The myths and the mighty of triathlon recovery

How many times you did something just because a friend of yours told you to do so? How many times did you fail to research if what you were doing was really effective and not just a placebo? Recovery myths are all over the place and in triathlon there are no exceptions. Read on to hear how coach Diogo reviews some of the common forms of recovery.


As coaches we are often asked about nutrition, training and recovery strategies. We are faced with some methods that our athletes use to recover properly, some of them are based on science…others are just interesting to listen to.

When an athlete does a workout or a race, their body is under stress and subsequent fatigue is not only found in their muscles but also their nervous system. A proper recovery will help them avoid injuries and lead to a higher performance in training and subsequently in racing. In a world full of “advice” what can athletes actually use as a recovery strategy?

Through exercise, the body uses carbohydrates, proteins and fat to get energy into the muscles and through sweat the body loses water and electrolytes. The first thing athletes need to consider is what to do immediately after your workout or race! There is an opportunity window time of around 30 minutes that should be used to ingest food and liquids.

Once the activity is finished, athletes should replace what they have lost and used, this will restore all your energy levels and will help muscle reconstruction. An easy and effective way to ingest food quickly is in a liquid form: some athletes can’t even put solid food in their body after doing exercise so drinking something is the preferred way to replace their energy levels. Use real food ingredients to make yourself a recovery smoothie. Avoiding the synthetic products is always better, however, we do know that sometimes bringing all the food and a blender with you may be a hard task! Nevertheless, grabbing a recovery smoothie and getting on to your next appointment, work or schedule in the diary is so much better for you than waiting until the next meal. Women should prioritise ingesting protein as soon after their workout as possible. Furthermore, by grabbing a smoothie, also helps to replenish much needed extra fluids. The recovery drink is not a replacement for a normal meals, and you should still have (e.g. breakfast!)

Another strategy we recommend to our athletes is to foam roll on any particularly tight areas of your body. It has been proven that using a foam roller after exercising reduces the pain perception, soreness and, because it is a way of doing self-massage, you can save time and money by rolling more frequently and not heading to the massage bed so often. We are not saying that athletes should avoid sports massages – far from it – however, we believe that regular rolling allows the athlete an opportunity to stay on top of any tight points or niggles and keep training without having to carve out more time from a busy schedule for a trip to the physio. 

Some athletes ask us about the cold baths or cryotherapy: several studies have been made about this subject but none of them were conclusively positive. Observations have been that by reducing the core temperature, the following physiological responses occur: analgesia, reduced metabolism and enzyme activity and a vasoconstrictive response reducing the blood flow in your muscles resulting in a diminish of soft tissue injury and inflammation. Some of these though are deliberately used by the body to aid recovery, so ice baths appear to be more of a placebo. Another, similar method that a lot of athletes swear by is the use of compression: there are no sufficient studies that support this idea. However, there are questionable fashion improvements… 

Finally, the most important and effective form of recovery is a very simple one: sleep! Sleeping at least seven hours a night has many positive effects on the body, it reinforces the immune system and cognitive capacity amongst other benefits and, let’s been honest, it feels good! If fitting in that much sleep is hard, athletes can look at having a power nap of 10-15 minutes a day in the afternoon. This has also been shown to increase alertness and help stimulate productivity for the afternoon. 

Whatever form of recovery the athlete decides to do, it is important to use recovery as part of an athletes vocabulary. In essence many of the forms of recovery we see like inflatable boots, liquid nitrogen, salt baths, electric pulse, senseless baths etc. may have little or limited scientific basis. However, if they help the athlete stop, take some time out and relax, then they have significant recovery power, no matter what the science says, and that is the important point.