Rest and Recovery for Triathletes: 6 Benefits + How to Prioritize

Feb 27, 2024
rest and recovery for triathletes

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Everyone from beginners to seasoned pros need to understand the importance of rest and recovery in triathlon. Triathletes do a lot of training, so the schedule needs to be dialed in and balanced with the rest of life’s demands in order to optimize performance on course. Let’s learn how to be effective with our rest and recovery for pain-free workouts and competition.

Importance of Rest and Recovery

Rest and recovery are often overlooked aspects of training. They are essential for achieving peak performance, but also avoiding burnout and injury. Each of the three disciplines—swimming, cycling, running—are expressions of rote repetition, making the likelihood of wear and tear on certain structures (to the neglect of others) extremely high.

Many people think that the training itself is where you get stronger and more fit, but in fact, the training is only the stimulus. It is in your time spent recovering where the body has a chance to adapt to the demands (training) you’ve placed upon it. No recovery = no gains. So if you think training harder and more is always better, it’s time to shift your thinking.

There is a tendency in the endurance world to fall prey to a certain type of training-induced masochism. That is, deriving pleasure from pushing ourselves extremely hard. It’s a fine line between training optimally and training to punish yourself, and that line gets blurred in a lot of triathletes…making the concepts of rest and recovery that much more difficult to grasp.

It’s a devilish trick, because in our sport, we do need to train hard, and we do need to train a lot—but there needs to be balance. There’s one guaranteed way to miss out on races and training time, and that’s to get injured. One of the certainties of not getting enough sleep, not eating properly, not being hydrated and so on is that sooner or later…your body is going to break.

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6 Benefits of Rest and Recovery

While it might not seem like you’re doing anything in the moment, allowing yourself time to rest, wind down and chill out gives your body a chance to catch up on everything you’ve been throwing at it. The following list is not exhaustive by any means, but will give you an idea of how important rest and recovery actually is.

Muscle Repair & Growth

Rest and recovery periods allow the body to repair micro-tears in muscle fibers caused by intense training sessions. This repair process, which is called muscle protein synthesis, leads to muscle growth and increased strength, forming tissue that is stronger and harder to injure.

Resupply of Glycogen

During endurance training, muscles deplete glycogen stores (stored carbohydrates), the primary source of energy for prolonged exercise. Rest and recovery periods enable the replenishment of glycogen stores to the liver and muscles, making sure you have fuel for future workouts.

Immune Support

Prolonged or intense exercise, such as what you endure while training for triathlon, can temporarily suppress the immune system, making athletes more susceptible to infections and illnesses. Adequate rest bolsters immune function, reducing the risk of getting sick.

CNS Recovery

Triathlon training stresses the central nervous system (CNS), which regulates muscle contractions, coordination, and fatigue. Rest and recovery periods give the CNS time to recover, enhancing neuromuscular function and coordination.

Mental Reset

Training for triathlons can be mentally taxing—it requires focus, determination, and resilience. Rest and recovery offers a chance for the brain to reset, reducing cognitive fatigue, restoring clarity, and laying the groundwork for new and sustained motivation.

Supercompensation

Recovery allows the body to adapt to the stress of training, leading to improvements in aerobic capacity, muscular endurance, and overall performance. This process is called supercompensation, which occurs when the body recovers beyond its previous level of fitness.

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How to Prioritize Rest and Recovery

Now that we have a better idea of the importance of rest and recovery for triathletes, the big question becomes, “How do we fit it into our busy schedules?” We’re not all professional athletes, and for the most part have personal and professional lives to balance on top of our triathlon training. Here are some ways we can make it a priority. 

Get Enough Sleep

Your most important recovery tool is your sleep, so if you can only prioritize one thing, it should be getting enough of it each and every night. Limit the following at least two hours before bed as a simple protocol for uninterrupted sleep:

  • Use of electronics
  • Drinking water (or anything else)
  • Eating food

It’s important also to limit your caffeine intake after noon. Caffeine has a half life of approximately 5-6 hours, meaning that if you consume caffeine in the afternoon or evening, it can interfere with your ability to fall asleep at night—negatively impacting the quality of your rest. 

Schedule Dedicated Rest Days

A mature athlete treats their rest days with the same level of importance as their training days. Feed your body and your mind, not your ego. Intentionally put recovery days into your training plan and adhere to them. Rest days are not a sign of weakness but rather a strategic investment in your long-term performance and well-being. 

By allowing your body and mind time to recover and recharge, you're laying the foundation for improved strength, endurance, and resilience in your training and competitions. Trust the process, honour your rest days, and reap the rewards of a balanced and sustainable approach to training.

(Credit: Adobe Stock)

Eat High-Quality Foods

It’s cliche but it’s true—you literally are what you eat. The food you put into your body forms the cells that will make up every inch of who you are. If you pay attention to somebody’s diet, you’ll see that (apart from a few genetic freaks out there) their physique and performance levels exactly mimic their nutrition. 

Somebody who eats tons of processed, soft, mushy foods will have a pudgy, frail, pillow like body to match. Somebody else who eats high-quality organic meats, vegetables, fruits and other vibrant whole foods will be slabbed with lean muscle tissue that is strong, flexible and resilient all at the same time. 

Aspire towards this radiant level of health. There are no cheat codes. If you want to look good, perform well, and recover fast, you need to invest in good food. There’s a saying in the wellness world, “You can pay at the supermarket now or pay at the doctor’s office later.”

Add Stretching & Mobility Sessions

Training doesn’t always have to be go-go-go! It can be recuperative, regenerative, calm, and relaxing, too. Our programming here at Dynamic Triathlete takes that into account, and prescribes daily stretching and mobility routines that are easy to follow, fun to do, and led by world class coaches in the fields of strength, mobility and rehab.

If you want to train and compete pain-free as a triathlete, it’s essential that you make time for what could be termed as active recovery. It’s an important part of any injury prevention protocol, because it allows the athlete time to implement corrective strategies that help unwind the damage and imbalance inevitably caused by their training.

Give us a try—sign up for a 7-day free trial and join thousands of triathletes worldwide working towards better health and performance! If you have any questions, you can send us an email at [email protected]

Written by Eric Lister - Certified Personal Trainer & Corrective Exercise Specialist

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