Balancing Training & Recovery

In most of the training literature it is well documented that the benefits of training are not realised without appropriate rest and recovery (R&R). Not getting enough R&R leads to overtraining – the bodies way of saying it has had enough and that it wants to stop. If you don’t listen the body invariably shuts down usually by way of a cold or some other minor illness. This is what happened in my case last week – I had been training regularly and with intensity. I did a couple of fantastic strong rides and then pow I got a cold. At the time I was kind of bemused as to why it had happened as I had been riding so strong but on reflection I realise I was doing too much too soon and by ‘too much’ I mean too much intensity.

I kept asking myself questions about what had led to the overtraining and this led me to a book, ‘The Cyclist’s Training Bible’, by an eminent cycling coach Joe Friel. The book lays out the science behind training and how it can be applied into developing more effective training plans. So, what did I learn?

  1. Joe stresses the need to establish a ‘base’ level of fitness as an absolute prerequisite to more intense and specific training. He sets out a test that can be completed to validate when an athlete has established a base level of fitness.
  2. Base training is essentially composed of endurance training coupled to strength or weight training.
  3. He repeatedly stresses the importance of recovery as a means of realising the benefits of training.
  4. Base training for established athletes is typically done early season and lasts about 12 weeks. For non athletes or people new to training, base training can take longer than this.
  5. Joe reinforces the need to get the base fitness established before moving on to the next period of training which he refers to as ‘build’.
  6. Joe advocates the need for athletes over 40 to factor in more recovery time to their training. 1 week of recovery typically follows 3 weeks of training for athletes under 40, however, this is reduced to 2 weeks training followed by 1 week of R&R for the over-40’s or ‘masters’ as referred to in the book
  7. The strongest fittest athletes are those that recover the quickest from training. Getting recovery right is the key to optimising fitness progress
  8. Joe advocates cyclical training – periods of applied training followed by adequate periods of R&R
  9. Joe is a big fan of cycling training using power meters

As a result of what I have learned I will be doing the following:

  1. I now take my HRV reading every morning using iThlete – this provides more accurate data on my bodies response to training
  2. I am paying more attention to signs of overtraining such as irritability, erratic appetite, disturbed or low quality sleep, etc, etc
  3. I am recording as much data as I can in a ‘training’ spreadsheet. I will use this to monitor progress and to anticipate overtraining
  4. I have decided to adopt Joe’s ‘periodisation’ method of training starting with base training (12 weeks). My base training is split into 3 phases; base 1 (3 weeks), base 2 (3 weeks) and base 3 (6 weeks)
  5. I have set out a training plan for the rest of the year which culminates at the end of July when I reach 50 and when I do the RideLondon sportive
  6. The training plan will serve as the starting point for plans in future years. Towards July I will start to draft out a training plan for 2014 – my goals for 2014 will depend on the level of fitness I achieve over the next 5 months
  7. My base 1 training starts at the beginning of March – it focuses on endurance riding and weight training (3 hours per week). The emphasis is on riding more hours (typically 15-18 hours per week) and less intensity (ie., training more in HRZ 2 or endurance zone). More intensive training will be introduced as I progress through base 1 into base 2 and then base 3
  8. I may need to adjust the endurance cycling hours based on my rate of recovery
  9. I will introduce more testing as a means of monitoring progress
  10. I will focus on losing as much weights as possible during my base training phase. Shedding weight is much harder when intensity of training ramps later in the year – therefore, best to shed the pounds now and it just so happens that endurance training is the most effective exercise in burning fat. Weight training will aid this process by building muscle mass and therefore elevating my metabolic rate which in turn will burn fat

I think the key for me is to build build build my base endurance – this means many more cycling hours at HRZ 2. The fact that I also need to focus on weight training is great because part of my overall goal is to have a much leaner muscular body. I will keep an eye on R&R – I need to be sure that my body is recovering from the increase in cycling hours – in effect, it is doubling from 7.5/8 hours a week to 16-18 hours per week. This may need to be adjusted down. I will complete the base fitness test at the end of each of the three base periods. If I have not established the required level of base fitness I will return to base training and I will continue base training until I get it.

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What Next?

I am making good progress towards my 50th birthday goal. My aim is to be in the best shape I have ever been in. Already, I am feeling the benefits of my training programme:

i am fitter

i am stronger

have lost body fat

i suffer from less illnesses

i have a much improved diet

I am more focused

The question I am now asking myself is what happens beyond this goal? What am I going to do after my 50th. Given the benefits I have enjoyed to date it clearly is in my best interest to have a goal to work towards that maintains these benefits beyond my 50th so what should that be? Should I race competitively, should I go on bIke tours, should I raise money for charity, what am I going to aim for that will compel me to carry on training? Linked to this is what is my potential, what can I reasonably expect to achieve?

Weight Loss

Over the past few days I have felt ‘lighter’ and so having checked my weight on the scales I was delighted to find it had gone down from 76 to 75kg (12 stone 2lb to 11 stone 12lb). This weight loss means a great deal to me because it has been hard fought and represents a lot of training since October and a disciplined approach to what I have been eating since January. The final component, the disciplined eating, has directly led to the weight reduction so it is worth reviewing the changes that I have made:

1. Calorie counting – I have calculated what I should be consuming each day and I have consumed slightly below this. On a training day I’ll eat up to 3000 calories and this reduces to 2500 on a non-training day

2. Portion and weight controls – both the type of food I eat and the quantity. So, for example I will have no more than 50g dry weight rice or pasta with a meal. I bulk out with salad and vegetables

3. Reducing the amount of food or energy drinks I consume whilst out cycling. I have learnt to eat well before I go out riding to reduce the need to consume food whilst riding. I also believe my body is now burning fat stores better whereas before my energy would have come from blood glucose and glycogen stores. I’ve drawn this conclusion as I am now able to comfortably ride beyond 2 hours (point at which any stored glycogen and glucose will have been used up).

4. Reducing fat intake – I have switched to lower fat alternatives such as skimmed milk and low fat yogurt. I have also reduced the amount of oil I cook with and cut out butter wherever possible. I have stopped or significantly reduced consumption of high fat foods such as nuts, cakes, biscuits, crisps, chocolate, etc

5. Spreading my calorie intake more evenly across the day by having smaller meals more regularly. A typical day: 1. Breakfast 2. Mid morning snack 3. Lunch 4. Mid-afternoon snack 5. Tea or Dinner 6. Supper 7. Late night (if hunger prevents me from sleeping). If I train then I add a meal. Therefore, on non-training days I will eat 6 or 7 meals and on training days I will eat 7 or 8 meals. Typical meals average between 300 and 400 calories.

6. Increasing my protein intake – I now consume approx. 100g protein each day. The main sources are from eggs, oats, tin mackerel, smoked salmon, meat, and milk

7. Post recovery ride eating – I will consume a raw egg mixed with some milk immediately after a ride. I will consume a meal containing 50g carbohydrate within an hour of the training and then I will repeat this meal after 1-2 hours. My aim has been to replenish my glycogen and blood glucose stores during a period when my body’s ability to replenish these stores is heightened. This helps to stave off hunger pangs and binge eating

8. Eating more oily fish – the benefits of eating oily fish are well documented and I eat mackerel and salmon 3 or 4 times per week

9. Increasing my consumption of coffee – I now drink a lot more ‘espresso’ coffee usually before a training ride. Evidence has suggested that 2 espresso cups of coffee before training can help fat burning.

10. Cutting out alcohol – I very rarely drink as I just view alcohol as empty calories

11. Partnering with my wife over what foods we eat. She is also careful about what she eats and has adopted many of the above. This has made meal planning and meal making a shared experience.

Interestingly, I have not found it too difficult to stick with the above, especially eliminating high fat snacky foods. I have become much more aware of the calorific and fat content of foods. This has led to much improved decision-making over what foods I eat. I also recognise the amount of effort I have put into achieving my weight loss and I am not about to give up this hard-won gain by returning to bad habits. I am feeling the benefits of my diet in my training. My strength, stamina and body shape continue to improve. Another major benefit has been the reduction in illness. I had a slight temperature about two weeks ago but apart from that I have enjoyed a clean bill of health. I used to suffer from some minor illness (cold, flu, etc) every 3 or 4 months – this would last between 4-6 days. Over the past 6 months I have lost no days to illness. Further weight loss will improve my power/weight ratio on the bike and feed through into better climbing and sustained higher tempo riding.

Based on my diet since the New Year I have calculated that it takes me 6 weeks to lose 1kg of weight (1kg = 2.2lb). Therefore, based on my current rate of weight loss, my weight should have reduced to 74kg by the end of the current training programme (31/3/13) and to 72kg (11st 4lb or 159lbs) by the end of July (my 50th birthday). This weight loss does not take account of muscle gain. I am not too familiar with the rate of muscle gain but a quick scan online tends to reveal a gain of 1kg muscle mass every 4 weeks. If I assume a 1kg muscle gain every 6 weeks then this means I will have to lose 2kg of body fat every 6 weeks.

Provided I continue my programme of weight training my body shape should be closer to my ideal by the time I am 50 which remains my main motivation.

Functional Threshold Heart Rate Test (FTHR Test) 1st February 2013

My average HR over the 20 minutes of the test was 161. Average speed was around 22mph. Test conducted mid-afternoon on B3161 between Exeter and Cullompton. Did 10 minutes heading north and 10 minutes heading south to eliminate the effects of the wind. Lactic acid built up in my calfs with 2/3 minutes remaining. Having plugged my average HR into British Cycling’s HR zone calculator it came back with the following zones (previous HR in brackets):

Active recovery <109 (<112)

Endurance 109 to 133 (112-116)

Tempo 133 to 151 (136-154)

Threshold 151 to 169 (154-172)

VO2 max 169 to 194 (172-182)

The most important figure here is the upper limit of tempo which is 151 representing the switch from aerobic to anaerobic. The old measurements were estimated and weren’t that far off the figures taken from the test.

Cycling/Fitness Goal 1st February 2013

My main target is to complete a total of 68 hours bike riding by the end of March

Additionally, or as part of this main goal:

A. Refine each ride to focus on targeted training. The aim is to increase my Functional Threshold so I can sustain more powerful riding for longer and improve my climbing

Sunday club ride – 3 hour duration at tempo and above

Long endurance ride – 3 hours+ at endurance

Steady state ride – 2 hours at tempo including 3 x 20 minute intervals at upper range of tempo followed by 10 minute recovery

Climbing/power – 1-1.5 hours tempo with threshold intervals of between 5 and 10 minutes duration

B. Strength work in gym twice a week focussing on core and upper body

C. Complete 1,000 miles

D. Reduce my body fat and reduce my weight to 74kg

E. Complete Functional Threshold Test at end of February and March