You spend weeks training, creating that perfect machine, aiming to race with your body in absolute peak. Your mindset is right and you’re ready to go… You finish the race, but what about recovery?
Swim, bike and run stages all take their toll on your physical structure, even for those who cross the line without injury, so it’s important to plan your recovery – just as you planned the build up to the event itself.
Effective recovery should be considered as a holistic programme covering measures to offset muscle fatigue, rehydration, diet and sleep. Here’s a few tips:
Re-hydrate: Dedicate the first hour after a race to rehydrating with a balance of fluid, sodium and electrolytes. Even in cooler conditions it is rare for an athlete to complete an event without some level of fluid depletion.
Re-calorie: Try to consume a few hundred calories of protein and high carbohydrate within 60–90 minutes after the race. Fruit, a recovery smoothie or chocolate milk are all good options. It will take up to 48 hours to completely replenish muscle glycogen stores, so keep the food light for a while. Consume protein and some healthy vegetables in the 24 hours after the race.
Get help for your muscles: Massage is one of the earliest recorded forms of physical therapy and has been used by different cultures for 3,000 years. However, relatively few amateur racers take advantage of regular massage as a part of their training regimen. Which is a mistake, because regular massage is extremely important both during pre-event training and most especially afterwards.
Lactic acid, the metabolic waste product produced by your body when you exercise hard, builds up in the muscles, giving them a ‘dead leg’ feel. Although lactic acid is naturally removed through blood circulation, it can take up to several days to leave your system depending on how fit you are.
Massage can help enormously. By increasing blood circulation through massage, the acid is flushed out of tired or strained muscles much faster than your body could under its own power, equating to faster recovery and better performance. Massage is an especially valuable tool for relieving painful muscle cramps and overcoming soft-tissue injuries, such as tendonitis, by helping to reduce swelling in an overtaxed muscle by straightening muscle fibers that have been knotted.
Keep moving: A cool-down is probably the last thing you feel like doing, but a light walk can help promote blood flow and reduce muscle stiffness.
Chill out: Reducing inflammation early with just 5–10 minutes of ice on quads, calves, or any stressed area can help speed musculoskeletal recovery and reduce the micro-trauma sustained during extended efforts.
Skip the ibuprofen. Yes, it can help reduce inflammation, but the negative aspects outweigh the benefits of taking it immediately after a hard race as it can produce gastrointestinal distress to an already-irritated stomach lining.
Calm down: After a big event many athletes find it difficult to sleep as they are still wound up from all the adrenaline. Don’t plan any ambitious activities for a day or two, post-race.
Back off: Don’t ‘train’ the day after a race. It can be tempting to head out for a ride or run the next morning as the excitement has not yet worn off, but jumping back in is a sure recipe for injury and/or illness. Iron distances generally require a full 10–14 days to recover. But that’s a minimalist guideline for athletes eager to get back to training for their next race. There’s nothing wrong with taking an extra easy week or even a whole month after an Ironman if you feel you need it. Always keep on the side of caution with recovery. Missing a week early on may save you many weeks of fatigue and frustration later.