When you finish your first triathlon, you will need to spend some time on recovery, and not only rest and a well-earned meal. Recovery includes several methods, both nutritional and physical, which you should adopt if you want to be fighting fit for your next training sessions and races. We are going to discuss all the aspects necessary for successful recovery: rest, stretching, massages, compression, electro-stimulation, cold and, of course, diet.
Why is recovery important?
The recovery phase is crucial for progress and physical performance. Unless you recover sufficiently after intense effort, your body may be unable to regenerate.
Athletes are not always aware of it, but recovery is a key part of making progress and forms part of the entire training process. Recovery actually plays a major role in every athlete's targets and helps them to make progress and boost performance. It also enables them to avoid overtraining and the risk of injury. If you wish to make the most of your training sessions and races, recovery must become a habit! This is even more the case for triathletes, who have to combine three disciplines.
Recovery enables athletes to regain their full capabilities after a session, which is known as overcompensation: this is the process which helps athletes become stronger and helps improve performance. It is thus crucial to respect this overcompensation phase, which helps athletes reach a higher level than before their session.
When you try to string together training sessions without a recovery session, or when the recovery session is incomplete, this is known as overtraining and this is when athletes face the risk of injury. The body is tired and athletes can no longer make progress; they may even see their performances suffer.
The various methods for recovering after a triathlon or training session
In order for the training session to be beneficial, it is essential that you recover properly, by spending a little time after the session to relax your muscles and ease any pain, and the same applies after a triathlon.
There are several methods to help athletes recover properly and more quickly:
#1 Massage: to relax muscles
Massage helps to relax muscles when they have taken a lot of punishment during effort. It can reduce muscle spasms, stiffness and the feeling of fatigue. It plays a role in reducing the occurrence of delayed pain, such as muscle ache, but that's not all! Massage also plays a role:
- In increasing the flexibility of your tendons and reducing any growths.
- In improving circulation, by creating sub-cutaneous vasodilation and boosting venous return.
- As regards the nervous system, by generating an analgesic effect through gate control (a mechanism which prevents the transmission of pain messages and reduces the feeling of soreness) and releasing endorphins.
- Lastly, it also plays a key psychological role, by lowering stress and enabling all athletes to take care of themselves and relax.
Massage heals damaged muscles and stimulates blood circulation, which enables the elimination of toxins. All of this through proper recovery!
An effective massage must last a minimum of 5 minutes per group of muscles and must start from the extremities at the end of your limbs.
A good massage may, of course, be manual, using an oil or balm containing essential oils and arnica. Different massage techniques may be used, with the most frequent being: static pressure (on reflex points, trigger points, cramps), sliding pressure and deep kneading.
You can also use accessories to make massaging yourself easy, deep and effective, such as a massage roller, ball or stick.
- Massage balls are very useful for giving yourself a deep and targeted massage. Three sizes are available, depending on the area to be massaged: the small size for the arches and back, the double ball, particularly suitable for the back and spinal column with its central hollow and the large size, for the back and glutes.
- The Roll On massage hand is certainly the easiest accessory to use for self-massage. It can be held in the hand and the shape has been designed to be practical. You can choose the pressure you want.
- Massage rollers to optimise recovery. Massage uses the weight of the body and is thus effective for deep muscle easing after effort. There are several types of roller: Soft for a gentle massage with a smooth and comfortable foam. Hard for a more intense massage with a firm and structured foam. An electronic massage roller with extra efficiency thanks to vibrations, which means your muscles are more relaxed with less effort.
- The Modular massage stick enabling a personalised massage tailored to everyone's body shape, the area to be massage and the required massage intensity.
#2 Compression: to reduce fatigue and muscle pain
Compression helps to reduce fatigue in the legs and muscle pain by improving venous return and, therefore, blood circulation. Compression increases blood flow and enables the body to eliminate toxins that build up during effort. It is thus recommended that you wear a pair of compression socks just after effort, for between one and a half and two hours.
This is a simple and practical solution, requiring no effort to recover!
#3 Electro-stimulation: to reduce cramp and relax muscles
Electro-stimulation boost recovery mainly by reducing pain through an analgesic effect. Just like massage, it employs gate control and releases endorphins. It can also help to reduce cramp and relax muscles passively - no need to do anything! Just apply the electrodes attached to a box which generates electrical pulses according to a frequency set by healthcare professionals.
#4 Cold can ALSO help in recovery!
Applying cold can reduce the feeling of pain and oedema and tackles the natural inflammation caused by effort. Cold also helps in the regeneration of micro-injuries caused during a session. In addition, cold helps increase blood circulation. Various methods can be used, including at home, for example: cold compresses (stored in the freezer beforehand) or ice baths.
A professional solution is gaseous cryotherapy: a device emits cold through the projection of a dry gas and pressotherapy cuffs combined with the circulation of cold water (so-called Game ready).
#5 Nutrition to replenish water and energy reserves
The recovery phase is crucial for progress and physical performance. Diet plays a major role in replenishing water and energy reserves. Good recovery means you can start your next session quickly and avoid building up fatigue, which may lead to overtraining.
The objectives of diet after effort:
- Carbohydrates to replenish energy reserves so you can tackle a series of training sessions.
- Rehydrating the body, since sports activities lead to perspiration and considerable loss of water. So, it is important that you take on water and sodium.
- Protein to repair the muscle fibres damaged by training.
- Bicarbonates to rebalance pH, since physical effort can acidify the body.
- Antioxidants to make up for radical attacks, since intense or long physical activity can lead to the production of free radicals.
- Re-establishing the body's immune defences through protein, since intense effort can impair your immune defences, leading to viral infections.
What is the metabolic window?
This is a period which starts once the effort comes to and end and lasts for around 4 hours. During this period, our body employs an effective system which enables the stocks of nutrients to be replenished quickly. So, these initial hours after effort are the perfect moment to give our body everything it needs, especially carbohydrates and protein.
Recovery in practice:
It is important to start recovery as soon as possible, as soon as effort ends. You need 1 g of carbohydrates / kg of weight / hour, plus 15 to 20 g of protein. For example, you might have:
- 1 recovery drink + 1 after-sport protein bar + bicarbonate water
- 1 recovery drink + 3 nougat bars + bicarbonate water
- 1 whey shake 9 + 2 ultra bars + bicarbonate water
- 1 whey shake 9 + 100 g of dried apricots + bicarbonate water
- Take care! Contrary to popular belief, alcohol reduces your ability to recover.
So, you have everything you need to recover properly after effort, and don't forget: making recovery into a habit will help you feel better after a training session or triathlon and make progress!
You can take a few days off before your next training session. This rest period will depend on the distance you have covered: if you are using XS or S distance, 2 to 4 days' rest are enough, but as soon as you start going further, the rest time will be longer. Everything will depend on the intensity and length of the race, but, on average, for an M distance, the recommended recovery time is 5 to 12 days, between two weeks and a month and a half for a Half and one to two months for an Ironman.