You’re obviously serious about your training—you’re reading a site designed for serious triathletes. But are you as serious about your recovery? If not, you’re never going to reach your full potential as an athlete. In order to go hard, you need to be able to take it easy. It’s during recovery, not during training, that your body makes the gains and adaptations you need to go longer, farther, and faster. In this monthly column, we’ll explore ways you can focus on your recovery to ensure that you are getting the most out of your training efforts. Happily, this usually involves being serious about relaxing, resting, and giving your body time to restore itself.
Over the coming months, I’ll walk you through the various things you can do to enhance your recovery, including everything from wearing compression socks to drinking tart cherry juice. But here’s something you can do today—or tonight at least: sleep more. Even the best-designed, most brilliantly periodized training plan will not work properly if you aren’t getting enough sleep.
Naps count toward your total sleep needs and can be a great way to boost your recovery
Unfortunately for the sleep cycle, serious triathlon usually attracts seriously motivated people with full schedules and multiple commitments. These busy lives aren’t conducive to getting enough rest. Chances are, if you’re cutting something out so that you can get in work, training, and family time, you’re probably cutting out sleep. A 4:30 alarm so you can get to the pool at 5:00 a.m., or a 9:00 p.m. dinner after your second workout of the day will not only affect the quality of your sleep, but cut down on the amount of time your body has to go through the reparative processes that occur during sleep.
Most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep a night. If that sounds like a dream scenario to you, you need to find a way to carve out more time for sleeping. On top of this, an athlete in heavy training will need even more. I like this rule of thumb: Add a decimal point to your hours of weekly training. If you’re training 15 hours a week, you should get 1.5 more hours of sleep each night. If you’re training 23 hours a week, 2.3 more hours. While this may not be feasible for you, take it as an exhortation to spend more time horizontal, if not asleep. Naps count toward your total sleep needs and can be a great way to boost your recovery. But simply getting off your feet helps, too. Rest on the couch for half an hour midday. Lie down and read a book each evening. You may have to cut back on your other commitments to devote more time to rest, but that’s a good thing, as it will reduce the load of stress you carry and contribute to your recovery.
Ideally, you’ll be able to sleep each night until you’re “slept out”—that is, until you wake up without needing an alarm. Experiment on the weekend and during your vacations and days off to find out what works for you, but know that you may spend these longer nights repaying sleep debt you’ve been carrying through the week. Once you’ve discovered how much sleep counts as enough for you, tweak your bedtime routine and get into bed earlier so you are finished sleeping when it’s time to get up in the morning.
Spend the next few weeks concentrating on getting enough sleep, and you’ll be delighted by the effect on your training, mood, and general outlook. Let me know how it works for you, and sweet dreams.
Sage Rountree is a USA Triathlon Level 2 Certified Coach and author of The Athlete’s Guide to Yoga and The Athlete’s Pocket Guide to Yoga. Her extensive research and work with triathletes and ultrarunners have taught her to value recovery. She leads yoga workshops nationwide and presents regularly for USA Triathlon. Visit her schedule at sagerountree.com.