Optimal Performance Series for Endurance Athletes | Part 4

Nov 12, 2017Dairy Council® of Arizona, Optimal Performance Series

Part 4: Recovery and Transition to Offseason

Damon McCune, ABD, MS, RDN, LD, Founder of Allied Performance, LLC, Co-Author of The Vertical Diet

Before discussing strategies for recovering from a race and transitioning into an “offseason” training and nutrition program, it is important to understand that the months of training leading up to a race, as well as the race itself takes, an incredible toll on the body [1, 2]. Therefore, it is crucial to allow your body to recover appropriately following an event. Failing to recover properly can increase your risk of injury [3]. Additionally, you will want to transition into a lower volume training routine systematically so that you do not gain too much unwanted weight.


Following a race, it is recommended to reduce training volume substantially to “de-load” your body. How long should this de-load last? The available data suggests that within about a week your body will return to near baseline levels of related biomarkers [1]. How much should you reduce your training volume? That depends on the individual, but in general cutting your volume by at least half is a good starting point. While some may prefer complete rest, I would recommend avoiding the urge to go completely sedentary. Incorporating some short walks throughout the day or simply avoid sitting for long periods can be helpful in recovery [1, 4-6].


Sleep is another critical component of recovery [5-17]. This is something that is often overlooked as a formal part of a training program but it should be prioritized. Getting 7-9 hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep at night is ideal, but you may also incorporate some short naps throughout the day if your schedule allows. Aim for 20-30 minute naps to help you feel more energized [13, 16]; any longer and you could feel more sluggish [13, 16]. Avoid stimulants, especially later in the afternoon. Avoid screens within a half hour before you go to bed. Try to remove any distractions in the room such as light and sound.


In terms of nutrition, immediately post-race it is important to ingest quality carbohydrates and protein. Chocolate milk is a great source for both of these nutrients. If the appropriate amount of carbohydrates are consumed, glycogen should be fully replenished within 48-72 hours [18-20]. Once these stores have been replenished, there is no need to keep hammering down a ton of carbohydrates since training volume has been reduced. Continuing to eat a lot of food or binging on junk food could lead to unwanted weight gain. Let’s be clear, carbohydrates alone will not cause this weight gain, over consumption of calories relative to energy expenditure is the reason for unwanted pounds [21-29]. That is why we need to reduce overall consumption of food to match the lower training load. This is essentially a nutritional “de-load”.  Incorporating dairy into a balanced diet has been shown to optimize body composition [30-32].


Following a de-load, training can resume and progress appropriately. Be honest with yourself; training smart will allow you to remain competitive rather than sidelined with injuries.

  • Try not to compete too frequently as this could increase risk of injury. Everyone is different  but In general, 2-3 events per year is quite a bit.
  • Have an appropriate strategy for your training and nutritional needs. The old cliché, “Failing to plan means you’re planning to fail” is profoundly fitting.
  • Involve coaches who are qualified to provide insight into formulating these strategies. Surround yourself with a team that can help you reach your physical potential safely.
  • Most of all, remember that health isn’t a destination so enjoy the journey.
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  2. Zainudin, H., et al., Training Induced Oxidative Stress-Derived DNA and Muscle Damage in Triathletes. Eurasian J Med, 2019. 51(2): p. 116-120.
  3. Kienstra, C.M., et al., Triathlon Injuries: Transitioning from Prevalence to Prediction and Prevention. Curr Sports Med Rep, 2017. 16(6): p. 397-403.
  4. Bell, K.E., et al., Day-to-Day Changes in Muscle Protein Synthesis in Recovery From Resistance, Aerobic, and High-Intensity Interval Exercise in Older Men. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci, 2015. 70(8): p. 1024-9.
  5. Bonnar, D., et al., Sleep Interventions Designed to Improve Athletic Performance and Recovery: A Systematic Review of Current Approaches. Sports Med, 2018. 48(3): p. 683-703.
  6. Copenhaver, E.A. and A.B. Diamond, The Value of Sleep on Athletic Performance, Injury, and Recovery in the Young Athlete. Pediatr Ann, 2017. 46(3): p. e106-e111.
  7. Nedelec, M., et al., Sleep Hygiene and Recovery Strategies in Elite Soccer Players. Sports Med, 2015. 45(11): p. 1547-59.
  8. Rao, M.N., et al., Subchronic sleep restriction causes tissue-specific insulin resistance. J Clin Endocrinol Metab, 2015. 100(4): p. 1664-71.
  9. Simpson, N.S., E.L. Gibbs, and G.O. Matheson, Optimizing sleep to maximize performance: implications and recommendations for elite athletes. Scand J Med Sci Sports, 2017. 27(3): p. 266-274.
  10. Watson, A.M., Sleep and Athletic Performance. Curr Sports Med Rep, 2017. 16(6): p. 413-418.
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  16. Robertson, M.D., et al., Effects of three weeks of mild sleep restriction implemented in the home environment on multiple metabolic and endocrine markers in healthy young men. Metabolism, 2013. 62(2): p. 204-211.
  17. Souissi, N., et al., Effects of one night’s sleep deprivation on anaerobic performance the following day. Eur J Appl Physiol, 2003. 89(3-4): p. 359-66.
  18. Ivy, J.L., et al., Early postexercise muscle glycogen recovery is enhanced with a carbohydrate-protein supplement. J Appl Physiol (1985), 2002. 93(4): p. 1337-44.
  19. Ruby, B.C., et al., Fast Food Results In Similar Post-exercise Glycogen Recovery And Exercise Performance Compared To Sport Supplements: 1292 Board# 85 May 28, 9: 00 AM-10: 30 AM. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 2015. 47(5S): p. 340.
  20. Wee, S.L., et al., Ingestion of a high-glycemic index meal increases muscle glycogen storage at rest but augments its utilization during subsequent exercise. J Appl Physiol (1985), 2005. 99(2): p. 707-14.
  21. Braun, B. and G.A. Brooks, Critical importance of controlling energy status to understand the effects of” exercise” on metabolism. Exercise and sport sciences reviews, 2008. 36(1): p. 2-4.
  22. Cahill, G.F., Jr. and O.E. Owen, Starvation and survival. Trans Am Clin Climatol Assoc, 1968. 79: p. 13-20.
  23. Carneiro, I.P., et al., Is Obesity Associated with Altered Energy Expenditure? Adv Nutr, 2016. 7(3): p. 476-87.
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Damon McCune, ABD, MS, RDN, LD

Founder of Allied Performance and Co-Author of The Vertical Diet, Damon McCune is a Ph.D. Candidate in Exercise Physiology and Registered Dietitian. Over the last 15 years, Damon has had extensive experience in program development for some of the top athletes in the world in collaboration with leading medical professionals and researchers. Recently, Damon has served in roles as the Director of the Didactic Program in Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and Coordinator of Performance Nutrition for UNLV Athletics. Damon is also the former President of the Southern Nevada Dietetic Association. In his multifaceted roles, Damon has developed mechanisms to advance exercise science and nutrition education and broaden the reach of that information to optimize health and performance by incorporating simple, sensible, and sustainable training and nutritional techniques into a balanced lifestyle.

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