How to speed up recovery after a triathlon

Swim, cycle, run – triathlons earned the title ‘ultimate challenge’, and indeed, it is an excellent test of endurance. 

The triathlon made its first Olympic appearance at the 2000 Sydney Games and continues to test, sharpen and push the limits of its participants. So, how do you take care of your body and speed up muscle recovery after this intense activity?

What are the various distances of triathlons?

Triathletes come in different age groups and fitness levels, so the length of a triathlon also varies. Here are the basic distances of the sport [1]:

  • The most common triathlon distance observes international Olympic guidelines: A swim of 0.93 miles (1.5 km), bicycle route of 24.8 miles (40 km) and a run of 6.2 miles (10 km).
  • An Ironman Triathlon, possibly the event’s most famous race is a 2.4-mile (3.9 km) swim, 112-mile (180 km) bike ride and 26.2-mile (42.2 km) marathon.
  • A Half Ironman is a swim, bike, run of 1.2 miles (1.93 km), 56 miles (90 km) and 13 miles (21 km).
  • Sprint or mini-triathlons is a half-mile (0.8 km) swim, 15-mile (24 km) bike ride and 3-mile (5 km) run.

Most triathlons follow a standard pattern of swimming, biking, then running. However, several adaptations are designed to make it more achievable for athletes to compete.

Aquathon combines running and swimming. On the other hand, a duathlon follows a run, bike, run sequence. Aquabike is a combo of yes – swimming and biking [2].


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Tips on how to recover from triathlons

Now, here are some guidelines you can follow for muscle recovery, regardless of in which triathlon distance you participate:

Get some zzzs: sleep is one of the best practices to achieve recovery – its benefit for athletes can’t be extolled enough. During sleep, the growth hormone works to repair bones, muscles and other structures that experience stress during training. Different parts of homeostasis, such as fluid balance, are brought back into line, and sleep allows you to power down mentally completely.

See to it that you get an average of seven to nine hours of sleep a night and, if you have the time, sneak a 20-minute nap after lunch. It’s also good to try a relaxation routine before going to bed after a race [3].

Plan your daily nutrition: what you eat every day has an incredible effect on your ability to heal from strenuous physical efforts. Your day-to-day intake should ideally come from whole, unprocessed foods (eggs, fruits, nuts, whole cuts of meat) augmented with some extra carbohydrates to fuel sessions and races. Daily nutrition is where your body gets most of its building blocks for energy, nutrients and repair.

Consume whole foods for most main meals and snacks and stay away from packaged and processed foods. Try a wide variety of meats, fruits and vegetables every week.

Set aside a different training and racing nutrition plan: what you eat during and instantly after training or racing significantly impacts performance and recovery. That said, a poor diet cannot be compensated for with energy bars and gels on race day.

As a general rule, when going hard for more than 45 to 60 minutes, taking in carbohydrates (in the forms of bars, gels or drinks) is a good idea to spare muscle glycogen. For events or sessions that last around two to three hours, a carbohydrate or protein mix can be helpful. 

Keep yourself hydrated: hydration is vital for recovery because of its effect on the blood. If you’re not optimally hydrated, blood plasma volume declines and hampers the efficiency of the circulatory system. Optimal hydration doesn’t just mean drinking water but replacing what was lost in sweat, as water needs electrolytes (primarily sodium) to maintain equilibrium and maximise absorption of water in the gut.

Have a water bottle handy most of the day and sip water or electrolyte drinks to keep thirst at bay. Try to match sweat losses with sodium-containing drinks.

Planning and periodisation are vital factors: proper planning and periodising of training and racing decrease the depth of a physical and mental ‘hole’. The primary principle of periodisation concerns training intensity and volume being traded off to give the optimal effects for the time of year. 

Typically, as training volume increases (building a base routine in the winter, for example), the intensity has to decrease to permit sufficient recovery. As training or racing intensity increases (pre and during the season), the volume has to drop to balance it. Work with a coach over a significant time frame to determine when you will be training longest and when you will be training or racing hardest.

Get a massage or do some self-massage: it helps to encourage blood flow and determine tight spots created by scar tissue. The cheaper alternative to a ‘proper’ massage is to do it yourself – either with your hands or using a massage ball, foam roller, stick or golf ball.

Focus areas for triathletes are calves, IT (Iliotibial) band, quads, glutes and hamstrings. If you find tight or tender spots in the muscles, work at them gently and continually for a few minutes a day until they become less sensitive and finally loosen up.

Perform self-massage after demanding running or cycling sessions after you’ve cooled down and showered. If booking a professional massage, look for someone with a background in treating sports people.

Don’t forget to cool down and stretching periods: cooling down and stretching post-race or training sessions can enable muscles to recuperate effectively. This is because the incremental reduction in intensity associated with a cool-down keeps blood flowing to the working muscles, brings blood pressure and heart rate down in a controlled way, and lets oxygen reach muscles and waste products to be re-synthesised more efficiently. Stretching relieves tense and tight muscles and assists in identifying areas of soreness that may need further attention.

Match the length of a cool-down to the intensity of the race or session preceding it. The more complex the event, the longer and more gradual the cool-down has to be.

Relaxation: our nervous system is split into two strands: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic systems. The first is occasionally called the ‘fight-or-flight’ system, and the second is referred to as the ‘rest and digest’ system. 

Racing, training, managing work, finances and maintaining relationships all use the sympathetic system laboriously, which raises stress hormones in the body. In excessive quantities, these hormones can interrupt recovery and adaptation to training. Therefore, they need to be balanced with activities that allow the parasympathetic system to do its thing, like yoga, listening to music or commonly chilling out.

Make sure that you actively plan recovery time to relax and attend classes for yoga or meditation to push yourself to chill – in case you don’t find it an easy thing to do.

Try some cross-training: it’s beneficial incorporating non-swim, bike, run training sessions into your week to avoid over-training and enhance recovery after races. Low-impact sports like roller skiing, rowing or using elliptical machines in the gym are good places to begin and have the extra benefit of providing a mental break from the pool, road or track. 

They encourage blood flow and warm muscles up without repetitively damaging muscles by repeating the same movement patterns repeatedly. Try to swap one or two run and bike sessions for low-impact options in the week following a race to not only keep training volume up but also to let muscular recovery in your legs.

Try to avoid germ exposure after hard training and races: in the hours directly following a race or hard training session, your body’s immune system is at its lowest. This makes you vulnerable to bacteria and viruses. 

Getting sick will greatly hinder recovery, so avoiding sick people and situations where you’ll likely come into contact with large amounts of germs after hard sessions and races are necessary to stay healthy and optimise recovery.

Don’t exercise very hard instantly before going on planes, where the recycled air is a refuge for coughs and colds. Also, try to avoid getting on the elevator or other crowded public transport right after a challenging workout where you’ll be exposed to a lot of germs.

What are the recovery practices of the pros?

Hear it straight from the professional athletes and coaches on the practices they recommend for fast recovery after training [4]:

Chris Baldwin: professional road cyclist, United Health Care; two-time USPRO Time Trail Champ

  • Drinking a recovery shake of your choice, a Muscle Milk/CytoCarb mix.
  • Stretching, foam roller massage that targets the calves, hips, quads and spine.
  • Taking a post-ride nap, approximately 60 minutes of ‘forced relaxing’ time.

Joe Friel: author, best-selling “The Triathlete’s Training Bible” book series; USA Triathlon and USA Cycling elite-level coach; former chairman of USA Triathlon National Coaching Commission

  • Consuming carbs within 30 minutes post-workout if it was a high-stress (long and or intense session). Drink and eat until feeling satisfied.
  • Wear ngc ompression socks if you can’t elevate your legs for several minutes after a hard session.
  • Doing some self-massage on your legs, working fluids toward the heart.

Dave Hancock: training and conditioning director for the New York Knicks, former physiotherapist for Manchester United

  • Taking an ice bath with ten minutes of cold immersion, waist down.
  • Wearing compression clothing, and if these don’t work, we give our players made-to-measure recovery socks, which are graded like stockings you wear after surgery. These have shown to have a significant effect on increasing venous return and thus flush the oxidative chemicals left post-exercise.
  • Going on a bike flush for 15 minutes, followed by a 15-minute ‘flush’ massage, especially in the calves area, and then ice immersion again 24 hours post-game.

Sarah Hammer: world champion (three-time ) and USA record holder in track cycling

  • Getting a massage with a foam roller to work quads, glutes, hamstrings, ITB and calves.
  • Wearing compression clothing after training and while travelling, especially overseas trips.
  • Going on easy 30- to 60-minute recovery rides, also known as ‘active recovery.”

Levi Leipheimer: professional road cyclist (Team Radio Shack), won Tour of California the last three years Tour De France third overall placer. 

  • Massaging using a foam roller to target glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves.
  • Using a massage stick that’s easy to travel with and used to focus on calves, ITB and quads.
  • Using compression on legs.

Ruvell Martin: NFL wide receiver (Seattle Seahawks)

  • Taking an ice bath after every game and after a hard practice or workout.
  • Getting a deep tissue massage from a therapist.
  • Taking daily supplements for recovery, including a breakfast, lunch and dinner packet of different supplements – in the form of pills; a night-time packet of pills, an amino acid shake pre and post workouts and a protein shake after workouts.

Samantha McGlone: professional triathlete, 2004 Olympian and world champion (Ironman 70.3) 

  • Wearing compression recovery tights and socks, worn after hard workouts and while travelling.
  • Using a pneumatic compression device. Here, multi-segment inflatable boots are placed around the legs and rhythmically inflated and deflated to carefully specified pressures that mimic normal physiology.
  • Taking ice baths, which are simple, cheap and effective – especially when you have friends willing to carry 100-pound ice bags up the steps for you.

Krissy Moehl : ultrarunner, second female at 2009 Western States, placed as first female and holds course record for the Hardrock 100

  • Taking a drink that I use after any run longer than 90 minutes. I feel I can get back out for another run sooner and feel better by hitting that critical 30-minute window.
  • Taking daily supplements of green foods, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
  • Wearing compression tights for travelling home. I wear them for three days straight (except to shower) to help decrease swelling.

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What happens in the muscle recovery process?

The process of exercising can damage muscles and create micro-tears in their fibres. Eventually, you come to a stage of muscle exhaustion – which is why, after a heavy training session, you experience waking up with your muscles crying in protest with every move.

During this time of muscle recovery, they will repair themselves, overlaying proteins on the damaged sites and rebuilding themselves, making your body better prepared to handle exercise next time. If the workout is the ‘pain’ part of the equation, rest is the ‘gain’, when all the things that lead to improved performance happens.

Muscle recovery and health supplements

As we grow older, we tend to have less energy and get tired faster. Muscle recovery becomes harder after strenuous activities like triathlons. Although this is universally accepted, it doesn’t have to be this way. 

There are diets to help with this concern, but many people are turning to supplements for help. Did you know that is a product range that delivers a substance called urolithin A? It improves the health of mitochondria health, which produce most of the required energy to repair our body’s cells.

Our cells become damaged and reach a point wherein our body breaks down malfunctioning mitochondria and reuses their molecules. This process is called mitophagy and it decreases as we age, making us less able to replace damaged mitochondria.

Urolithin A boosts mitochondrial and muscle function while a metabolite, signifying that the body makes it from raw materials from fruits (mainly pomegranates). However, not everyone can produce adequate quantities of this antiaging molecule – that’s where the supplement comes in.

It’s not enough to take in enough urolithin A components, as your body can change those ingredients into the postbiotic. The key to this process lies in your gut microbiome.

It is overflowing with trillions of microorganisms (including bacteria, fungi and viruses). Our microbiome helps us digest food, regulate our immune system and produce critical diverse molecules like vitamin K, thiamine and riboflavin.

All of us possess a unique microbiome. Roughly 40% of the human population has a microbiome that accepts the ellagitannins in berries, pomegranates and nuts and can synthesise the vital urolithin A. This leaves some individuals without the secret weapon to muscle recovery. 

For the remaining 60% of us, it’s not important how much pomegranate juice we consume; we can’t make valuable quantities of urolithin A, and that’s why supplements can significantly help with the goal of hastening muscle recovery.

Quickly, here’s a review of how to recover fast after a heavy endurance activity as a triathlete:

  • Hydration: the recommendation is something with good mineral content. Cooling is essential, especially after a hot to help your body’s core temperature to go back to normal.
  • Eat easy-to-digest food with a protein cab ratio of 1:2.
  • Keep moving (if possible) not completely to shut down functions in the body.
  • Cooling: especially critical after a long-distance race.
  • Rest: even if you can’t sleep, lay down and raise your legs.

Mitopure from Amazentis

Clueless on which supplement to try? Scientists at Swiss company, Amazentis were ready to take on this challenge. Studies show that Urolithin A exposure to nematodes (roundworms) lengthens their lifespan and mitophagy. 

Their subjects’ mobility was also raised with age and extended activity. Urolithin A also bosted exercise capacity in mice suffering age-related muscle decline.

A supplement encouraging a natural body process makes human muscle recovery possible. Current research reveal that urolithin A can play a vital role in enhancing muscles and extending activity – which is important as muscles decline with age, exposing us to the dangers of frailty.

Using urolithin A in human trials specifies that a precise dose is needed. Amazentis introduced Mitopure, a proprietary urolithin A supplement under the Timeline brand, including powder and soft-gel forms. 

Urolithin A improves mitochondrial and muscle function – while a metabolite, pointing out that the body makes it from raw materials from fruits (predominantly pomegranates). Yet, not everyone can produce enough quantities of this antiaging molecule, and that’s where the supplement can assist.


Boost muscle recovery with Mitopure. Click here to learn more.


Much research into urolithin A has been done on the general population – but a recent study, specifically on aging, means it could translate to elite athletes as well. 

A study on urolithin A presented at sports medicine conference reported improvements in muscle function and VO2 max, so any endurance advancement is the first to show beneficial effects in a healthy middle-aged population.

The tips mentioned can guide your recovery after a triathlon but always remember that each body is different, and one of the best ways to take care of it is to listen to what it’s telling you.

The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

[1] https://www.triathlete.com/events/what-you-need-to-know-about-every-triathlon-distance/
[2] https://www.teamusa.org/USA-Triathlon/About/Multisport
[3] https://www.220triathlon.com/training/beginners/20-ways-to-boost-recovery-after-a-triathlon/
[4] https://www.triathlete.com/training/tri-training-tip-recovery-secrets-from-the-professionals/

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The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.