I had a bit of a penny dropping moment recently. Recovery is one of those words that’s thrown around regarding endurance sports. There’s now a whole industry built up around it. There are all sorts of devices, gadgets, clothing, food, drinks even lotions and soaps to help you recover faster, better, stronger. I think however there are three things that above all else speed up recovery and improvement. They are rest/sleep, real food and the correct application of training. I’m sure a lot of the other stuff may also help but if you don’t get enough good quality sleep, eat the right food and time the correct sessions appropriately then massage boots and protein bars aren’t going to do you much good.

The reason recovery is so important is because it’s not actually during training that we grow stronger and fitter but afterwards when the body is repairing itself that the adaptations occur. Therefore it’s critical to make sure that we do everything in our control to ensure that we get the maximum benefit from our training by allowing the body to recover, repair and adapt after the training stress.

I believe to do this that real food and sleep trump all other recovery strategies by a long way. I guess the penny dropping moment was when I realised that if I was diligent with my recovery strategy then I could train more and in turn get stronger. It sounds really obvious but there you go. Sometimes it takes me a while but I usually get there in the end.

I’m very lucky to have Ais coaching me, because we live together she can see on a daily basis how I’m coping with the training load and adjust the plan as needed. She would occasionally tell me to skip an early morning swim because she reckoned I needed sleep more. I used to think this was great, not many people get that sort of daily coaching and personal guidance. But when she said it recently I realised that the reason I needed the morning off was not because I had overloaded on training but because I had had a few late nights and had been eating shite food for a few days and it was this, not the training that had caught up with me. This meant that my recovery came at the cost of my training, I had to miss a session because I’d been slack on the sleep and nutrition.

Related post: Overreaching or overtraining?

When it occured to me that I was missing sessions because of my own lack of focus I was really annoyed with myself. I don’t really have the luxury to miss training because of stupidity. Life will throw enough difficulties at us over the course of a season that will cause us to miss training without compounding it by not doing the basics right. Especially the things that are within my control.

Because of the extreme difficulty to qualify for Kona I need to make sure that I not only train harder than I have before but I also need to be much smarter and careful about training, racing, recovery and every other aspect that could have an impact on my chances.

For me getting sleep right for me means getting to bed early, getting as close to 8 hours a night as possible and longer if I can. It also means having all the gear ready for my morning sessions and for work before I go to bed. I find it’s easier to do this at night than in the morning while I’m still half asleep and it allows me stay in bed up to 30 minutes longer in the morning.

Related post: The most important aspect of any training session

The food requires a good bit of prep and planning and we often make a couple of days food at a time to ensure we eat the right stuff. The cake and rubbish I’ve been eatling lately is just laziness and lack of self control. I have to make the decision that the training is more important than 5 minutes indulgence and move on. It’s only hard the first couple of times then it becomes much easier.

For us recovery is massively helped by only eating what we call real food. Vegetables, meat, fruit, nuts, full fat dairy such as Greek yoghurt or cheese. We stay away from grains, gluten, sugar and processed food. The benefits we’ve found from this can’t be overstated.

Related: Coaching

The training prescription is probably the easiest as Ais is so on top of the training plan but it’s something that we need to be aware of all the time. The session I do today has an impact on what I can do tomorrow and the cumulative effect of this weeks training has an impact next weeks training.

Thanks for reading


I have written a report examining how 5 of the most successful Irish Ironman triathletes have qualified for Kona an incredible 29 times. You can access it free here.

You can read a little about us how we got into Ironman and how I went from smoker to Kona here

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