GOOD HABITS FOR RECOVERING AFTER A TRIATHLON

Do you take time to recover after a race? Do you think that it's normal to feel pain? Well, you shouldn't! Let me explain how to reduce the effects of fatigue and post-race pain by adopting some good recovery habits.

vibrating-roller

Most people think that everything stops when you cross the finishing line. Weeks (or even months) of preparation to reach peak fitness for the race in question. You throw yourself into your training, surpass your expectations and achieve your goal of finishing your triathlon. And then, nothing. You consider that you've achieved your objective and that you can now relax, have some fun and get some rest. Sometimes, you may even indulge in some of the treats that you gave up during your preparation ;-).

So, YES, you've attained your objective, YES, it's a great time to get some rest, and YES, it's time to indulge yourself. But, we often forget that this is also a time when the fatigue and bruising of the body is at its peak because of the physical effort made. That's why this is the time when you need to take the most care of it!

Personally, it took me years to understand this. I always neglected this recovery phase, thinking that the pain I was feeling was normal and that, even if I tried to remedy the situation (nutrition, hydration, stretching, massages), the pain would be the same. Sometimes, after a race I couldn't even walk because of the pain, which was particularly bad in the calves. Physically, I felt as if I was 80 years old and I would keep telling myself, "why do I keep putting myself through this?”

And then, one day, I understood that it was simply my body giving me alarm signals and telling me that I needed some help to recover properly. Above all, I understood that I could really reduce the effects of the pain and this transformed my sports practice as well as my performance levels (fewer injuries, and more sport, hence improved performance!) So, yes, even if you do nothing, the negative effects will disappear by themselves after a few days (weeks). However, adopting some good recovery techniques can significantly reduce the intensity and duration of these effects.

Whether it is the effect of the post-race hydration and diet, stretching and massages (what is the best time for stretching and how should you stretch? What areas should you massage? How can you make your massages or your rest effective? (both literally and figuratively). Let me explain everything!

1/ POST-RACE HYDRATION AND NUTRITION: LET'S CHANGE OUR HABITS!

LET'S DEBUNK SOME MISCONCEPTIONS

Let's start by debunking some misconceptions about post-race recovery: NO, beer is not the solution to recovering more quickly.

Admittedly, beer has two benefits:

- Maltose => this helps to regenerate the glycogen reserves after a physical effort.

- Diuretic properties => this helps to eliminate the toxins in the body more quickly after a physical effort.

But these two benefits carry little weight when you look at the negative repercussions: Let's not forget that, first and foremost, beer contains alcohol, and alcohol, by definition, dehydrates your body. And hydration is the most important thing you need after a race. What's more, consuming alcohol has been found to increase the temperature of your body. But, after a physical effort, what your body actually needs is the opposite: i.e. a reduction in temperature after a long and violent physical effort. In short, why not have a beer after a physical effort to give yourself a treat? But if you want to recover more quickly, beer is not the solution.

WHY DO YOU NEED TO HYDRATE AND EAT?

Let's get back to the topic in hand: after a race, your body needs the following two things: to recharge its water reserves and repair (or regenerate) the muscles bruised by the physical effort.

Firstly, hydration is ESSENTIAL for a good recovery. This might seem obvious, but many people neglect this point after a race. Let's go over the basic rules about hydration: 70% of your body is composed of water. During a normal day, i.e. a day without physical activity, you will lose between 1.5 and 2 L of water.

To offset this, your diet will provide between 40 and 50% of your water requirements for the day. This is complemented by drinking regularly, so that your body gets the hydration it needs. Do you see what I'm getting at? No need to be a rocket scientist to understand that the water lost during a triathlon will be much greater. Consequently, the need for hydration is much greater.

Naturally, hydrating during the race will compensate slightly for this loss. But, naturally, it's nowhere near enough to cover the needs of your body. This means that when you finish a race, your body is dehydrated.

That's why, for hydration, I recommend drinking a lot, but not in any old way! Small quantities (10 to 20 cl) taken very regularly (every 15 minutes)! There's no point in drinking 1.5 L in one go. Indeed, your body won't have the time to assimilate it and most of this water will quickly pass through your body and into your bladder, such that you will need to go to the toilet every 5 minutes.

The best solution is to drink water (preferably sparkling) with lots of salt and minerals. Indeed, water isn't the only thing that is lost through perspiration, but also the essential minerals needed for your body to work properly. Personally, I aim to drink between 1.5 and 2 L in the way that I've just described.

recovery-drink

During a triathlon, dehydration is not the only problem you'll face: you will also drain your glycogen (fuel) reserves and you will damage your muscles.

The need to eat is therefore twofold (or should I say threefold because, if you remember what I said in my introduction, 40 to 50% of your hydration needs are provided by the food you eat ;-) ) : restoring your energy reserves AND repairing your muscles.

Repair? But why? The physical effort will over-stress your muscles. This excessive stress causes micro-lesions in your muscles (also known as micro-tears), but there's no need to panic, they are quite normal. It is these micro-lesions that will cause pain and that you need to try and repair as quickly as possible. The best way to do this is to eat protein-rich food! Why? The simple reason for this is that your muscles ARE protein. What could be better than eating protein to repair protein? ;-)

So my nutritional advice is as follows: take on as much as possible (protein in particular) in the first half-hour after the physical effort Why in the first half-hour? Because our body is a well-oiled machine ;-) Indeed, it develops a so-called "metabolic window" after the physical effort: This is a period when you have a much greater capacity to absorb everything you give it. The objective is simple: to regenerate your body as quickly as possible. There's no need to worry if you miss this metabolic window. It doesn't mean that your recovery will be poor, but the assimilation will not be as easy outside of this celebrated first half-hour.

to find out more about the diet after a triathlon:

WHAT DOES APTONIA OFFER?

And to do this, Aptonia has an entire range of high-protein products that are perfectly designed to fulfil this need!

Personally, I only use the crunchy brownies after-sports protein bar at 1.60€ per bar. Why? Because it is just SUPER tasty and a real treat after a physical effort. If that seems a little expensive, you can also get packs of six bars at 3€. These are equally effective, but I personally find them less tasty.

I also use a drink that fulfils both needs at the same time: the Aptonia chocolate powder recovery drink. There are two flavours: Lemon and chocolate. Being a diehard chocolate fan, I only get this flavour, although I'm sure that the lemon flavour tastes great as well ;-) Remember the hot chocolate you used to drink when you got home from school as a child? Well, it's the same, except it's cold ;-) In terms of quantity: 3 spoonfuls in 300ml of water. Shake thoroughly and drink => to be taken during the celebrated first half-hour after the physical effort.

Naturally, that's not all I take: I complement it with fruit – oranges in particular – that provide the vitamins and water that I need so much. To summarise, this is what I take after my races:

- 1.5 to 2 L of sparkling water (strongly salted) that I drink in small quantities every 15 to 20 minutes

- a 300 mL water bottle of chocolate Aptonia recovery drink

- 1 to 2 high-protein bars

- some fruit (particularly oranges or apples)

Finally, in order to complement my diet after the race: for the first full meal that I eat, I try to have a balanced meal (1/3 carbs, 1/3 protein, 1/3 fruit) to continue giving the body as much good elements as I can. The burger and fries with a beer can wait for tomorrow, don't you think? ;-)

2/ STRETCHING AND MASSAGING AFTER THE RACE: GOOD OR BAD FOR THE BODY?

For this part, I don't feel as sure of myself as I do regarding the diet and nutrition. Indeed, there are currently a large number of studies that contradict each other on the subject of stretching and massaging after a race. Just ask anybody what they think: everybody has a different opinion on what you need to do after a race. So I will only speak about the convictions that I've formed as a result of my good (and bad) experiences over a number of years.

STRETCHING

For many years, I used to do stretches immediately after races. Why? Indeed, everybody agreed on the benefits of stretching just after a physical effort when the body is still warm. Personally, I never felt that stretching when the body is still warm helped me recover more quickly. But, because everyone seemed to believe in it, I did it like everybody else.

Then I experienced my first injury, followed by my second, and then my third, etc. Most of the time, it was a strained or torn muscle (not a fully torn muscle fortunately – so far I've always been spared from a major injury). And, oddly, the pain would often start when I was stretching after racing. As a result, I started to question myself about whether I should stretch when the body is still warm. What's more, I started to read a little more about the subject.

Like a miracle, new schools of thought were emerging on this issue: "Don't stretch when you're still warm! It increases the risk of injury! ". Yes, thank you, I'd noticed. But why does this increase the risk of injury?

I mentioned it a little earlier: over-stressing the body creates micro-lesions in the muscles. By stretching when you're still warm, there is a risk of increasing the size of these micro-lesions. Indeed, a warm muscle is more flexible and therefore, you can potentially increase the size of the micro-lesions by stretching it more than you normally would, and that's when it tears!

Having experienced this several times, I would agree with this school of thought: I no longer stretch while I'm still warm. I wait for 2 to 3 hours (often this is the time I need to shower, change, eat and get home) and then I do a big stretching session. Once again, I'm not saying that this is the only solution. I'm simply saying that, since I started doing this, I haven't had any injuries (strained or torn muscles). Odd, isn't it?

So, this is what the Cédric stretching session looks like:

I stretch the following muscle groups: calves, thighs, hamstrings, glutes, psoas and back muscles. The objective is to help the muscle to relax. Under no circumstances am I looking to become more flexible!  I get in position and stretch my muscle until it is tight, but without forcing the muscle (if it hurts, it means that you're stretching the muscle too much and you could strain or tear it). When I reach this position, I hold it for between 30 and 40 seconds, while breathing deeply. I do two reps on each muscle group. This takes between 15 and 20 minutes.

Given that I'm not particularly flexible, I've got into the habit of doing a series of stretches every evening, even when I'm not in training. The only difference is that when I reach the position when the muscle is tight, I try to go a little further each time. This time, the objective is quite different: I want to improve my flexibility. And I can guarantee that it works!

MASSAGING

As for the massages, the message I would like to get across is roughly the same as for the stretching exercises: I'm not sure that massaging your muscles while they are still warm is a good idea (for the same reasons as those mentioned in the previous paragraph). However, I have to admit, I won't say no if there are masseurs and osteopaths available giving free massages after the race! But, having done it so often, they admit themselves that this massage is more of a comfort massage than a recovery massage.

As for the genuine recovery massage, this is something that you can do yourself (known as a self massage. We aren't all lucky enough to have an osteopath at home) and, once again, when you've cooled down and you are feeling the pain. This time, don't worry about really "going for it". What I mean is that a recovery massage is not meant to be pleasant. If you're dozing off, it's not doing what it's supposed to.

The aim of a recovery massage is to break any micro-contractures (caused by muscle lesions) which have formed in your muscles. They are easy to find: little balls that you can feel in your muscles. These are the micro-contractures that hurt. The expression, "hitting someone where it hurts" has never been more apt ;-) This massage must be long, slow and in-depth. What's more, you must always massage towards the heart (generally moving upwards) because this will send the toxins upwards so that they get eliminated more quickly and don't stagnate in your muscles.

Good habits for recovering after a triathlon

WHAT DOES APTONIA OFFER?

To do this, you can use the Aptonia recovery massage cream. It's really great because, when you apply the cream, it turns into oil for a better, more gentle and more flexible massage. As for the duration of the massage, it's up to you, but continuing until the oil has been absorbed is a good rule of thumb (5 to 10 minutes per muscle group).

I also use accessories to help massage in greater depth (which means that it hurts more, naturally). : the 500 small massage ball (for the back), the Foam Roller 500 Hard massage roller (for the calves) and the modular massage stick which can be adapted to the thighs. Remember one thing: the pain is necessary as it will help you recover more quickly.

Finally, I also use the Aptonia compression socks: yes, they look like the support stockings that my grandmother wears and what's even worse is that they serve the same purpose! This sock will compress your muscles. It will force the blood vessels to contract (vasoconstriction) and will speed up the blood flow back to the heart. In my case, I put them on straight after the race (after my race shower) and I keep them on for 2 to 3 hours. If it's a long-distance triathlon, I will also wear them on the following day.~ 

In conclusion, there's an art to recovering properly after a race and it involves adopting some (good) habits in particular. Your body needs some tender loving care. Hydration, diet, stretches and massages are just some of the tools at your disposal to help you recover more quickly. I would add a final one that might seem obvious: rest and sleep. Remember to sleep. The body regenerates even better when it is at a complete rest.

All of these things might seem burdensome, but I can only encourage you to do them. I changed my recovery habits two years ago and the effect on my body has been spectacular. I have had no injuries to worry about during this period, despite preparing and completing my first XXL triathlon!

So it's true when they say, "slow and steady wins the race" ;-)

What about you, what are your habits for recovering well?

cedric-writer-aptonia

Cédric.

I've been doing triathlons for 15 years. Triathlon is not just a sport, it's a way of life. I am lucky enough to have tried all the different triathlon distances, from XS to L.

I am a better runner than swimmer, and I was able to participate in the French championship in D2 then D1 in duathlon with my first club (TRIMOVAL). I'm going to give it another go this year in D2 for the duathlon with my club of Champigny. But above all, my ultimate dream came true this year: the Ironman® triathlon in Vichy on the 26th of August.

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