Three Common And Reoccurring Challenges Athletes Face

          Most athletes dedicate valuable time, energy, and money on their goal of crossing the finish line faster than the previous time. You hope that the odds are stacked in your favor, especially with a light bike, aerodynamic helmet, tight kit, power meter and other techno-gadgets, a training and nutrition/hydration plan.  You think with this level of attention to detail you got it down, but…Yes, there is a but, because without proper recovery, sleep and healthy daily eating habits your “devotion” is for not & even the best laid plans for a great race can simply disappear. Read More ...

          The market offers numerous recovery options and it is difficult to assess their values. Examples include massage, ART (active release therapy), acupuncture, yoga, ice baths, recovery boots, compression, foam rollers, and recovery fuel, etc. These products/services can be implemented but they don’t get to the root cause of an issue, nor do they provide an effective long-term solution. Even though you might not like this response because of the massage package you just purchased or the recovery boots you were about to test. Don’t get into panic mode just yet. The above-mentioned healing modalities are additive, and can/should accompany the core elements of recovery, sleep, and daily healthy eating habits. So, please continue to read…

          Let’s dig a little deeper what recovery means in an athlete’s world. The fundamentals to pay close attention to include:

  1. Training load must not be greater than what you can handle daily.
  2. Adequate recovery must be implemented into the schedule for proper adaptation.
  3. Training load must be supported by you with adequate nutrition/calories.

          Simply put, these are the three biggest, and most common, mistakes athletes make when it comes to proper recovery.

Challenge #1: Inadequate Recovery

          As endurance athletes, it’s easy to fall into thinking more is more and less is less. We easily get into the habit of squeezing in training sessions into our busy life. As a result, we become over-trained or under-recovered. This can lead to injury, a compromised immune system, and a failure to adapt to the training stimuli. What we have failed to grasp is fitness gains occur during rest, not during training – and more is not always better. In fact, doing fewer, high quality sessions with adequate recovery/sleep often yields better overall results.

The Solution:

  • Train hard on hard days, proactively support your training load with strategically scheduled easy days. And I mean it, letter by letter, EASY.
  • Listen to your body. If you are feeling tired, scale back the intensity or take a day (or two) off.
  • Monitor heart rate fluctuations and anything abnormally high or low first thing in the morning is a sign your body needs an easy day or off day.
  • Monitor sleep quality – and if you are experiencing interrupted sleep or night sweats – it could be a sign cortisol levels are unusually high and you might need a pullback day.
  • Don’t wait to send your coach a message if any of the above listed symptoms occur. Being proactive and attentive is better than being reactive.

Challenge #2: Compromised ZZZZ’s

          We all know athletes, especially triathletes, are busy people, but the fact is that there are only 24 hours in a day. It’s tough to meet all of life’s demands and your own expectations and train for an event in alignment with enough sleep. But we always mention that sleep is one of the best and most impactful performance enhancers at our disposal, not to mention, it’s FREE! Even though relaxing on the couch is associated with rest, the magic happens during sleep. Deep sleep. Both the quality and duration of sleep are vital. Aim for 8-10 hours, especially during heavy and intense training phases. Research implies that just 2-3 nights of restricted sleep reduces muscle repair (synthesis), impairs cognitive function and immunity.

The Solution:

  • Focus and invest in your health and performance by prioritizing sleep in your daily schedule, preferably in a cool, dark and screen free (no TV, computers, tablets, phones…) room. If you can go to bed and wake at the same time each day, you have an ideal situation.
  • The amount of sleep you need is individualized, and changes as we age. Research suggests that you should not have less than 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep/night. If you have a sleep monitoring gadget (Garmin, Fit Bit, and iPhone offers one), wear it for a week to receive a real-life snapshot into your actual sleep patterns.
  • During the first three hours of sleep, the body releases growth hormone, and if you happen to get a second wind and go to bed later than normal, you’ve missed the hormone release for that night. Cumulatively this is detrimental to your performance, mind, and body.
  • Daytime naps are fantastic enhancement. Remember, this is not a Band-Aid to make up for poor nightly sleep habits.

Challenge #3: Unhealthy Daily Eating Habits

          To adapt to your training load and maintain optimal energy levels, you must fuel with an adequate and balanced daily nutrition regimen. Immediately following longer and/or intense workouts, consuming a combination of protein and simple carbs is critical. Skipping this valuable refueling opportunity creates unnecessary stress on the body and inhibits recovery. As sad as it is, many athletes tend to restrict food to improve body composition. Consequently, they sabotage the end goal with a reduction in fitness, compromised health and muscle loss (strength) and increased risk for injury. Sufficient and timely fueling is essential.

The Solution

  • Start your day with a balanced breakfast. Don’t skip this vital meal, no matter how busy you are or how early you get up. Include protein, healthy fat and complex carbohydrates. Check out some recipe ideas on our website HERE, as well as information on the importance of breakfast under our Nutrition/Blog section HERE.
  • Eat three meals/day consisting of quality protein and healthy fat, whole grain carbohydrates and plentiful fruit/veggies.
  • Bridge meals that are more than 4 hours apart with small, balanced snacks.
  • Consume protein during the recovery phase to stimulate protein synthesis, offset muscle breakdown and promote muscle repair, along with simple sugars to promote glycogen re-synthesis. Refuel within 30-45 minutes post workout, ideally with your next planned meal.
  • To combat inflammation and tissue damage, include healthy fats along with proper hydration.
  • Prioritize the meals around your most active time of the day. For example, if your workouts are primarily in the morning, breakfast and lunch should be substantial, and dinner can be smaller with an emphasis on protein consumption.
  • Moderation is key. If you want pizza on Sunday night or a glass of wine with dinner during the weekend, go for it. Just keep it in moderation, and don’t go overboard with the whole pizza or entire bottle of wine.

          If you can implement these three basics, you are on your way to a successful season. And about that arsenal of recovery tools & modalities mentioned earlier, they offer excellent support to your recovery when we provide our bodies with adequate sleep, proper nutrition and prioritize adequate sleep. The result will be a great adaptation to your training load.

Ta-la! Train Smart!