Inflammation in the Body Following Training – What’s Happening?

What is happening within the body when it is ‘recovering’ from training? By understanding the process is it possible to optimise the speed of recovery. Are there any markers, apart from HRV, that provide insight into the state of the body with regards to how well recovered it is at any given point in time?

Well, apart from HR, HRV and pulse there doesn’t appear to be many objective measures of a body’s response to training. Therefore, any proposed solution to speeding up recovery is going to involve a degree of trial and error. Based on what I know so far I’d be needing to focus on the following areas to improve my rate of recovery:

  1. Sleep – quantity & quality
  2. Nutrition & hydration
  3. Exercise
  4. Body manipulation – massages, foam rollers, etc
  5. Minimising & removing environmental stress – ie., relaxin’ and chillin’
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Recovery Taking Longer Than Planned

It’s now over two weeks since I completed the Old Roads 300k (200 miles) and my HRV readings have still not rebounded which indicates that I still haven’t fully recovered from that ride and preceding training.

  • Week 11 (4/5-10/5) Old Roads 300k Audax – planned 818 Tss, actual 835
  • Week 12 (11/5-17/5) planned 842 Tss, actual 383 Tss
  • Week 13 (18/5-24/5) 497 Tss recovery week, actual 295 Tss

Planned Tss per week for the last 3 weeks = 2157 (719/wk), actual = 1513 (504/wk), ie 30% lower than planned. So, what do I do moving forward? Do I stick to my original plan and Tss scores or do I revise it down? I’m not too sure what to do. It would be useful to do the FTP test and then decide what to do. If it is taking over two weeks to recover from training then that would suggest my Tss scores need to revised down. Having said that and looking ahead, the Dartmoor Classic is in 4 weeks time so I need to get in some hard training to prepare for that. If I find that I need more time to recover from weeks 14 & 15 then I will still have two weeks in which to fully recover.

  • Week 14 (25/5-31/5) 870 Tss  FTP TEST
  • Week 15 (1/6-7/6) 856 Tss
  • Week 16 (8/6-14/6) 505 Tss recovery week
  • Week 17 (15/6-21/6) 852 Tss Dartmoor Classic
  • Week 18 (22/6-28/6) 887 Tss

There are a couple of issues I need to address, the first is relating to diet and nutrition and the second is sleep. My sleep over recent months has been disturbed primarily because of Benjamin. Yemi and I have to share the responsibility of looking after Benjamin so this means that neither one of us gets the uninterrupted sleep we used to get. Now, the issue with heavy training is that sleep plays a critical role in aiding recovery, in fact, I would go so far as to say that it is the most important ‘activity’ one can do to ensure full recovery. So, looking ahead I am going to have to schedule in some quality sleep time. In week 17 Yemi is away in Rome so I should at least get some decent sleep that week. In weeks 14-16 I need to schedule nights were I go to bed alone and early in order to get sufficient rest.

As for nutrition and diet, over the past few weeks I have really just eaten what I wanted and I have not been disciplined about what I have been eating. My weight has risen to 71.7kg and body fat 8.2%. I will now focus on reducing my body fat to 7.2% and and my weight to 69.7kg in preparation for the Dartmoor Classic.

I start working at B&Q Monday 8th June so I need to make sure I get some solid training in over the next two weeks.

Getting a Good Nights Sleep By Using HRV

Researchers at the University of Salzburg, Austria and the University of California wanted to test the idea that if daytime heart rate variability (HRV) is strongly linked to physical and mental health, would HRV also be a predictor of healthy sleep?

Surprisingly, this has not been tested rigorously before, although HRV during sleep has been assessed in several previous studies.

This is a well-designed and thorough study that controlled the participants’ mental state before bedtime in a sleep lab and compared subjective sleep quality questionnaire results with gold standard polysomnography tests.

What did they do?
29 female subjects took part in the study which spanned over 11 days – one at the start for familiarization/screening and three actual study nights, each separated by a night at home.  A full-length emotionally neutral film about nuns going about their daily tasks was used to normalize the subjects’ mental state before sleep, and thereby minimize the impact of daily stressors. High frequency (i.e. parasympathetic) HRV was measured continuously during the film and used to establish the subjects’ baseline HRV that might predict sleep quality.

During the following nights, the subjects were comprehensively hooked up to ECG, EEG and sleep measuring equipment, from which normal sleep quality measures such as sleep time, delay in falling asleep, sleep efficiency, number of arousals etc. could be calculated. The participants also had to fill in a subjective sleep quality questionnaire. The researchers then looked at correlations between all the sleep indices and the HRV measured during the pre-bedtime movie.

They found significant correlations to daytime HRV for the following variables:

  1. Sleep latency (i.e. time taken to fall asleep)
  2. Number of arousals
  3. HRV during sleep
  4. Sleep questionnaire total score

A higher daytime HRV predicted a shorter time to fall asleep and less arousals during the night, as well as a better sleep questionnaire score. In contrast they found no significant relation to total sleep time or sleep efficiency (time asleep / total time in bed). Interestingly, HRV during sleep which had been studied previously, was only related to the sleep questionnaire score, and less strongly than with daytime HRV.

What does it mean?
Higher daytime HRV was associated with better subjective and objective sleep quality, and the authors go on to suggest that daytime parasympathetic HRV (i.e. HF or RMSSD) is associated with the flexible regulation of arousal.  This makes HRV a key marker once again, of internal processes, this time in the transition from wakefulness to sleep. This makes sense if we think about HRV as an indicator of parasympathetic rest and digest activity, and the counterpoint of the sympathetic ‘fight or flight’ state.  In a natural environment, animals would only fall asleep quickly and sleep soundly when they feel safe and are not stressed.

Practical implications
All of us who have used HRV for even a short while will have figured out that a good night’s sleep is one of the best ways to revive a low HRV score, but we also know that temporarily reducing our HRV through training workouts is a good way to stimulate the adaptations necessary to improve our athletic performance. These findings place more emphasis on recovery techniques that will get HRV as high as possible before bedtime to allow that all important sleep to be fully effective.

Here are some ideas to do this follow, but please also contribute your own thoughts too:

  1. Try to do intensive e.g. HIIT sessions as early in the day as possible so your HRV gets a chance to recover before bed
  2. Good quality nutrition and hydration (dehydration really stresses your system!)
  3. Cold showers / ice baths before bedtime are proven to increase HRV
  4. Deep breathing exercises increase HRV
  5. Avoid bright lights and LED screens before bedtime

Based on this and the previous post I could adapt the following routine to improve overall sleep time & quality:

  1. Aim to get to sleep by 10.30pm, being process of going to sleep at 9pm by turning off TV’s & devices
  2. Keep to set times for sleep, that is time to bed and time to wake. If I wake at 6.20 then to ensure 7 1/2 hours sleep I would need to be asleep by 10.30pm. In addition, if feeling drowsy after lunch then take a nap of between 30-60 minutes
  3. Between 9-9.15pm drink a cup of hot skimmed milk,
  4. Between 9.15-9.45pm take a shower and finish with cold water to raise HRV
  5. Between 9.45-10 do deep breathing exercises
  6. Between 10-10.30 and where needed, read a book before going to sleep
  7. At 10.30pm close eyes and go to sleep

Sleep & Its Importance To Recovery

Sleep plays a pivotal role in recovery and therefore any disruption to sleep or reduction in the quality of sleep will delay recovery and therefore impede overall progress in training.

Sleep is extremely important for numerous biological functions and sleep deprivation can have significant effects on athletic performance, especially sub-maximal, prolonged exercise. From the available evidence it appears that athletes may be obtaining less than 8 h of sleep per night and that increasing sleep (sleep extension) or napping may be useful to increase the total number of hours of sleep and thereby enhance performance.

In normal sleep, the stages follow a structured sequence starting with wake, then light sleep with stages 1 and 2, followed by deep sleep (slow wave sleep) with stages 3 and 4, and then followed by REM sleep. Such a sequence is called a sleep cycle which has a typical duration of 90–110 min. A normal night consists of six sleep cycles where the proportion of deep sleep decreases from the beginning to the end of the night and the proportion of REM sleep increases at the same time. In summary, about 50–60% of time is spent in light sleep, 15–20% of time is spent in deep sleep, 20–25% is spent in REM sleep, and 5% or less is spent in wakefulness.

The autonomous nervous system changes with sleep. Heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate are lowered to adapt to the reduced metabolic needs during normal sleep. Consequently, the mean heart-rate values drop from wakefulness to light sleep and further to deep sleep. During REM sleep heart rate increases again showing a high variability, which may exceed the variability observed during quiet wakefulness

The internal structure of sleep shows clear dynamics that follow a physiological imprinted pattern. This pattern can be described successfully by sleep stages ranging from light sleep to deep sleep and REM sleep. The dynamics of sleep stages can be investigated as such by analyzing the duration of sleep stages in the course of the night. The statistical analysis of sleep-stage durations revealed completely different patterns for the regulation of sleep stages and wakefulness episodes during sleep. This indicates that sleep and wakefulness are not just two parts of a sleep–wakefulness control, but that there exist entirely different mechanisms for their regulation in the brain. This fundamental mechanism is not altered in principle by sleep disorders that have a large impact on sleep fragmentation. Only the parameters of the distributions change.

The analysis of the autonomic nervous system during sleep by the investigation of heart-rate variability gives further insight into the regulation of sleep. We found that when the brain is very active as in the ‘dream’—REM stage, heart rate has long-time correlations, like in the wake phase. In contrast, in deep sleep correlations of the heart rate vanish after a small number of beats. In light sleep finally, the heart rate seems to become uncorrelated as well, but only after an increased number of beats. We also compared the altered autonomic nervous system function in obstructive sleep apnea with the results for normal subjects. We found that the differences between the sleep stages are much clearer than the differences between healthy and sleep apnea subjects. This means that the basic heart-rate control in the different sleep stages is very dominant. Obstructive sleep apnea introduces an additional variation on heart rate with a typical bradycardia/tachycardia pattern corresponding to the apnea events, but leaves the basic autonomous nervous system regulation untouched.

The autonomous nervous system changes with sleep. Heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate are lowered to adapt to the reduced metabolic needs during normal sleep. Consequently, the mean heart-rate values drop from wakefulness to light sleep and further to deep sleep. During REM sleep heart rate increases again showing a high variability, which may exceed the variability observed during quiet wakefulness

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The differences between healthy and sleep apnea subjects were much smaller than the differences between sleep stages. This indicates that the basic mechanisms for heart-rate control on an interbeat level did not change very much with sleep apnea. We assume that this basic mechanism is strongly controlled by sleep stages. It seems likely that the long-range correlations during wakefulness and REM sleep are caused by the enhanced influence of the brain on the autonomous nervous system. When this influence is strongly reduced, as is the case during light sleep and deep sleep, the heartbeat intervals behave in a more random fashion. Our studies support the view that there is a strong interaction between the central nervous sleep regulation and the autonomous nervous system regulation. Both systems interact and the measurable parameters cannot be interpreted without the knowledge about the current state of the other system.

The internal structure of sleep shows clear dynamics that follow a physiological imprinted pattern. This pattern can be described successfully by sleep stages ranging from light sleep to deep sleep and REM sleep. The dynamics of sleep stages can be investigated as such by analyzing the duration of sleep stages in the course of the night. The statistical analysis of sleep-stage durations revealed completely different patterns for the regulation of sleep stages and wakefulness episodes during sleep. This indicates that sleep and wakefulness are not just two parts of a sleep–wakefulness control, but that there exist entirely different mechanisms for their regulation in the brain. This fundamental mechanism is not altered in principle by sleep disorders that have a large impact on sleep fragmentation. Only the parameters of the distributions change.

The analysis of the autonomic nervous system during sleep by the investigation of heart-rate variability gives further insight into the regulation of sleep. We found that when the brain is very active as in the ‘dream’—REM stage, heart rate has long-time correlations, like in the wake phase. In contrast, in deep sleep correlations of the heart rate vanish after a small number of beats. In light sleep finally, the heart rate seems to become uncorrelated as well, but only after an increased number of beats. We also compared the altered autonomic nervous system function in obstructive sleep apnea with the results for normal subjects. We found that the differences between the sleep stages are much clearer than the differences between healthy and sleep apnea subjects. This means that the basic heart-rate control in the different sleep stages is very dominant. Obstructive sleep apnea introduces an additional variation on heart rate with a typical bradycardia/tachycardia pattern corresponding to the apnea events, but leaves the basic autonomous nervous system regulation untouched.

Our studies support the view that there is a strong interaction between the central nervous sleep regulation and the autonomous nervous system regulation. Both systems interact and the measurable parameters cannot be interpreted without the knowledge about the current state of the other system.

So, how can sleep be optimised to aid recovery?

  1. Humans sleep in five phases which repeat themselves every 90 minutes. Five cycles equates to seven-and-a-half hours which is enough for the average adult
  2. Take naps (up to 1 hour) – ideal time after lunch between 1-3
  3. The bedroom should be cool, dark and quiet
  4. Create a good sleep routine by going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time
  5. Avoid watching television in bed, using the computer in bed and avoid watching the clock.
  6. Avoid caffeine approximately 4-5 h prior to sleep (this may vary among individuals)
  7. Do not go to bed after consuming too much fluid as it may result in waking up to use the bathroom
  8. Caffeine and liquids high in sugar are off the menu, as are fat-laden meals, which take longer to digest and raise body temperature, which in turn slows the process of falling to sleep
  9. Begin a pre-sleep routine 90 minutes before bed – start turning off televisions, mobile phones and other electrical devices which give off bright light.
  10. Have a shower prior to sleeping. Your body temperature will cool after coming out of the shower and ease you naturally into a state of sleep.
  11. Turn your radiator down – a cool 16-18C is ideal.
  12. Drink a glass of warm milk before bed. Dairy products are rich in tryptophan, which aids the production of sleep-inducing chemicals serotonin and melatonin.

As well as conditions like sleep apnea, alcohol, work stress and intensive exercise late in the day can limit our amount of deep sleep, whereas aerobic exercise and a regular pre-bed relaxation pattern can facilitate deep sleep. In fact, as summarized in this blog post , higher HRV before bedtime seems to enable a more rapid & effective transition to good quality sleep.

 

Training Plan Changes – For Better Or For Worse?

At the end of February I set out on a 16-week training plan taken from Andrew Coggan’s book, ‘Training & Racing with a Power Meter’ (chapter 9), primarily to improve:

  • Muscular endurance @ 60 and 90 minutes
  • Fatigue resistance at level 4 and 5 (Lactate Threshold & Anaerobic Capacity)
  • Force for better sprinting & time trialling
  • FTP

In the first weeks I stuck to the plan, however, over recent weeks I have noticed how much I have deviated from the original plan and now in week 11, I haven’t referred to Coggan’s plan in setting my activities for the coming weeks so why has this happened and what has been the outcome, good or bad?

Ok, so why did it happen in the first place?

  1. I overreached myself in weeks 1-3 and although I stuck to Coggan’s suggested activities I overdid the intensity averaging 795 Tss per week. My recovery week was just 235 Tss but I needed an easy week in order to recover from the first three!
  2. Holiday in Mallorca weeks 5 & 6. I’d actually set out a plan whilst I was away on holiday but if push came to shove then training would have to take a back seat. As it turned out push did come to shove and plans had to be altered. I did Coggan-style activities but not the ones from the plan. I’d already started to move further away from the plan.
  3. On my return home and in week 7, I decided to return to the plan but unfortunately, I was mentally and physically tired and I just wasn’t up to doing the activities on Coggan’s plan. I took some extra time out for recovery and did 352 Tss for the week.
  4. Week 8 ended with the Exmoor Beauty and so in order to taper for this properly I included a lot of recovery and endurance rides, again deviating from the plan. I also did an unplanned intense short ride on the Thursday before the Beauty which left me with fatigue by the time of the event!! I averaged 15.8mph for the 100k Beauty but I didn’t feel fresh. I’d improved by about 10% from the previous year but I didn’t feel I’d done myself justice and prepared myself properly.
  5. On the Beauty my Garmin gave up and ever since I have been unable to do any proper power training. Because of this I decided to focus on longer endurance rides and achieving weekly Tss scores. In week 9, I did my first ever 200k ride and I felt pretty good. I finished the week with 845 Tss. By this point I also knew that I would stick to a 2-week training block followed by 1-week recovery. Week 10 was a recovery week of 352 Tss.
  6. For the remaining weeks of the plan I have already scheduled activities and I have based these on preparing myself for the Dartmoor Classic which is in the week following the end of the 16-week training block. The activities are a mixture of long endurance rides, shorter high intensity rides, and gym sessions. I’ve worked out what Tss I need to achieve each week to get me towards a CTL (level of fitness) of 100 by the time of the Dartmoor Classic. I have ensured a steady rise in Tss from weeks 11 to 16 to ensure I don’t overtrain.

So, despite not sticking to the plan what are the positives:

  1. I have learnt that I must not overreach myself. It is better to be steady-eddy rather than fizzle out like a firework and the best way to do this is to keep a close eye on weekly Tss
  2. I have learnt that 2 weeks on and one week off work best for me
  3. I have learnt the importance of tapering correctly for an event. Being fresh for an event makes all the difference to how much I enjoy it
  4. It is really difficult to balance a proper training plan with holidays. In future, I need to leave a lot more flexibility with what I plan to do when I’m away on holiday
  5. I’ve not given up on training despite the challenges, especially the loss of the Garmin. I’ve adapted my training to focus on the 300k audax and the Dartmoor Classic. I’ve resorted to longer endurance rides to build up my base. In fact, my base was not sufficiently established to undertake this 16-week plan in the first place as it contained a lot of high intensity activities from the off. No surprise then that I overreached myself! A good lesson to take away here would be to identify an objective means of determining when my base has been firmly established
  6. Coming away from the plan and the Garmin I have listened to my body a lot more closely and been basing my rides more on feel. This has been a good discipline and bore me in good stead on my 200k ride as I got the tapering, pacing and nutrition bang on.

Overall, I have deviated from the original plan however I have maintained regular training and I have adapted the training to how I have been feeling and to the events I have scheduled in my diary. My Performance Chart reveals an initial steep rise in CTL followed by a steep decline but after this my CTL has risen steadily to a point where it is now 10 points higher than it was at any time last year! This is really impressive and if my training continues at the steady pace I have established over the past few weeks then by the time I get to the Dartmoor Classic it will be 40 points higher than it was last year, an increase of between 65-70%.

Finally, I need to remind myself of my long term goal to increase FTP to 320w and this year I aim to move towards this by

  • Achieving an FTP of 266w giving me a power/weight ratio of 4 (Category II) which equates to 280w on an FTP test
  • Reducing my body fat to 5% and thereby lowering my weight to 66-67kg (around 146-148lbs)
  • Completing Dartmoor Classic (107 miles 12,000 feet) in 6 1/2 hours (16.6mph)
  • Completing Ride London in under 5 hours (20mph)

So, in summary I would argue that having a training plan has been a positive. I’m disappointed I’ve not managed to stick to it but perhaps in hindsight my base wasn’t sufficiently established for the rigours of this particular plan and led to an inevitable blow-up. I’m really pleased by the way I adapted my training by listening to my body and thinking about the events I’d committed to doing. Having the events in my mind kept me focussed on making steps forward with my training and I am delighted that I have now reached a level of fitness that I only achieved twice late on in 2014. If I carry on at the rate I am progressing then I have every chance of achieving my longer term FTP goal of 320 watts.

2015 – Training Objectives

My main objective in 2015 is to increase my FTR power to 320w. It is currently around 270w so this represents a massive increase of 50w or an 18.5% improvement. Achieving this goal will put me in a category 1 or 2 rider bracket and make me one of the club’s better riders.

My other objectives:

  1. Reduce my body fat to 5% and my body weight to 67.5kg
  2. Optimise my bike positioning
  3. Dartmoor Classic – finish in gold time of 6h 30m
  4. Wine EWCC mini-series composing 5 x TT – 14m, 15m, 10m, 24m and Hill Climb 1.2m
  5. 10m TT in 24m or 25mph
  6. 24m TT in 59m 45s or 24mph
  7. 100m in 4h 59m or 20mph

 

Review Weeks 8,9 & 10

I’ve just finished training weeks 8,9, and 10. My Garmin has not been working since the end of week 8. It actually stopped working on the Exmoor Beauty which was a bit of a bummer. I completed the 100k (68m) Beauty in approx. 4 hours and 19 minutes at an average speed of around 15.8mph. I only stopped once to fill up my bottles and take in a little food so compared to this time last year I have improved by about 10%.

Overall, I was OK at the beginning but I was carrying over some fatigue in my legs which caught up with me midway near Exford. The second part was against a headwind and I cycled alone for most of the ride. My climbing was pretty good but my overall muscular endurance wasn’t where I wanted it to be. I could have tapered better for this event and I would have felt better during the ride and recorded a faster time. The route was good, I particularly liked the climb just after Simonsbath.

My TSS scores were as follows:

  • Week 8 – 528 incl Exmoor Beauty
  • Week 9 – 845 incl 200k (129m) ride
  • Week 10 – 352 recovery week

There has been a bit of chopping and changing with regards to planned activities as I’ve managed to get iThlete working on the iPad and start recording my HRV again and this has been really useful. It certainly helped in preparing me for my first ever 200k ride which went surprisingly well. My HRV readings in the preceding days were in the 70’s so I knew I was physically ready for it. My route was down to Otterton and then up through Ottery to Dunkeswell, Wellington and Milverton and then up the eastern edge of Exmoor and then west through Wheddon Cross and Exford and then south after Simonsbath to South Molton and then along A377 to Eggesford, over to Winkleigh and then back to Exeter through Crediton. The route was mainly on lanes which was great in terms of avoiding traffic. I was surprisingly strong for such a long ride and I didn’t overly suffer from backside soreness. I was very pleased with my effort recording an average speed of just over 15mph. It could have been faster if I hadn’t got lost a bit in between Milverton and Exmoor! Having said that I did make a point of pacing myself and holding back. I was also quite pleased because I have no computer to measure HR, etc. I used Strava to record the ride, however, it only recorded the first part up to Milverton.

My performance manager chart shows a steady upward rise which is great and well ahead of where I was this time last year. My CTL (fitness) is currently 78.2 and if I carry on training at this rate my fitness or CTL score will be around about 90 for the Dartmoor Classic 2015 which would represent an increase of 40 CTL points compared to the Dartmoor Classic 2014. This bodes well for a good time and progression towards increasing my FTP to 300w for this year. My aim between now and the Dartmoor Classic (21st June) is to gradually increase my TSS by about 30 points each week. I have gone completely away from the training schedule I started with from Coggans power book but I have needed to adapt my training to the events I have planned which have mainly been long endurance rides. This Saturday I will take part in my first ever 300k audax so it has been important to schedule in longer endurance rides which I have been doing. Once I have completed this I will then focus on higher intensive training to increase my climbing speed and muscular or metabolic endurance. Currently, my plan for the next few weeks is as follows:

  • Week 11 (4/5-10/5) 818 Tss Old Roads 300k Audax
  • Week 12 (11/5-17/5) 842 Tss
  • Week 13 (18/5-24/5) 497 Tss recovery week
  • Week 14 (25/5-31/5) 870 Tss  FTP TEST
  • Week 15 (1/6-7/6) 856 Tss
  • Week 16 (8/6-14/6) 505 Tss recovery week
  • Week 17 (15/6-21/6) 852 Tss Dartmoor Classic
  • Week 18 (22/6-28/6) 887 Tss

I need to get my Garmin back asap otherwise I am not going to be able to track my power which is the key goal for the year.