Better than any Performance Enhancing Drug: Recovery

Better than any Performance Enhancing Drug: Recovery

 Training without proper recovery will at best prevent you from getting fitter and at worse result in fatigue related illness. However, training with the correct balance of recovery will have a significant positive impact on your performance and take you to another level of fitness.
By recovery I include:
POLARIZED TRAINING (80% – 20% Balance)
Work to a training plan in which 80% of your work during the week takes place with your heart rate comfortably in zone 2. That’s a pace at which you can hold a conversation, and you should spend most of the time during your long rides and runs (i.e. anything over an hour and a half) at this level. These sessions are important and will increase the number of mitochondria your cells contain and the more mitochondria you have, the more energy you can generate during exercise and the faster and longer you can exercise. In addition to this, recent studies have revealed that high intensity training (i.e. training in zones 4 and 5) increases the power of each individual mitochondria. This explains why ‘polarized training’ works so well. The low intensity work ensures you have plenty of mitochondria, whilst the brief bursts of high intensity work ensure they’re as powerful as can be.
Consistent periods of polarized training will result in your talking pace speed increasing. For example, in September you may have been able to cycle at 13 mph for 50 miles whilst remaining comfortably in zone 2. With proper polarised training, you may find that by February, it’s closer to 16 mph at the same level of effort. However, you’ll only see the true benefits if you make sure that the 20% of hard training you carry really is hard.  The saying is, “You can’t go easy enough for the 80% sessions and you can’t go hard enough for the 20% sessions.”   
For the vast majority of athletes, a training schedule should incorporate a full recovery day at least once a week. Ideally, this will follow your long sessions (often found at the weekend), and will take place before your scheduled hard zone 4 and 5 sessions. For example, you may have a long cycle on a Saturday, a long run on a Sunday, and a complete day off on Monday. Tuesday would feature a high intensity indoor cycling session, and Wednesday a high intensity run session. The rest day on the Monday will leave you with enough energy to complete these tough sessions to the best of your ability.  However, everyone is different and has their own unique family and work demands. Often these will dictate the best day to dedicate to recovery and you shouldn’t quibble about putting family first.    
Try to ensure that you schedule easier training weeks every third, fourth or fifth week of your programme. Though these recovery weeks are dependent on how you’re feeling in terms of daily and/or weekly fatigue levels, a rule of thumb is that they ought to be at around two thirds of your normal schedule. Remember, fatigue is not always about training but also about stresses at work and home, as well as the quality of your sleep and nutrition. 
When I get a stretch of good quality sleep I notice a number of things. Firstly, I feel fresh and my head feels so much clearer. I have a sense that I can take on the world no matter what it throws at me. I have the energy to avoid bad food habits such as having that bar of chocolate at mid-morning with my coffee. On top of all this I feel I can focus on my training sessions and make them count.
How to encourage good quality sleep:

  • Don’t drink caffeine after mid-day and try to avoid alcohol at least until the weekend.
  • Routine is crucial, though don’t be afraid to make exceptions for family and social get-togethers.
  • Aim to turn off all your electronic devices, including the television, an hour before going to bed.
  • Within your bedroom have thick curtains. These will keep any light from disturbing you during the night.
  • Set your bedroom temperature so it’s always cool without being cold.
  • A good quality mattress, pillow, sheets and quilt will be money well spent.
  • Ideally, aim to give yourself a good eight hours of sleep each day and keep your sleep pattern consistent even at the weekends.
  • Aim to finish any training session at least two hours before turning in and if you find your muscle are twitching at night try taking magnesium (spray or tablet form) a couple of hours before going to bed.  

Finally, try and clear your mind of any work or home related concerns before hitting the pillow. You could have a beside pad to write anything that you can sort out the next day and finish the day listing five things that you are grateful for over the last twenty four hours. For those of you who have a tried and tested method such as reading, meditating, yoga etc. you are fortunate.   
Keep your nutrition simple, manageable and consistent – just like your training! Having the odd treat won’t hurt you from time to time. Ironman World Champion Chris McCormack once remarked that that so long as 90% of his eating was healthy, he forgave himself the other 10%. My simple principle is to eat carb before a training session, and protein (with a small amount of carbs) afterwards. When not training, keep carbs for mornings and focus on good quality protein in the afternoons. I also aim to only drink coffee in the morning before switching to non- caffeinated tea in the afternoon. It goes without saying that you ought to regularly drink water in order to remain hydrated.  One great piece of advice I was given by the Yorkshire nutritionist for the Olympic triathlon team was, “If you can’t read or understand the label on the food don’t eat it and if you can afford to, buy organic food.” 
What follows are a few examples of my typical eating on long training days, and on recovery days. These are real examples from my food diary, so may not be perfect. Hopefully they’ll give you an idea of what you could realistically achieve whilst still living a normal life.        
Sunday long 60 – 80 mile rides or any training session lasting more than an hour and a half

  • Pint of water with greens and alkaline twenty minutes before eating to get my metabolism moving.
  • Three quality Omega 3 capsules and vitamin D tablets (especially between September and May)
  • A bowl of porridge with a sliced banana, sultanas and whole milk.
  • Cup of coffee

During the Cycle

  • Tailwind (2 scoops an hour in my bottle), water and a couple of power bars. If we have a coffee stop I will leave the power bars and have a poached egg on toast with a coffee.

Immediately after training

  • Protein drink and banana

Lunch (usually around 2.00 pm)

  • Sunday roast or steak or Italian sausage with veg and potatoes


  • A handful of nuts and fruit or if I feel I deserve it a piece of cake and cup of tea.


  • Usually a small protein based snack with non-caffeine tea  


  • This is when I am susceptible to eating rubbish out of boredom rather than hunger, so If I feel the urge I might have a very small number of nuts or a couple of slices of ham or slice up a couple of pieces of fruit.   

Recover or Lighter Training Days (less than an hour and a half)

  • Pint of water with greens and alkaline twenty minutes before eating to get my metabolism moving.
  • Three quality Omega 3 capsules and vitamin D tablets especially between September and May
  • A couple of slices of sourdough bread with quality crunchy peanut butter and a coffee.


  • A banana, a handful of grapes or/and an orange


  • A chicken wrap with nuts or medium sized baked potato with an avocado filling or mackerel filling. Both with a yogurt and fresh fruit treat.

Mid-afternoon if on a light training session

  • Bowl of porridge with a banana, sultanas and milk.


  • A three or four egg cheese and ham omelette with lettuce, tomatoes or a protein based light meal. *

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to recover. We all have different demands on top of training for triathlon events. For us amateurs we have the pressure of juggling work, family commitments, and ensuring we have time for our children. And then there are all those social commitments throughout the year! Bearing this in mind, it’s important to also make time to recover properly so you don’t succumb to over-training of fatigue related illness. Don’t feel guilty about putting your feet up once in a while. Recovery is just as much a part of preparing for a triathlon as the training itself.  
* I will sometimes treat myself to a quality curry/chippy/ pizza dinner but I would plan it the night before a long training session or the morning after.

Why is it that I can digest sourdough bread and not commercial bread?


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