For those of us doing an early season Ironman or other race this year, we’re now starting, or well into the build phases of our training.  If you’re like me, and have responsibilities during the day, that means 2 or 3 workouts on quality days.  That’s a lot of training stress!  If you’re like many others, you’re doing a Sat/Sun block and then hitting the work week again.

As overtraining can ruin the build for several months of your season, or cause a sub-optimal performance on your A race, it is essential that you are recovering properly.  Here are a few methods which I’ve found via research and practice to be most effective.  I would bore you with studies and scientific results, but I’ve found that they muddy the waters and that most studies weren’t intended to be applied to working athletes.  Plus, if you want to know, just Google it.  I’ll let Google consume your time.  This article is quick and easy.

Recovery Days

Training and timing is essential to building, peaking, and preventing overtraining syndrome or injury.  Recovery schedules depend on what phase you’re in.  I’ll paraphrase it as much as possible:

Base Phase (12-24 weeks)- Long and Steady with strength mingled.  During the base phase, you’re building your aerobic endurance.  Zone 1 or Zone 2 efforts increase blood flow, the number of mitochondria in your muscle systems, and the amount of oxidative enzymes in your blood.  You may wonder why you’re being given so many long and easy workouts during this phase.  Don’t worry.  Enjoy them!  Once you start building and peaking, you’ll miss them.

Build Phase (4-8 weeks)-  Higher Intensities and Bricks – The build phase is where your effort really ramps up.  There is a mix weighted toward the use of high intensity and quality workouts.  You’ll see some base level workouts, but mainly on recovery days.  Your longest workouts and simulation workouts are during this phase.  Recovery management is essential for this phase

Peak Race (3-5 weeks)-  The closer you get to race day, the more like your race training becomes.  This phase also includes the taper, which will allow you to get into the right form for race day.  The management of your peak depends on your history and your coaches philosophy.

During the base phase, many of your workouts are recovery level workouts, so there is not much of a need to set aside recovery days.  During the build and peak phases, however, recovery days are a must.  You’ll need to understand your quality, or breakthrough workouts.  These workouts are those where you are working at tempo/threshold levels and above.  You are stressing your various systems and they will need to recover adequately for improved fitness.  For non professionals, the recovery day follows the quality day and recovery efforts should be capped at Zone 1 and Zone 2.  You’ll feel slow on these days, but magically, you’ll see your speed and efficiency increase remarkably over time.

Take time to recover!  Recovery is just as important as your quality/breakthrough workout sessions.

Ice Baths and Compression

Ok, so here’s where you can drown in scientific study vs opinion.  I can only comment on what I have felt and what my athletes and colleagues have shared regarding recovery.  Interestingly enough, recovery is very individual.  You will find your groove as you try and learn.icebath1-300x169

I have found ice baths to be remarkably effective after heavy breakdown workouts.  Typically these are my quality workouts.  I feel very refreshed after them and find less residual soreness after.  I can also sustain a fairly heavy load without the fatigue and associated soreness.  Physiological reasons surround the reduction of inflammation and, as many say, the increased blood flow which filters the residual lactic acid buildup.  I think that’s part, but I believe some of it is psychological.  There’s nothing that will wake up a person more than sitting in water as cold as they can get it for 5-10 minutes!  It also feels so good to get out regardless the temperature outside.  For those who do ice baths, we all agree that, for whatever reason, they work.  If you have a aversion to seriously cold water, there’s an alternative…w-compressrx-recovery-tight

Compression.  I have not read anything that conclusively resolves the value of compression.  When you put the rubber to the road, however, you’ll find it works.  During exercise, compression supports your muscles and insulates them.  In colder races, compression adds a lot of benefit.  Longer (marathon/Ironman) races also merit the consideration of compression as, the less breakdown you experience through repetitive motion, your efficiency and pace will be maintained.  Breakdown reduction makes sense, but where I’ve found the greatest effect is on recovery with compression.  This is in large part due to the insulation aspect of compression.  Compression helps keep your muscles warm.  Blood circulation is improved especially at the capillary level.  Improved circulation in warm muscles enhances recovery and residual stiffness/soreness is reduced.  One of my main recovery tools is a set of full leg compression pants.  They were somewhat pricey, but have been well worth every penny.

The only way to see whether ice baths or compression work for you is to try them for at least several weeks and note the results.  If you want the double whammy effect, and I only reserve this for special occasions, put compression on following an ice bath.  I did this following my half marathon and marathon two day race this last New Year’s (New Year’s Double in Plano, TX) and was back up and training fully within 3 days.  That’s all the proof I need!

Supplements

I’m not a huge proponent on spending a lot money on nutrition.  My wife rolls her eyes at me enough every time she sees me on my bikes.  That being said, nutrition is essential.  As I’ve written earlier, there are ways to do nutrition on a budget.  Regarding supplements and recovery, a few things are essential.  Protein, Fiber, and acidity buffers (depending).

Protein

I’ve spoken/written regarding the GAS (General Adaptation Syndrome) philosophy many times.  When we work out, we break down muscle, and our bodies adapt and rebuild.  As muscle is made of protein, our body must have a readily available source of protein to rebuild.  Protein which has a healthy sampling of each of the amino acid groups works well.  Lean meats, high quality protein powder (I use Gold Standard whey), and an assortment of grains, fruits, and nuts all work.  The rule of thumb is .6-.8g of protein per pound of body weight daily.  That’s a lot of protein.  What I do to manage my intake is track the protein (same thing with fiber) I take in during the day and fill the gap with the supplement in the evening.  Consuming some protein before bed also helps increase sleeping metabolism (thermogenic effect) and increases the release of growth hormone for muscle repair.

Fiber

We’ve all experienced the joys of having a clogged toilet… Management of our own body’s internal plumbing system is essential to training and racing effectiveness.  The problem is that most Americans do not get adequate fiber in their diet.  It is estimated that the average person gets 5-10 grams of fiber through their diet, and that’s on the generous side.  If you are doubting that number, look for fiber content in the foods that you prepare and eat.  You’ll be surprised!  Optimal fiber intake is 26g daily for women and 36g daily for men.  Fiber can be found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and supplements.  It is virtually non existent in most processed foods.  As I’ve focused on fiber intake for a while now, it’s become second nature and I’ve modified my diet accordingly.  If I am short a day because I’ve indulged a bit much, I supplement my diet with a rough fiber supplement (psyllium husk in fiber laxatives), or a smooth fiber enriched food/supplement (Fiber One, tasteless fiber).

Acid Buffers

Most everything most Americans consume increases acidity.  Good examples are processed foods, white bread, meats, cheeses (especially cheeses), and other dairy.  Acid buffers include raisins, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.  If you eat healthy all the time, you likely don’t need to worry about acidity.  For the rest of us, the alternative is true.  I love cheese!  I take in a lot of protein.  I exercise.  Exercising at high levels does increase acidity due to the body’s secretion of lactic acid.  I started by increasing my raisin intake because raisins are extremely effective at reducing acidity.  My plumbing, however, did not like that in the least.  Those in my immediate vicinity did not appreciate it much as well….  Long story short, raisins only remained a part of my diet for a few days.  I only take a few supplements, a good multivitamin, fish oil, glucosamine, and Extreme Endurance.  I found out about them via IM Talk and utilized the supplement through my Ironman Texas training.  I then couldn’t justify the cost, during the offseason and stopped using the supplement.  I have definitely noticed the difference in recovery after starting again.  Extreme Endurance is basically a good dose of sodium carbonate, an acid buffer.  Yes, there are some additional ingredients, but that’s about it.  It also formulated to release in your intestines where it will have an effect.  Otherwise it would simply reduce the acidity in your gut like Tums does.  It works, but it costs.  The choice is yours.

Extreme EndurancePrint

Conclusion

Recovery is essential in getting the most out of your training.  Active recovery via your workout structure and intensity, coupled with tools/techniques (Bath and Compression), and nutrition (protein, fiber, and acid buffers) will all allow you to train at the highest intensities possible without sacrificing too much.  You’ll be much kinder to those around you if you recover well from your workouts.  You’ll sleep better, or at least have more potential to sleep better.  You’ll feel more refreshed throughout the day, especially on those long weekends.  Trust me.  You’ll appreciate this advice if you incorporate it into your training.