The Three Most Important Daily Practices for Triathletes
The definition of practice as it used as a noun is the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method as opposed to theories about such application or use. The definition of practice as it is used as a verb is to carry out or perform a particular activity, method, or custom regularly. I prefer the use of the word practice as opposed to the word habit as the word habit often conjures up a negative connotation when it is routinely used in our culture. There are few things when it comes to triathlon that are non-negotiable practices in order to maintain life long success and participation in the sport. Sleep, fueling and hydration, and body work are the non-negotiable practices that need to be carried out day in and day out in order to be successful. Insert eye roll here. As many right now are saying to themselves “what about the training?” Training is a given and is the factor that most triathletes have no problem practicing every day, almost to a detriment. Of course you need to train, but let’s be real. Training is rarely an age grouper’s limiter when it comes to long term success in this sport as long as the training is periodized properly. However, you cannot out train a poor diet. So let’s take a look at the three most important practices a triathlete needs to incorporate into their daily routine.
I have written on sleep before and it can never be overstated. Sleep is the number one recovery tool every triathlete has access to. Quality sleep supports a body’s restorative state more so than anything else. When we spend 7 hours in a deep sleep our bodies release growth hormone which restores our muscles from the previous day’s stress. Deep sleep also aids in repairing our immune system and refreshing our brain. It is during sleeping and to a lesser extent during rest and low levels of stress that our bodies adapt to our training load and repairs itself. This is in turn also allows us to protect ourselves against injury and helps to think clearer. Triathletes need to put into practice getting 7 hours of quality sleep in a night. Remember, our bodies cannot “catch up” on sleep, so be consistent with at least 7 hours or more a night every night.
Fueling and Hydration
This subject clearly cannot be summarized in one paragraph, so I will simply highlight some key points. In my opinion proper nutrient timing is the key to proper fueling. Nutrient timing enables us to maintain our glycogen stores, thereby helping us to adequately recover so we are energized both for our next training session as well as for life. Practicing proper fueling and hydration begins immediately upon awakening and lasts until we put into practice our next tool, which is sleep. Getting a quality 7-9 hours of sleep in means we are not eating for that amount of time and likely even longer. Although we do not deplete muscle glycogen while sleeping we do deplete liver glycogen. This means our blood sugar is low. As most age groupers get at least one workout in soon upon awakening it is important that one ingest a small amount of carbohydrate along with a small amount of protein in order to keep us satiated. Fueling during a workout is important for two reasons. First it enables us to practice getting our stomachs accustomed to the types of fuel we will be ingesting during race day and second it allows us to maintain a balance between carbohydrate intake and use. Chronic fatigue and an overall feeling of tired is not simply a result of increased training as much as it is a result of an imbalance between carbohydrate use and intake. Fueling immediately after a workout, meaning 20-30 minutes following completion is the time to replace lost muscle glycogen and kick start muscle synthesis by adding a small amount of protein into the system. The window to continually replenish carbohydrate stores after a workout is approximately the same amount of time as your workout is long. As you were likely eating engineered sport supplements during your workout and immediately after, then this is the time to start ingesting high quality nutrient dense whole foods. The rest of the day’s subsequent meals should also consist of unprocessed nutrient dense whole foods.
Remaining adequately hydrated keeps our cells functioning properly and minimizes energy fluctuations. It is important to start each day with a glass of water for the same reason mentioned above. It should have been approximately 7-9 hours of not ingesting any fluids. A general rule of thumb is to drink so you are peeing every 2 hours. Having water at every meal and carrying around a bottle with you sipping it throughout the day is a good place to start.
Body work includes exercises (both strengthening and stretching) that focus on what I call the CORE 4. The CORE 4 are your low back, abdominals, hips and glutes. You don’t need a gym or a significant amount of time. What you do need is 10-15 minutes everyday to put it into practice. Just like you eat, drink, and sleep this practice needs to be just as routine. One day it might be as simple as foam rolling and stretching. However, three days a week of exercises that focus on the above need to be practiced. Exercises such as bridge, clamshells, plank, back extensions and single-leg deadlifts target those areas. This practice can also be thought of as pre-hab. Incorporated daily it helps to avert injuries and prevents one from needing rehab.
These practices mentioned above are important for so many more reasons than just triathlon training. Practiced daily they help us to have more energy and focus at work, in our daily lives and our family life. Practiced daily they contribute to our overall health, and should be viewed as lifestyle medicine and preventative techniques. Remember, it all starts with proper high quality sleep. When we wake up refreshed and with energy we have more enthusiasm to shop for and make healthy meals and more zest to focus on what our bodies need to remain healthy. It is only by incorporating these daily practices first are we able to begin the process of making triathlon our lifelong sport.
Published in USA Triathlon's Multisport Lab February 6, 2018