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Mark Allen’s Top 5 Recovery Tricks for Athletes

The Ironman legend and 6x Ironman world champ has some no-BS recovery advice for all triathletes. Listen up.

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Recovery is the unsung hero of endurance sports. Whether you are training for a marathon, a triathlon or a cycling event, you are most likely focused on getting in all the workouts your coach has for you. Yes, that can even mean setting the alarm for some crazy early hour to squeak in a session before work. It can mean setting up your trainer after the kids go to bed. But get in that session you must, or at least you may think you should!

It always comes down to a choice: do I stick to the plan or is this next session one I should cut back on or even cut out. Every great endurance athlete at one point in their journey through their sport had made the wrong choice. They follow a template of training that in the end pushes them into an over-trained state where they get exhausted, burned out, maybe even injured or sick. It’s because they forgot the one thing every single endurance athlete must attend to with just as much discipline as they put into their core sport workouts. It’s recovery.

5 Tricks For Recovery

1. Sleep

This is the most important ingredient for recovery. Every repair process gets revved up when you turn the lights out and are sleeping. Without enough sleep, your body just cannot rebuild muscle and replenish energy that gets expended during training.

How much sleep you really need will be debated till the end of time. But I’ve only met a handful of athletes who do get enough. Here’s the quick and easy test. Are you one of those who seem to get by on not a lot of sleep because you think you can, and when you allow yourself to get more than your “normal” amount you feel exhausted and even more tired? If that is you, then you are on the heavily sleep deprived category.

Make it a discipline just like how you make getting up early to train a discipline. Horizontal by 10:00 pm is a good rule of thumb, earlier if you need to or can. Save the TV binge watching for a night when there will be no alarm.

On study found sleep so impactful on recovery and performance that taking an athlete who is not getting enough sleep and adding an hour or two per night, they get the same or better performance gains than someone who takes EPO. And sleep is legal!

2. Stay Active

Muscles flush and recover quicker with movement than they do with complete inactivity. So if you feel like you need a break from training to recover, perhaps you do need a complete day or two off. But you may also just need an easy session that is active recovery and is not training.

This goes hand in hand with moderating the amount of anaerobic work you do. Great performances are not built on grinding it out daily. They are put in place with a strong base of aerobic training that is at an intensity and volume that you are able to recover day to day without feeling completely trashed.

3. Eat Right

How are you fueling your engine? Does every meal have high quality sources of fats, carbs and protein? Are you getting enough deep rich greens and other foods of color to get the phytonutrients that make all the macro things turn into muscles and healthy hormonal systems?

A great workout followed by a skimped on meal is counterproductive. Have enough of the basics on hand so that even if you are crunched for time post workout you can throw together enough of a good thing to recover and keep your body from starving for nutrients.

Here are some of the things I always try to have around: hummus, tortillas, avocadoes, almonds, hard cheese, naan bread, power greens, pinto beans, a roasted chicken, fruit of the season, sometimes Greek yogurt, eggs and olive oil. It’s all there for a meal that you can make that has everything you need to build a perfect meal for recovery in 5-minutes or less.

4. Chill Out

Not every minute of the day should be booked. A human isn’t made to crush a huge early am workout, then jam all day at work, then hit another session after dark. Yes, using your brain is different than using your body, but if at least one of those two parts of you is engaged every waking minute, it makes it difficult no matter how much sleep you get to really recover.

Allow yourself, guilt-free, some times during the day to really relax. This can be putting your feet up on the couch. It can also be sitting watching a sunset after dinner. Most important, it should be time where you can just daydream. Sleep at night replenishes, but so does time in the day when everything gets to idle for a few moments. It can seem “unproductive” in our busy world, but it can be a recharge midday that helps with recovery for a workout later on.

5. Limit the Social Media

This goes hand in hand with daytime rest. You may have your feet up, but if your brain is plugged into your mobile device or your laptop your neurons are still working on high output. It is not resting your core being. It’s not daydreaming to be scrolling through your favorite social media platform. That time is distracting and can be a break from other things on your mind, but it is not recovery.

Reading a book is a completely different animal from social media. It’s like an extended daydream in a sense. You are following something written that takes you into the world of the story. A social media post is like a mental stimulant. It’s short, it’s potent and it peaks your interest, but then loses you if it’s too long and you just scroll to the next piece of mental desert.

The brain takes time to replenish all the neurotransmitters that get used during the day. It’s just like our muscles. Having some real downtime away from social media and quick sound bite input during the day allows for that extra internal recovery.

What you might notice is that without that kind of distraction, you start to tune into your body more and more. It too is transmitting info to you. And suddenly you do see how much sleep you really need. You sense what it needs to eat for recovery. You notice the flood of energy that returns to you when you are just quiet and peaceful. And with that recovery happens. Your training takes on a whole new level along with your performances at the races.