the Road to Recovery
Mike Niederpruem, MS, CSCS
One of the most
common training errors for endurance athletes at all
levels is training too hard on the "easy"
or recovery days, and not hard enough on the
"hard" days. This pervasive regime creates
premature plateaus and can lead to significant
overtraining, which can result in prolonged illness,
injury, and burnout. Although the aspects of
training intensities, duration, frequency and volume
of the "hard" days are beyond the scope of
this article, we can address the components of
"easy" days recovery that make them
powerful training tools.
put, one of the most important considerations in the
recovery process is the replenishment of glycogen
stores. Glycogen is the storage form of
carbohydrates within the body, and it is these
carbohydrates that are a primary source of fuel at
high intensities (at or above lactate threshold).
Training too hard and/or too soon after high
intensity training sessions or races compromises the
process of glycogen replenishment, and ultimately
interferes with the ability to continue training at
high intensities or race effectively in the future.
glycogen replenishment is optimized, it is possible
to recover from most types of training within 24
hours. However, it can take up to 36-48 hours to
recover from prolonged efforts at lactate threshold
(60-90+ minutes), cumulative efforts above lactate
threshold (30-45+ minutes), or moderate to heavy
resistance training. Both the intensity and quantity
of efforts one is performing need to be considered
when determining amount of recovery time needed.
additional factors affect one's ability to recover
from high intensity training sessions or races, both
in the short-term (i.e., week to week, from one race
to the next) and the long-term (i.e., over the
course of the entire season and from one season to
the next). These include age, level of physical
development, skill level, disciplines, point of
season, and nutrition habits. Young (under 16) and
the older (50 +) athletes often need more recovery
time than athletes between those ages. Athletes with
less than 3 years of structured training need more
recovery time than more physically developed
developed and fit athletes often respond well to one
day of active recovery for every day of high
intensity training/racing. So, if you race once per
week, you may get by with an active recovery day on
Monday, and be sufficiently recovered for high
intensity training by Tuesday. However, if you are
racing both weekend days, and across multiple weeks,
then you may need as many as 2-3 days of recovery
after the first weekend, and another day or two
prior to the next weekend. This type of week would
you are at the end of a particularly difficult
training block, racing has been unusually difficult,
or your daily measures (morning heart rate, body
weight and sleep… see below) vary from normal over
several days, you may be overreaching and in need of
a recovery or regeneration week. Ideally, you should
have regeneration weeks regularly placed every 4-6
weeks as an effective part of your training plan.
Regeneration weeks include both a reduction in
volume (as much as 50%) and intensity (no sustained
efforts at or above lactate threshold). A typical
regeneration week may consist of the following:
Intensity Training (Reduced)
times, when you are racing at the end of a
regeneration week, it is preferable to "open
up" or activate the energy systems used during
high intensity training and racing to avoid feeling
flat at the beginning of a race or training session.
Two or three short (3-5 minute) intense efforts,
performed the day before the race, may help prime
your systems for action.
Intensity Training (Reduced)
there are a number of steps as athlete can employ to
further facilitate recovery and replenishment of
muscle glycogen as quickly as possible. These steps
Employ active recovery as often as possible.
For most athletes and situations, active
recovery (i.e., as light training below the level
needed to introduce a training load or stimulus) is
generally preferred over passive recovery (complete
rest) as a primary component of training. Active
recovery actually allows faster recovery from
intense racing or training than passive recovery.
Active recovery rides are relatively short (30 - 90
minutes), performed at moderate cadences (75-95
rpm), and low intensities (below 65% of HR maximum).
Active recovery increases blood flow to the working
muscles without causing additional fatigue. This
increased blood flow helps restore nutrients
(glycogen), remove waste products, and also helps
facilitate a reduction in muscle soreness.
Ensure passive recovery is both qualitatively and
Passive recovery is also known as complete rest. The
best form of complete rest is sleep, and athletes
need 8-10 hours nightly. Be aware of changes in
sleep patterns over time, especially when they begin
to occur gradually and recur over time. Also,
consider incorporating naps (45 - 90 minutes) into
your daily routine. Sleeping heart rate can also be
monitored and evaluated with downloadable heart rate
monitors, further helping evaluate the quality of
Develop an effective nutrition/hydration regime.
mistakes made in this area are numerous and include:
Eating too few, too large meals throughout the
Instead, try to consume 4-5 smaller meals more
frequently. This allows for more effective and
complete absorption of nutrients.
Meals that are not balanced nutritionally
(excessive carbohydrate intake, too little protein
and fat intake).
This type of diet actually inhibits the recovery
process, and leads to insufficient caloric intake
over time. It is O.K. for the composition of your
meals to change throughout the day, depending on
where they are with respect to training. However,
your total diet composition over the long-term
should be close to 60-70% carbohydrates, 15-20%
protein, and 15-20% fats.
Missing the "glycogen replenishment"
window after high intensity training or racing.
As soon as possible, preferably within the first
30 minutes after completing training or racing,
begin consuming a recovery drink that includes both
carbohydrates and protein. This window gradually
closes over time, and usually after 2-3 hours, the
ability to replenish glycogen stores drops
If you only drink when you are thirsty, odds are
you are already dehydrated. Dehydration impairs
performance, and you can determine your hydration
status by comparing your body weight before and
after races and training sessions. Assume that any
changes in body weight are due to fluid loss. To
prevent dehydration, consume liberal amounts (more
than one mouthful) of sports drink at regular
intervals (every 15 - 20 minutes) while
training/racing, and drink BEFORE you are thirsty.
Be sure that your choice of sports drink contains
different types of carbohydrates as well as
electrolytes (potassium, sodium and magnesium). Be
sure to experiment with different concentrations,
flavors and brands while training at high
intensities BEFORE using during racing. The more you
enjoy your beverage of choice, the more likely you
are to drink it, and drink it more often.
Consider self-massage or professional massage as
part of your training regime.
The beneficial effects of massage with respect
to recovery are well documented. Professional
endurance athletes often receive rubdowns daily, but
even one massage per week can have a significant
impact on your training. If you can't afford a
professional, then consider self-massage. Take 10-20
minutes after a hard race or training session,
elevate your legs and begin massaging at the ankles
and work your way towards your waist.
Research on supplementation is growing rapidly,
particularly, the use of antioxidants in
facilitating recovery. Vitamins E and C have
received the most attention, but research into other
specific supplements (various herbs, branched chain
amino acids, etc.) is ongoing. A multi-vitamin with
antioxidants may be a good preventive measure,
especially if your diet is suspect in this regard.
Monitor morning heart rate, morning body weight,
as well as sleep quality and quantity.
As you collect this data, you will begin to see
an "ebb and flow" to the variables as you
progress through training periods. You will be able
to recognize patterns based on your ability to
recover (or your inability), and eventually use this
information to determine if and/or when you are
recovered. If your morning heart rate is elevated,
your sleep was compromised, and your morning body
weight is low, odds are you need a recovery day,
even though you may have a hard training day
employing the above tactics, increasing your
awareness for how you feel when appropriately
recovered, and demonstrating flexibility when it
comes to taking additional recovery days, you will
minimize your training/racing plateaus, keep your
motivation high, and find that you race well
throughout the season and beyond. Finally,
significant performance gains from one season to the
next will be the norm, as opposed to the exception,
for the duration of a long and productive racing