Let's Change the Way We Think About Sleep and Recovery


Posted by Coach Mark Turner

I encourage athletes to consider recovery and sleep as integral parts of training and nutrition with recovery as part of training and sleep as part of nutrition.

For most triathletes, both sleep and recovery are often considered as their own category distinct and separate from training and nutrition. Keep in mind recovery includes active recovery days, complete days off from training, and active recovery micro-cycles. It is all too easy to consider sleep and recovery as basically the same type of activity and therein lies the heart of the problem: athletes who struggle with truly accepting the benefits of both sleep and recovery. Increasingly I am convinced that this view often leads to a failure on the part of the athlete to fully respond to his or her need for both sleep and recovery periods as an integral part of the overall training plan.  Coaches know that dialing back hard-charging athletes into proper recovery is key to avoiding injury (which should always be our first goal), but changing the mindsets of “more is better” or worse still...the dreaded “double up to make up” is often a significant challenge.


We should view time off or a reduction in training volume and intensity, whether active recovery periods or full on days off, as its own type of “workout”. We should view it as a kind of mental strength training, then we will make a great leap forward toward reaching our full potential. When recovery is regarded as a training discipline equally important to any other, we will be better mentally equipped for taper weeks because we will have truly practiced the mental discipline of slowing down. This will translate into having better tapers into races and a better sense of listening to our body, because it is during the recovery phases that we can actually “hear” what our body is saying to us. When we successfully adjust the way we think about recovery and to begin to view it as a type of training, then we are well on our way to developing a platform for athletic success.

In a similar manner, when we come to view sleep as an integral part of a comprehensive nutrition plan, we not only change our view of sleep but our understanding of the very purpose of nutrition itself. Sleep itself nourishes the body every bit as much as calories! This opens the doorway to a more full understanding of nutrition as fuel. Caloric fuel feeds the energy systems for training and recovery, and appropriate levels of sleep fuel the athlete's body for absorbing the upcoming training day.

Maximizing performance relies heavily on the fullness of training, recovery, and nutrition. Understanding the way these work together to the fullest advantage is key to achieving the performance we seek. And the first step to making this connection is to change the way we think about sleep and recovery.

~ Coach MarkT

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