What Is The Best Regime For Recovery After A Triathlon?
by Linda Gill
I've read articles about the benefits of stretching, ice baths/cold baths, warm baths, massage etc for recovery but I am not sure of the order that is most beneficial.
For example, as soon as I cross the finish line of a triathlon I need at least a few minutes just to get my breath back!
Does the cool down/recovery start now with stretching, or if I'm near the sea which is often the case, do I head straight for the relatively cool water and maybe stretch afterwards?
Massage treatments are sometimes available at triathlon events - is this done best before or after some stretching?
Intelligent Triathlon Training replies:
Recovery is quite a complex area, and as you say, there is plenty of information out there (often conflicting) extolling the benefits of different recovery methods.
Have a read of our recovery pages for more detailed information about the different modes of recovery.
The aim is to enhance your recovery from a triathlon race, and so reduce fatigue in the days after the race, as well as reducing the severity or duration of muscle damage or soreness.
In your situation, looking to enhance recovery after a triathlon near the sea, this is what we would suggest:
This is the most important aspect of your recovery. As soon as you can after the race, you need to start replacing your muscle glycogen (carbohydrate) stores. You do this through eating (or drinking) plenty of carbohydrate – aiming for 1.2g per kilogram body weight. High glycemic index foods are best at this stage (see our nutrition pages for more info).
Rehydrating, especially if you sweat a lot, is also important at this stage. So put a post-race snack and drink in your bag and make this your number one priority on finishing the race.
If you can’t have a good meal within an hour or so of finishing the race, make sure you keep snacking on high-carb snacks, again aiming for 1.2g/kg for up to 5 hours after the race if you don’t eat a proper meal in that time.
2) Use the sea
Ice baths are good for reducing muscle damage (not to be used regularly due to the fact that inflammation and muscle damage causes your body to adapt to the training), and contrast bathing (alternating between hot and cold water) has been shown to enhance blood flow, removing waste products and enhancing the supply of oxygen-rich blood to the muscles.
Active recovery, where you do low intensity, low impact exercise is beneficial in that it also helps enhance blood flow.
You also mention stretching, however the benefits of this are likely to be due to enhancing flexibility and mobility rather than any specific effect on recovery from a specific bout of exercise.
You can get all the benefits of the above by getting in the sea, and doing a hydrotherapy session. So you get the cold water which helps reduce inflammation and you can do some stretching and gentle exercise to enhance blood flow and mobility.
The sorts of things you can do – in around waist deep water - would be:
- Walking forwards (with/without swinging arms)
- Walking backwards (with/without swinging arms)
- Walk sideways (with/without swinging arms)
- Lunges or hurdle steps
- Floating on your back circling ankles, lifting heels out of water, gentle kicking
- Trunk twists
- Some gentle swimming
- Intersperse the above with some stretches (you may need to move into shallower/deeper water depending on the stretch).
Aim for 15 – 20 minutes in total.
If you can, straight afterwards have a shower where you swop between hot and cold water.
Lastly, when you’ve got yourself dry, pull on a pair of compression tights, and keep these on for the rest of the day, or even sleep in them. You can read more about the benefits of compression on our recovery page
and compression sock page. Massage
Some research has shown no beneficial effects of massage on recovery, however some has found it does reduce the effect of muscle soreness and tenderness. Muscle damage can however be made worse by massage immediately after exercise.
So massage should be last on your list, possibly even the day after the race. Although if it is being offered free post-race it would be a shame to miss out, just try to have it at the end of your recovery list, and definitely don’t have a massage at the expense of eating and rehydrating!
Along with nutrition, this is one of the key aspects of recovery, so try and get a good night’s sleep after a triathlon race to maximise your recovery!