Why rest is so important

Adequate rest is critical to achieving performance improvements, however it is common to find triathletes who focus solely on the training. In much the same way, an injured triathlete will often not take adequate time for a full recovery. In this article we encourage you to contemplate writing rest sessions into your training plan.

Stress + Recovery = Improvement

One of the key principles of training is put stress on the body to force it to adapt. However a recovery period is also required to ensure an improvement occurs. The only scenario that will result in performance improvement is when there is a sustainable, gradual, pattern of overload activity balanced with recovery.

How much recovery?

Many factors contribute to how much recovery time is needed between workouts. Some of these factors are related to how hard your previous session was, but many also relate to your age, experience, current fitness, nutrition, and other personal health factors.

Professional athletes that have lived for many years off a diet of regular training are more adapted to faster recovery than the rest of us. They will often also take day-time naps to help speed up the recovery process and thereby cope with a much larger frequency of training.

Experienced age-group triathletes can also get to a point where their bodies will sustain a couple of days per week of multiple daily training sessions too, provided they understand ways to assist and improve recovery rates, which we'll outline for you in this article.

Daily Recovery

To speed up daily recovery from workouts, you need to maintain optimal health with a nutritious diet. A nutritious meal 30 minutes to an hour after your workout will help restore glycogen, which is responsible for rebuilding and repairing tiny muscle tears. Muscles are broken down and rebuilt to become stronger than what it was previously. Therefore, rest and recovery are very important. This is the time your immune system is most vulnerable, so you need to get a healthy dose of antioxidants for a speedy recovery. Some aspects of daily recovery include:
  • Your post workout diet should include lean protein (choose from meat, seafood, dairy, nuts) and quality carbohydrates (choose vegetables or fresh fruits)
  • Avoid processed foods and opt for foods with a high nutrient density
  • Multi-vitamin and vitamins E and C that contains antioxidants will also help
  • Your calorie intake must be adequate to assist in recovery or you may be vulnerable to injuries and illnesses
  • Rest after training sessions allows your neurological system to process any new stimulus. It will also aid in the production of HGH or Human Growth Hormone, an essential component for the restoration of damaged muscles and building of new muscle
  • Get into the routine of sleeping eight hours at night and follow the same throughout the week. Do not consume too much of carbohydrates or processed sugar before bedtime. This will inhibit the production of HGH which is vital for muscle repair
  • A short 30 to 40 minute afternoon nap will also assist in recovery
  • A massage will also help to improve your blood circulation and promote relaxation

What is active rest?

Some athletes may continue to do light workouts during their schedule rest days. However, it is important to understand that regular training and light workouts are two different things. Rest and recovery days must be exclusively for resting. Depending on your fitness levels, you may need to rest once a week or once a fortnight. Injuries or an increase in intensity or distance could demand more rest. Therefore, rest and recovery days should not include any strenuous workout sessions, although it is important to remain active rather than remain in bed. Walking, stretch exercises, dynamic stretching and a few laps in the pool are ideal during rest and recovery. These workouts will increase your heart rate to just above normal.

Light Workout Days

Light workout days are days when you perform short, simple workouts of not more than 30 minutes. The objective is to enjoy your workout and not push yourself as you would during regular workouts. This allows the development of muscles without any risk of injuries due to overuse and at the same time you avoid any training plateaus. Primarily, light workout days compliment the days when you increase the intensity of your workouts. Make sure to include a variety. Light workout days can be aimed at improving flexibility, your running form, hill running, and speed interval training.

Dependent on your individual program and goals, the typical triathlon training program will balance the hardest and the lightest workout sessions back to back, with the secondary workout being termed the "recovery" workout. In addition, most programs will schedule every 4th week to contain lighter workouts for the entire week.


See our article on Periodization - the basics for more information about program scheduling, or see the Triathlon Training section for other articles on this topic.

Interval Training

Another less obvious, but equally critical rest period is taken during interval training. When performing a high intensity cardio workout (such as indoor spin cycling, fartlek running, or even swim sprints) you should ensure you take the full rest period alloted in the program. Taking the rest period between sets helps you to perform to your optimum level, which is the specific goal of this type of workout.

Recovery Tips

There are many things you can do to manipulate the factors that contribute to your rejuvenation between each training session. Here's a quick sumary:
  • Pre-workout - be well rested before your workout, well hydrated and always do an adequate warm up.
  • During workout - refuelling during workouts speeds recovery
  • Post-workout - replenish fuel stores within 30 minutes. This is considered to the magic time-window of when your body can most quickly absorb and assimilate nutrients leading to the best recovery. A combination of protein and carbohydrate is generally accepted to be the most effective. Packaged sports nutrition products, especially protein shakes are the most convenient way of ensuring you achieve this, however real-food options are always the preferred choice if possible. See our article Good & Bad Foods Explained for more information.
  • Long term recovery - sleep is when the body releases HGH (Human Growth Hormone), the essential hormone that stimulates growth, cell production and regeneration. HGH will also promote the use of fat as fuel. Whilst this hormone release occurs somewhat spasmodically during our sleep periods, it is generally known to best release into our systems about an hour after the onset of sleep. For this reason, daytime naps can be very powerful indeed for assisting post-workout recovery. However, 7-9 hours sleep per night is also required.

Because we need to put our bodies into a stage of overload to stimulate the training adaption, it is often confusing for athletes to read the signs of overtraining. Using a training diary, following a training program towards specific events, and building a personal calendar for the year using the concept of periodization will help you enormously in avoiding the temptation to keep pushing when you're feeling strong, when in fact you should be taking it easy.


The most common treatment for muscle soreness - is to apply the R.I.C.E treatment plan, which is R - rest. I - ice. C - compression. E - elevated. Fill your fridge/freezer with cold packs and apply immediately to sore knees, hips, calves, etc after a workout. Elevate the affected limb on a table, footstool or chair, and apply the cold pack wrapped in a teatowel to the site of pain as you watch television or work at your desk for example. Compression socks can help reduce swelling of the ankles and feet, and help blood flow through painful calves, achilles etc so are great to wear to bed, or during to stimulate post-workout recovery.


Overtaining is a very common occurance in performance oriented individuals, and is also commonly seen in novices who have experienced a rapid performance improvement. The main cause of overtaining is not taking sufficient rest. This is typically seen when people ignore the "easy week" in the program and decide to train on without rest days when they feel good.

By the time you are feeling lethargic, depressed, lack concentration, have decreased libido, sugar cravings, constant fatigue, increased thirst, muscle soreness, swollen glands, diarrhea, infection, injury, slow wound healing you've definately reached a point of overtraining. These are major warning signs that you need to slow down.

But overtaining can still occur when you do follow your program and include rest days. This is because most of use don't have programs designed for us individually, nor do we have regular lab testing to set our benchmarks and measure progress.

Whatever program you are following, it is important that you trust your instincts (not the voices in your head) regarding fatigue. Is your body telling you not to head out today? And is it your ego telling you to toughen up princess? Listen to the whipsers your body sends before they turn into screams and you'll avoid the trappings of overtraining. A self-aware athlete will know how and when to flick the switch on modifying the day's session and when to avoid training altogether. Here's some tips:
  • Illness - is it below the neck? If so, don't train today.
  • Feeling blah? If you don't have a chest infection but just don't feel right its best to try to stick to the routine, and get yourself ready for your workout. Just tell yourself that you will reassess 5 minutes into the session - sometimes once we've met up with our training partners, or have got the blood pumping, everything else falls into place. But if it doesn't and you feel worse, call it a day and go home.

Balancing the recovery process has a great impact on your mind and body. It helps you gain a higher level of fitness and keeps you in optimum shape throughout the year.

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Created: March 2012
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Recovery Tips For Triathletes, Overtraining, Fatigue, Active Rest, R.I.C.E Principle