By Nina C. Beltran, MD FAMP FPCP
How to rest and resume training after a race
You have just crossed the finish line of your latest race. Congratulations! Your adrenaline levels are probably still high from completing such a challenging task. The exhilaration after finishing a race is unmatched, especially if it was your first. All that hard work, not to mention blood, sweat, and tears, is all worth it! And I bet, you can’t wait to do it all over again. Right? The question now is, how long should you wait before finding yourself at the starting line of your next race?
Photo from Tri United 2 2015 unilabactivehealth.com
Research has shown that immediately after a triathlon race or hard workout, there is evidence of muscle damage, decreased muscle function, and muscle soreness (Eur J Sports Sci May 2010). I’m sure we all experienced this and some of you may have heard the term DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). Some even fondly refer to it as “happy pain.” This happens when muscle soreness, as reflected by blood markers, peaks at about 2 to 24 hours after intense physical activity. Muscle condition returns to baseline within 8 days. As you progress in training, the recovery period shortens.
Photo from: galleryhip.com
“We recover to train, not train to recover.”
The magic happens during recovery! It is actually during rest that you get stronger. The body repairs the trauma done to to the muscle during training while you are at rest, because this is when a natural inflammatory phase occurs. The problem is, most endurance athletes live in a constant state of fatigue. Inside your body, this translates to having a chronic systemic inflammatory state that could in fact lead to a syndrome of impaired performance, making you more prone to injury (J Exercise Physio vol 14 no 4 2011). So time really is an essential element for recovery and conditioning.
A challenging goal is to find an appropriate balance between training, competition, and recovery to maintain a high level of performance. From my readings, honestly, I have not found evidence-based means or guidelines for recovery that will suit every person.
Determining your race recovery time for re-training
Assuming you followed the recommended recovery nutrition techniques immediately post-race such as proper rehydration, replenishment of glycogen stores, and ensured muscle repair with adequate protein intake, when can you resume training? How do we know when it is safe to start again? Several methods have been suggested to measure training stress balanced by the use of Training Stress Score and Performance Management Chart to determine recovery time. Although scientific data are lacking in reliability to correlate the scores to performance, we may opt to use these as guides short of having none.
I have come across a simple and logical diagnostic test that you can do to better estimate recovery time from any workout, particularly triathlon.
These are the factors to consider:
Add up your points and see which category you fit into: Good (15-25), Average (26-35), or Poor (36-45). To arrive at your recovery time, you can refer to the table below:
This is just a guideline to gauge readiness to re-train.
Your body is still the best indicator.
Triathletes are great at training more and training harder. And by golly, I’ve been training hard–as hard as the next triathlete. Promise! But I never seem to be as good or as strong as them. Seeing from the table above, how we live our lives also affects our rate of recovery, just as much as the races we join and other activities that we do. No wonder other athletes can do more back-to-back hard races compared to me. I used to think that the stronger ones may just have the genetic makeup for triathlon. Now, I learned that one’s genes, or even age, matters less in endurance sports. The body can be training and conditioned to endure great things as long as we do it the right way.
So why not take the time to rest and recover? Make the most of that much needed break so you can come back with a vengeance on your next race. See you then!
Journal of Human Sport and Exercise ISSN 1988-5202
Journal of Exercise Physiology Vol 14 no 4 Aug 11
European Journal of Sports Science May 2010
Nina C. Beltran is a doctor specializing in internal medicine and pulmonology. She is a key speaker on Nutrition for Endurance Athletes at the Philippine College of Physicians 2015 Annual Convention. She is also a member of the Medical Students Sports Development Committee in UERM. When out of the hospital, you’ll see her swim, bike, and run with friends. She has been into triathlons for 2 years now, and has enjoyed racing ever since.