Thursday, September 14, 2017

Stage Racing: Race, Recover, Repeat

Physical recovery is a
key component to
stage racing success.
"No rest is worth anything expect the rest that is earned."  -Unknown

Stage racing is an increasingly common format of racing in which an athlete performs multiple races over a given period of time (weeks, days, hours).  While physical preparation and appropriate tapering is paramount, what you do (or don't do) between races may be the key to your ultimate success.  

Recovery Is Key
Your "in race" race plan will include a number of elements including gear, pacing, and nutrition.  But what happens the moment the stage is over may determine your readiness to race up to your training when it's time for the next stage.  This format of racing places a premium on recovery.  And recovery has four basic elements in stage racing.

1.) Nutritional
The initial priority after a stage is nutritional.  The objectives are to re-hydrate, replenish glycogen, and facilitate skeletal muscle repair.  Re-hydration is most effectively accomplished with an isotonic electrolyte containing beverage.  An example would be a diluted formula of HEED (ie. half a scoop per 20-24 ounces water).  Re-hydration rates are directly proportional to the environmental conditions, intensity, and duration of the stage.  It's important to note that water alone is not the preferred fluid and may contribute to significant electrolyte imbalances later in the event.

Take Home:  Re-hydrate with a diluted energy drink as soon as a stage is completed.

Once the re-hydration priority is satisfied the next objective is to replenish glycogen stores and to facilitate skeletal muscle repair.  While carbohydrate is the primary fuel source for shorter (ie. less than 30 minutes) more intense efforts (ie. greater than 85% peak capacity), glycogen stores may limit performance in longer (ie. greater than 2 hour) races if adequate carbohydrates aren't available.  Longer races are generally performed at a lower intensity than shorter races.  The fuel sources for these efforts are endogenous/exogenous carbohydrates and stored fats.  Biochemists have concluded that "fats burn in a carbohydrate flame" therefore in order to take advantage of the incredible stored fat energy reserves we must have carbohydrates available to metabolize.  These carbohydrates will be made available from your glycogen stores and your "in race" carbohydrate replenishment.  

Additionally, both shorter high intensity and longer low intensity stage racing results in the breakdown of skeletal muscle.  The degree to which activity-specific skeletal muscle tissue recovers may determine it's ability to contract with optimal force in subsequent stages.  While the restoration of skeletal muscle tissue is both individualized and time dependent, one of the essential components is adequate protein availability.  Optimizing both glycogen replenishment and skeletal muscle repair can be performed nutritionally at the same time.  Within an hour of the stage, consume a 3:1 (carbohydrate to protein) recovery beverage.  Ideally you're aiming for 1 gram of protein per 4 kgs body weight with three times as much carbohydrate.  This is eventually followed by a balanced, safe, and clean meal.  

Take Home:  Drink a "recovery beverage" within an hour of finishing a stage.  It should include both carbohydrate and protein.  Chocolate milk is a great example of an appropriately balanced recovery beverage.

2.)  Medical
Medical priorities are the next thing to address.  While significant issues resulting from physical trauma are obvious, skin integrity can often be the cause of sub-optimal performance including DNF's.  All athletes should get out of race attire and into clean dry clothes as soon as possible.  Runners should assess feet first and then identify any additional chaffing issues.  Cyclists should be concerned about skin integrity in the saddle area.  There are many commercially available products but Caldesene Protecting Powder is a great way to treat most minor skin irritations.  

Take Home:  Get into clean dry clothes fast and take care of your skin.

3.)  Logistical
Once your medical concerns are addressed, work to lay out and arrange your clothing, gear, and nutritional needs for the following stage.  This needs to be done before you focus on resting.

Take Home:  Do work before you do rest.

4.)  Physical
Once your nutritional, medical, and logistical needs are addressed it's time to relax.  As soon as you can, get off your feet and elevate them slightly.  This is also a great time to do some very gentle total body stretching.  While restful sleep is incredibly rejuvenating, unfamiliar and considerably less comfortable sleeping arrangements may make that very challenging.  Even if you're not sleeping soundly remember that resting is still incredibly important.

Take Home:  You don't have to be sleeping to be resting.

Stage racing can be incredibly rewarding and also incredibly taxing.  Include the above four basic recovery elements in your post-stage race and you will place yourself in the best possible position to perform to the level of your training in the next stage.

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