Training, Recovery, and Why You Shouldn't Just "Push Harder"
Let me first say that I'm a huge believer in pushing yourself. In fact, I think someone's ability to mentally challenge themselves likely says a lot about how successful they are in most areas of their life.
I'm also a huge believer that we should also physically challenge ourselves. In fact, you'll probably struggle to see any progress in performance if you're not pushing yourself to some degree. It's a prerequisite for growth and to prevent adaptation.
However (you knew it was coming; didn't you?), there's been a mantra develop in recent years breeding the idea that you have to absolutely trash yourself in training to (1) develop better progress/performance metrics and/or (2) as a means to gain mental strength.
This recently came up with a client and athlete I am working with at Valley to Peak. There's no question he had the drive and mental fortitude to push through a tough workout, but what he couldn't' understand was why he couldn't' get his body to fall in line with his desire and mind.
My premise to him was this: "Progress can only happen at the rate in which the stress applied to the body doesn't exceed it's opportunity to recover. Rest and recovery is the most overlooked piece of progress when it comes to training. The body has to have time to adapt. Yes, it's an amazing machine that can survive just about anything, but the goal isn't survival- it's to progress."
The athlete had, had two excellent (but challenging) training days during the week. After gunning for a third one, he realized it was a "slog", but couldn't understand why.
Here's what I explained to him:
Because you aren’t super-human (see image). You’re combatting a couple of things here.
Number one is the fact that you’d just completed a 60-minute endurance ride two days before coupled with another 30-minute lower body strength session. That was followed with another 45-minute ride and another full body strength session.
Our bodies are amazing machines, no doubt! But there’s a huge difference between still being able to get through a workout (which you did) and excelling in it. The latter is less likely to happen if training isn’t broken up to allow for complete recovery between two “powerzone” rides.
A good mantra I learned is “progress will suffer when the demand/stress on the body is greater than its ability to adapt and recover from that stress.”
Second to that, that’s two day after we dropped the calorie intake….coupled with what intake actually was.
The average over 3 days (before the ride, the day of, and after) was 190g with a goal of 220g.
The day of the ride itself was 178g- 84% of target. This is a good example of where preferential eating can fall apart. You might remember we say that it’s preferential unless performance and/or physiology suffers. The former would fit the bill here.
This was a great example of how performance nutrition works and how carbs are the predominant fuel source. It doesn’t seem like 40-45g of carbs could make that big of a difference, but it definitely can.
I think we’ve talked about it, but glycogen is stored in two spots; the muscle and liver. The liver can break it down for brain fuel and physiology (glucose). The muscle can’t. It lacks the enzyme required to do that task. Therefore, it has to be used as muscle fuel. If those stores aren’t full OR aren’t recovered (or both, like I think it is in this scenario), we can’t expect much by way of performance from them.
The remedy here is simple in practice, but difficult for high achievers to wrap their minds around- train smart. A part of that puzzle is spacing and scheduling challenging training regimens with adequate rest between each bout. This will allow the muscle to rest and the muscle to refill with glycogen (the primary fuel of a muscle) for the next training bout.
Whether it's ultrarunning, skiing, or weighted pack hikes to prepare for fall hunting trips, proper spacing, adequate fuel, and plenty of recovery will ultimately yield you WAY more benefit than constantly keeping your training in the red zone!