Sure you have may have heard of the three sports that make up a triathlon; swim, bike and run. But, did you know there are more to it than those 3? They may not be as apparent on race day, but if you ignore them, they can come back to bite you in the butt on race day.
There are many other aspects to a triathlon than the swim, bike and run, but for the sake of this post, we’re going to focus on the two additional most important disciplines of triathlon; nutrition and recovery.
Nutrition is nothing new. Any triathlete that’s be “in country” for a while knows that once you get past the sprint distance, nutrition is a key role between a good day and a DNF. After racing long course endurance events for a length of time, one comes to slowly realize the importance of nutrition during a race and how to apply those lessons.
“Push the pace, and your reliance on carbs increases. The problem is that while fat stores are available in abundance — you’ve got an estimated 80,000 calories worth on board — your carbohydrate reserves weigh in at a paltry 2,000 calories when you total what’s available from glucose in the bloodstream and glycogen in the muscles and liver. So a single, long exercise session can severely deplete your very limited carbohydrate fuel reserves.
Hence the importance of starting exercise with adequate glycogen stores, taking in carbs during long-duration exercise (more than 60–90 minutes), and replenishing stores in between or after training sessions. Athletes who have “hit the wall” — or “bonked” — know firsthand the price to be paid for running low on muscle glycogen. When this occurs, you are forced to rely on your meager supply of glucose circulating in the bloodstream. Liver glycogen stores can be tapped to resupply blood glucose for a short while, but when that energy reserve runs dry, blood sugar drops — and that’s when you slam into that wall of pain. Your pace slows dramatically, because you’ve switched from relying on fast-burning carbs for muscle power, to much slower-burning fat. Fat simply can’t be metabolized fast enough to support your pace, so you slow down or even stop.”
Ignore nutrition during training and racing, and you’re asking for a world of hurt.
The other discipline that deserves it’s due attention, but not as well known is recovery. Without proper recover your body will break down over time under the duress of training, racing and everyday life. If you do not take the time to properly recover, injuries, fatigue and weakened immune systems will plague your racing and life in general.
There are two prongs to the recovery fork. Athletes need to recover with nutrition AND physical rest for the body.
The Scottish Institute of of Sports published THIS article on recovery nutrition and hydration. “When there is less than eight hours between workouts or events that deplete glycogen stores (stores may be depleted when exercising for 90 minutes or more of high intensity work), the athlete should maximise effective recovery time by consuming a high carbohydrate (CHO) meal or snack within 30 minutes of completing each session.” Not only are you consuming nutrition before and during, you need to continue after workouts and races to allow your body to repair itself.
Don’t also neglect straight fluids. “It is important to note that athletes that are dehydrated will be compromised in their ability to refuel. This should be taken into consideration when planning a recovery strategy to ensure rehydration requirements are also addressed.”
About.com sports an article about physical recovery with rest. “Rest days are critical to sports performance for a variety of reasons. Some are physiological and some are psychological. Rest is physically necessary so that the muscles can repair, rebuild and strengthen. For recreational athletes, building in rest days can help maintain a better balance between home, work and fitness goals.”
Whether you are going with active or long-term recovery plan of low intensity workouts and/or planned off days with the appropriate amount of sleep, triathletes that are actively training and racing need rest. If you have been caught up in working out and guilty of not taking much time off, you might find yourself tired, fatigued, often sick and more prone to injuries.
So while you’re planning your swim, bike and run workouts and race schedule, make sure to spend an equitable amount of time looking at nutrition and recovery. You can be the most disciplined triathlete in swim, bike and run, but you may not be reaching your potential on race days or in everyday life due to poor nutrition and recovery.
Build your plan with nutrition and recovery in mind as their own sports. Nutrition needs to be as primary as remembering your swim jammers and bike shoes for workouts. You may be caught up in looking at hours and miles in your training log, but are you building in recovery time as well? Training for 30 hours a week won’t mean much if you’re hurt or sick all of the time.
Ryan Falkenrath is a married father of two young kids, owner of two dogs and trying to balance life, work and multisport. He writes the blog falkeetriathlon.blogspot.com, Endurance Sports Examiner and runs the Man Vs Triathlon project while participating in multisport events since 2001 from 5k's to Half Ironmans (soon to be Ironman distance in 2013). Contact Ryan at: email@example.com or follow him on @TriJayhawkRyan.