On the Road to Recovery 

By Mike Niederpruem, MS, CSCS     from roadcycling.com

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.

Simply 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.

If 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.

Many 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 athletes.

Reasonably 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 look like:  

RACE RACE Active  Recovery   Active  Recovery   High Intensity  Training   Active  Recovery   Active  Recovery   RACE RACE

If 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:  

Active Recovery   Active Recovery REST   High Intensity Training (Reduced)   Active  Recovery   Active  Recovery RACE

Some 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.  

Active  Recovery Active  Recovery High Intensity Training (Reduced)   Active Recovery Active Recovery   Energy Systems Activation RACE

Additionally, 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 include:

1.      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.

2.      Ensure passive recovery is both qualitatively and quantitatively high.
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 sleep.

3.      Develop an effective nutrition/hydration regime. 

Common mistakes made in this area are numerous and include:

1.     Eating too few, too large meals throughout the day.
Instead, try to consume 4-5 smaller meals more frequently. This allows for more effective and complete absorption of nutrients.

2.     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.

3.     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 significantly.

4.     Becoming dehydrated.
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.

5.     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.

6.     Consider supplements.
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.

7.     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 planned.

By 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 career.



copyright © 2005 - Team David Salon