20 ways to boost recovery after a triathlon

Successful R&R for peaking at your next race requires more than just crashing out on the sofa. Andy Blow shows you 20 guaranteed ways to triathlon quicker next time...


Surely, recovering from tough training sessions and races isn’t hard. Simply get on the couch and start moulding the cushions to the shape of your backside and Bob’s your uncle? Well, not entirely.


There are a multitude of strategies, techniques, products and regimes you can employ to maximise recovery that beat flopping onto the sofa. And maximum recovery means getting back out there training and racing sooner, building your fitness to new heights quicker than you could have otherwise hoped.


Restful sleep is the Holy Grail for recovery and its benefit for athletes cannot be overstated. During sleep, the growth hormone goes to work repairing muscles, bones and other structures that are stressed in training. Other aspects of homeostasis, such as fluid balance, are brought back into line and sleep allows you to completely power down mentally. Some revealing studies by US researcher Cheri Mah, of the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory, found that getting extra sleep resulted in an uncharacteristic number of PBs for athletes from a range of sports. These were all achieved without the athletes changing their training programmes one bit.

What you can do
Make sure that you get between seven to nine hours’ sleep per night and, if you have time, sneak a 20min nap after lunch. Try a relaxation routine before going to bed after racing.

What you eat each day has an incredible impact on your ability to recover from hard physical efforts. Your daily intake should ideally come largely from whole, unprocessed foods (vegetables, whole cuts of meat, eggs, fruits, nuts) supplemented with some extra carbohydrate timed to fuel sessions and races. Day-to-day nutrition – not sports supplements – is where your body gets most of its building blocks for repair, energy and nutrients.

What you can do
Eat wholefoods for most main meals and snacks. Avoid packaged and processed foods, and eat a wide variety of meats, fruits and veg each week.

What you eat during and immediately after training or racing has a substantial impact on performance and recovery. That said, a poor diet cannot be compensated for with magic energy bars and gels on race day.

As a general rule, when going hard for more than 45-60mins, taking in carbohydrates in the forms of bars, gels or drinks is a good idea to spare muscle glycogen. For events or sessions of more than two to three hours, a carbohydrate/protein mix can be helpful. Carb/protein drinks such as Accelerade (pacifichealthlabs.com) are becoming increasingly popular. Studies suggest that carb/protein drinks could be significantly better for performance and recovery than carb-only options.

What you can do
Try using carb or carb/protein combinations during training sessions and races. Get some carbs and possibly some protein in your system within minutes of finishing.

Hydration is crucial for recovery due to its effect on the blood. If you’re not optimally hydrated, blood plasma volume drops and the efficiency of the circulatory system is impeded. Optimal hydration doesn’t just mean drinking water. Replacing what’s lost in sweat, water needs electrolytes (mainly sodium) to maintain equilibrium and maximise absorption of water in the gut.

What you can do
Keep a water bottle with you most of the day and sip water or electrolyte drinks in order to stave off thirst. Try to match sweat losses with sodium-containing drinks.

Proper planning and periodising of training and racing reduces the depth of a physical and mental ‘hole’. The main principle of periodisation involves training intensity and volume being traded off to give the optimal effects for the time of year. Typically, as training volume goes up (to build a base in the winter, for example), intensity has to drop to allow sufficient recovery. As training or racing intensity increases (pre and during the season), volume has to drop to compensate.

What you can do
Work with a coach over a large time frame to decide when you will be training longest and when you will be training or racing hardest.

Massage helps to promote blood flow and identify tight spots created by scar tissue. The cheaper alternative to a ‘proper’ massage is DIY, either with your hands or using a massage stick, ball, foam roller or golf ball. Areas to focus on for triathletes are calves, IT band, quads, glutes and hamstrings. If you find tight or tender spots in the muscles, work at them gently and repeatedly for a few minutes a day until they become less sensitive and loosen up.

What you can do
Perform self-massage after demanding running or cycling sessions once you’ve cooled down and showered. If booking
a professional massage, seek out someone with experience of treating sports people.

Cooling down and stretching after a race or training session can help muscles to recover effectively. This is because the gradual reduction in intensity associated with a cool-down keeps blood flowing to the working muscles, brings blood pressure and heart rate down in a controlled manner, and allows oxygen to reach muscles and waste products to be re-synthesised more efficiently. Stretching simply eases out tense and tight muscles and helps identify areas of soreness that may need further attention.

lWhat you can do
Match the length of a cool-down to the intensity of the race or session preceding it; the harder the event, the longer and more gradual the cool-down needs to be.

Your nervous system can be broadly split into two strands: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic systems. The first is sometimes called the ‘fight-or-flight’ system and the second is referred to as the ‘rest and digest’ system. Racing, training, managing work, finances and maintaining relationships all utilise the sympathetic system heavily, which increases levels of stress hormones in the body. In excessive amounts these hormones can interfere with recovery and adaptation to training. Consequently, they need to be balanced out with activities that allow the parasympathetic system to do its thing, such as yoga, listening to music or generally chilling out.

What you can do
Make sure that you actively plan recovery time to chill out, using classes such as yoga or meditation to force you to relax if you otherwise don’t find it an easy thing to do.

It’s worthwhile incorporating non-swim/bike/run training sessions into your week to avoid over-training and enhance recovery after races. Low-impact sports such as rowing, roller skiing or using elliptical machines in the gym are good places to start and have
the additional benefit of providing a mental break from the pool, road or track. They encourage blood flow and warm muscles up without repetitively damaging muscles by doing the same movement patterns over and over again.

What you can do
Swap one or two run and bike sessions for low-impact alternatives in the week following a tough race to not only keep training volume up, but also to allow muscular recovery in the legs.

In the hours immediately following a race or hard training session your body’s immune system is at its lowest ebb. This makes you highly vulnerable to attack from bacteria and viruses. Obviously, getting ill massively hampers recovery, so avoiding sick people and situations where you’re likely to come into contact with large amounts of nasties after hard sessions and races is important, to remain healthy and optimise recovery.


What you can do
Don’t exercise very hard immediately before going on aeroplanes where the recycled air is a haven for coughs and colds. Try to avoid jumping on the tube or other crowded public transport straight after a tough workout where you’ll be exposed to a lot of germs.