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Fri 19th Aug 2022
Nutrition: Recovery for iron-distance
Posted by: Editor
Posted on: Monday 20th October 2014

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Inspired by Kona last weekend, and setting your own long distance triathlon targets for next season?

Success for iron-distance racing isn't just what training you do - it's also how you recover from that training (before launching in to the next session!). With the training demands significant, how you approach recovery for iron-distance triathlon should also be a key part of your 'training' plan. With - perhaps - multiple training sessions each day the norm, typically around your work and family life, it can be difficult to ensure you are also able to manage your training load in a healthy manner without also taking care of your nutrition.

In the latest in this series, Sports Nutritionist and multiple Ironman finisher Emma Barraclough outlines some key recovery tips to enhance your performance.

Also in this series:

Nutrition for Recovery in Iron-Distance Triathlon

Iron-distance racing really is a step-up in terms of distance and the commitment needed to train. It can even become like a second job and start to dominate your life. It is however a great experience and achievement just to complete one, so give yourself the best possible chance by looking after your recovery during training and after competition.

The bulk of ironman training requires a lot of hours in the saddle and often putting tough sessions back-to-back. It is not unusual for the time-starved age grouper to try and slot in two shorter training sessions per day around work to try and fit in multiple disciplines. The key thing with this approach to training is to try and make sure that you are replacing your muscle glycogen stores, i.e. your body should have stored enough carbohydrate between sessions so that you have enough fuel for the next. Some of the steady state work will be fuelled by fat, but higher intensity work requires adequate carbohydrate stores.

Tips for recovery during training:

  • High GI carbs are needed after training to quickly restore your muscle glycogen levels. White bread, rice and pasta are all examples you could use in terms of solid food. Solid food will be more slowly absorbed than liquids however.

  • Your metabolism is heightened for around 30 minutes after training so to have as quick a recovery as possible taking nutrition within this first half an hour is key.

  • Ideally you should also deliver some protein within the 30 minute post-training window. Protein breaks down to provide amino acids for muscle repair and growth.

  • When you are doing a high volume of endurance training, such as when doing long brick sessions, it is very common to end up in energy deficit. In times of low carbohydrate availability, your body will break down lean muscle tissue to provide protein for energy, which will ultimately hinder your performance. The feeding of protein provides a pool of amino acids that allows your body to preserve lean muscle mass, which is what you need to keep putting the power down on the bike and run.

  • Hydration is also key. Even if you are just doing short training sessions at either end of your working day, make sure you sure start each one properly in order to get the most out of your session. Fluid is retained better by the body when delivered with sodium, so always try and have some electrolytes as part of your recovery. It's helpful to drink full spectrum recovery drinks such as SiS REGo Rapid Recovery, which provides high GI carbs, fast release protein and electrolytes to deliver all of these elements.

  • Alcohol consumption is of course a personal choice but do remember it will cause dehydration and deplete your glycogen stores.

  • High-volume aerobic training creates a lot of oxidative stress on your body. A good intake of fruits and vegetables should certainly be included within your diet, though additional vitamin supplements should not be required and may actually blunt the training response. Try and have at least five fruit and vegetables a day in a variety of different colours to provide a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals.

  • Sleep is your fifth discipline after swimming, cycling, running and nutrition! Make sure you get into a good routine of getting to bed in good time, especially when you are training the following morning. Most of your body's adaptation and repair occurs whilst you are sleeping, so making sure you get good quality sleep is important.

Post-race is it tempting to celebrate your achievement by eating and drinking a lot of the things you have avoided throughout your training period. Treat yourself of course, but do remember you have put your body through an awful lot during race day. Make sure you include plenty of high quality foods in your diet, namely lean protein every 3-4 hours, wholegrain carbohydrates and five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day to help keep you healthy and recover fully.

Emma Barraclough is a Sports Nutritionist at SiS ( She has worked with Great Britain Ice Hockey since 2006 and provided nutritional consultancy support to athletes in a range of sports including running, triathlon and rugby. She regularly represents Great Britain as an age group triathlete and has completed six Ironmans.

Emma Barraclough

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