What Should You Do the Day After a Triathlon? Recovery & Nutrition Tips

While we are training for a triathlon, many of us follow a detailed training plan. Most of these types of plans last for several months. Each day of those months is laid out with details of what workout to do each day and for how long. This training management goes on all the way up until the day of the race. With most training plans, however, you are on your own from race day forward.

For experienced triathletes, this may not be a problem. They likely have an established post-race routine that they follow to help them recover.

Those who are newer to the sport may not be quite so prepared for the aftermath of a triathlon.

Participating in a multi-sport event can have quite an impact on the body, and there are ways to help ease our way through the recovery phase.

So what should you do the day after a triathlon? The big question that many people ask themselves after completing a triathlon is, “To rest or not to rest?” There is certainly nothing wrong with resting after putting your body through a grueling physical effort.

Following a triathlon, it is likely that the muscles will be tired and/or sore. Athletes may also be experiencing mental fatigue along with physical exhaustion. By taking the day after the event completely off from exercise, the athlete will give themselves the best chance to recover and heal. There is another option for the day following a race that many triathletes prefer. Rather than complete rest, many athletes choose to do some light exercise.

This workout could consist of a few leisurely laps in the pool, a casual bike ride, or even a short jog around the neighborhood. Many people choose this recovery route as an attempt to stave off the Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) that is commonly experienced after a hard physical effort. (Source)

There is another reason many people choose the route of active recovery rather than rest. They have become so accustomed to daily workouts after so many months of preparing for the race that taking a day off seems stressful.

For them, is better for their mental recovery to continue their daily practice even after the race is done. As long as the post-race workouts are done with a very easy effort, active recovery can be a good way to rest the muscles following a triathlon.

We also highly recommend that you check out the “Factors Impacting Recovery Period After a Triathlon Race Listed

How Long Should I Rest After a Triathlon?

Following shorter races like a sprint distance triathlon, it is a good idea to rest for at least 48-72 hours before starting back into hard training. The rest period following longer distance races should be extended even further.

A good general rule of thumb is to plan one day of recovery for each hour of high-intensity physical effort.

It might seem obvious, but you’ll want to rest until you actually feel rested. If you have a heart rate monitor, keep an eye on your resting heart rate. After a difficult race, that number will likely be elevated for a few days. Once your resting heart rate returns to normal, that is a signal that your body has completed its repair work and is ready for action once again.

Following your triathlon, be sure to take at least a couple of days to focus on recovery. During this time you should avoid doing any difficult physical exercise.

For more on this, we highly recommend that you check out our post “Heart Rate Vs Swim, Bike, Run (Simplified Definitive Guide)

You may also want to consider going in for a massage to help soothe those tired and sore muscles.

It’s also a great time to focus on eating some foods that will help aid you on your road to recovery. [source]

What Should I Eat After Triathlon?

The best foods to eat after a triathlon are similar to what most people eat going into the race. Bananas, pasta, and smoothies are packed with a lot of nutrients as well as quite a few calories. Immediately after the race, the most important thing to do is hydrate.

Drink lots of water, and whatever sports drink is available. This step is essential to help replenish all the electrolytes that were lost during the event. Once you’ve rehydrated, then you can think about moving on to solid foods.

Depending on what race you participate in, many times the finish line area has tables that are packed with an array of foods for the athletes. These treats usually consist of things like granola bars, bagels, fruit, and pizza.

If a brewery sponsored the event, there might even be beer available alongside the sports drink and soda offerings.
It’s ok to celebrate after your efforts with a post-race slice of pizza and a beer or two!

There’s nothing I love more after an endurance event than a big, juicy cheeseburger! However, we have to remember to not go too crazy and go into a post-race eating binge. Taking in too many calories, especially from foods that are high in sugar and fat, will not aid in your recovery.

Do Triathletes Take Rest Days?

Yes, triathletes definitely do (or should) have rest days built into their training schedule. Rest days are essential for effective training. They are the days when our muscles are able to rebuild and will eventually make us stronger and faster.

Rest days are not only helpful for the body; they are also great for your mental health. For most athletes, training every day without resting can be a recipe for burnout. By programming at least one day of rest into your weekly training regimen, you will ensure that your mind and body get the break they need to recover.

It can also be helpful to plan an entire week of less difficult workouts once a month. This “rest” week gives us ample opportunity for our bodies to repair. A rest week is a great time to do alternative exercises like yoga, hiking, or even just taking a long walk. [source]

How Long Does It Take to Recover from A Half Ironman?

It should take somewhere between 5 to 10 days to recover from a half Ironman triathlon. A good rule of thumb is to plan one day of recovery for each hour of your physical effort.

The exact amount of time it will take someone to recover following a half Ironman race will vary based on several factors.

The first variable that affects recovery time is fitness level. Someone who attempts a half Ironman without being very well prepared is going to need quite a bit of time to recover afterward. On the other hand, someone who has done months of appropriate workouts ahead of time and is in peak physical condition won’t need as much rest time to get back to feeling normal.

The other item that factors into recovery time is how hard an effort they exhibited on race day.

Just because an athlete is participating in a race, doesn’t always mean that they are putting in 100% effort.

They might choose to hold back and only commit 50-75% of their abilities during that particular race.

There are a number of reasons a triathlete might do this, including saving themselves for another race in the near future. By putting in a lesser effort on race day, they are ensuring that they will need a shorter period to recover afterward.

Brad Birky

Brad Birky is an endurance athlete and trained chef who has qualified for and completed the Boston Marathon as well as multiple Ironman distance triathlons

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