lynda Wallenfels's picture


Lynda Wallenfels is a professional cyclist, USA Triathlon level II, USA Cycling Elite level and Ultrafit certified coach. Her new book “The Triathlete's Guide to Bike Training” is now available from VeloPress. Lynda always enjoys discussing training and racing and will answer questions posted on her Web site discussion forum www.lwcoaching.com.
She is available for coaching and consulting and can be contacted at lynda@lwcoaching.com.

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