The Secret to Rest, Recovery and Sleep for Triathletes

Karen Parnell January 01, 2022

Recovery is central to your body’s ability to adapt to training sessions. Training breaks you down—recovery lets your body put itself back together.

If your training has hit a plateau, your legs are heavy, you feel sore and fatigued and maybe not sleeping well you may be overreaching (a precursor to overtraining syndrome).

You are probably under recovered.

The most important recovery tool is sleep. Sleep debt increases the production of the stress hormone cortisol while decreasing the production of glycogen. This combination means you won’t wake up feeling ready to tackle the day’s training session.

Increasing your sleep will increase your performance, lower your resting heart rate, decrease daytime sleepiness, and improve your mood and cognitive functioning. Get more sleep, to reduce stress, increase glycogen storage, and improved your bodies’ ability to rebuild and restore muscle.

Sleep equals speed.

If your plan says "rest day" then take heed and rest, repair and recover!

Three 'R's of Recovery 

We're constantly looking to improve our sporting performance, mostly through our training. However, we often forget how important the recovery process is to making performance gains.
Consuming the right nutrition during this period can help to speed up recovery and will supply your body with the building blocks needed to develop training adaptions.
So, whether the concept of recovery nutrition is new to you, or you need a little refresh of the basics; let's look at what our bodies need.


Protein is important for recovery. It helps to repair muscle damage and build muscle post training. It is made up of amino acids which are the building blocks that make up our muscles. The optimal amount of protein you should aim to consume post exercise is 20-30g. Any more than this is not necessary as our bodies just can’t process it in one sitting.

Examples of foods containing 20g protein are 2 large eggs, a tin of tuna, a chicken breast, 2 sausages, a pint of milk.

After a training session or race try to re-fuel with protein within 30 minutes and certainly within 2 hours to ensure your muscles can rebuild and repair using good quality protein. It's always best to eat real food but if you can't and need to take a recovery shake then make sure it's from a company listed on this website below to ensure your product is not contaminated with a banned substance.

Here's an example of a homemade vegan recovery smoothie.

If you are an older athlete then you may need more protein to recover and repair and you can find out more in this article about protein and older athletes.


Carbohydrates are needed to replenish muscle glycogen that is used during exercise. Our bodies can only store a certain amount of carbohydrates at one time in our muscles and liver. However, these stores are usually fully depleted at the end of a training session and so it is important to top them back up ready for your next session. Aim to consume around 1.2g of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight post exercise to optimise recovery.

For a 70kg person this would be 84g of carbohydrates, which could be a bagel (50g of Carbs) with half a large tin of baked beans (30g of Carbs). 

Here's an example of a homemade date and oat energy bar.


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Fluid loss during training can vary drastically between individuals depending on sweat rates, but whatever is lost needs to be replaced. Next time you are out training try weighing yourself before and after, making sure you add on the amount you drank during training. Likelihood is you will have lost some weight but sadly this isn’t miracle weight loss but just water loss. Try to then consume 150% of these losses within the first hour of recover; remember 1 kg lost is equivalent to 1 litre.

To find out how much fluid and salts you need during training sessions and on race day you will need to do a sweat test. Here are the details of how to do a sweat test.

Here's a recipe for a homemade energy drink.



Another crucial part is sleep. Research suggests that sleep deprivation can cause athletes to become exhausted more quickly, which can reduce performance, even during training.  Poor sleep may mean that your body does not have enough time to repair after the stress of training, which can lead to injury or sickness. Pro athletes typically need more than most—it's recommended that they get 8-10 hours every night. But for the average adult, aim for seven to nine hours of sleep a night to avoid the effects of chronic sleep deprivation.

Getting enough sleep is crucial for athletic performance," says David Geier, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist in Charleston, SC. Studies show that good sleep can improve speed, accuracy, and reaction time in athletes.

"Sleep is when your body repairs itself. If we don't get enough sleep, we don't perform well." -- Felicia Stoler, RD

Tips on how to get a good nights sleep:

  • Stick to a sleep schedule, set aside at least 8 hours to sleep and try to go to bed at the same time every day.

  • Pay attention to what you eat and drink - avoid caffeine or alcohol late in the day

  • Create a restful environment - dark, quite, comfortable, good temperature with no phones or blue light

  • Don't go to bed right after watching TV or being on your phone or other screen, try to wait an hour
  • Try not to got to be with an unresolved worry
  • Eating right - There are two types of nutrients that can increase your ability to get good sleep are tryptophan (turkey, eggs, cheese, pineapples, salmon, nuts and seeds, turkey, seaweed, turnip, sunflower seeds) and vitamin C (oranges, red peppers, kale, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, strawberries, grapefruit, guava, kiwi, green peppers). So, continue to eat your fruits and vegetables! 
  • As an athlete try to get your training sessions done earlier in the day and not right before you go to bed. Exercising in the morning daylight helps you to sleep. It helps to kick-start your brain in the same way as when you expose yourself to bright light early in the morning, and it makes the body release melatonin earlier in the evening. Melatonin helps with with sleep cycle.
  • When you travel, give yourself time to get used to your new setting. If you're traveling for an athletic competition, it's a good idea to get there a few days early. That way, your body can adjust and you have time to get on a normal sleep schedule.

Get some FREE resources including training plans here.

Would you like to talk about your training? Get in touch here.

Karen Parnell is a Level 3 British Triathlon and IRONMAN Certified Coach, NASM Personal Trainer and Sports Technology Writer.

The Secret to Athlete Sleep Infographic


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