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The ultimate triathlete training dilemma: work out or sleep in

Posted Nov 19 2010 5:12pm

Sleep-wellness Do you feel like a slacker on the mornings you snoozed through your workout and missed it altogether? You’ve heard sayings like, “while you’re sleeping, someone else is training and getting better” touting those that drag out of bed at ridiculous hours to train and deprive themselves of sleep. They may be getting more training time in, but are they really improving their fitness and health?

First of all, just getting up early every day and working out doesn’t necessarily mean you are getting more fit or improving. Secondly, depriving yourself of rest on a consistent basis can be detrimental to your training and body.

When athletes hit the pavement, treadmill, bike, trainer, weights or pool, they cause damage to the body. From the Journal of Exercise Science and Fitness , “the symptoms of exercise-induced muscle damage include: soreness, increase in limb volume and circumference of damaged muscle, decrease in resting arm angle when the elbow flexors are damaged, decrease in range of motion of the affected limb, decrease in muscular strength, decrease in power output, leakage of myofibre proteins into the blood, the most commonly measured being creatine kinase (CK) and swelling and structural damage.” It doesn’t matter what you do or what intensity you are doing it, damage is being done.

There are a lot of products out there for recovery. Gatorade and Hammer Nutrition have their recovery drinks and there are a lot of shake mixes out there. They can assist in recovery of the body damage to an extent, but they can’t replace the benefits of sleep recovery. You can’t ignore it, without sleep, your body will be in a recovery deficit.

Elizabeth Quinn on has this to say, “While no one completely understands the complexities of sleep, some research indicates that sleep deprivation can lead to increased levels of cortisol (a stress hormone), decreased activity of human growth hormone (which is active during tissue repair), and decreased glycogen synthesis.”

From Wikipedia , “Without proper rest, the chance of stroke or other circulation problems increase and muscle tissue may develop slowly.”

That’s not to say that if you start missing a lot of your workouts a week, you won’t start losing fitness. There is a line at which you need to maintain your workouts in order to gain or maintain fitness, but if you miss a 4 mile recover run or a 20 mile temp ride in a week to sleep in, it probably won’t adversely affect your fitness and getting that extra sleep could be a major benefit in the long run.

The multisport crowd is notorious for over training. You know that triathlete that doesn’t take a day off, ever. You know that friend that gets up at 3am every day to work out, and is proud of it. Pay close attention to their injuries. IT band issues? Knee problems? Shoulder problems? Ankle problems? Sick a lot? Not all of those will be sleep related, but with proper sleep they can reduce the affects or reduce injuries all together. It’s not only about staying limber and weight training.


Some studies even find that athletes can improve their performances by getting more sleep. Jeannine Stein with Time wrote an article on a study at Stanford on athletes and sleep affects demonstrating that performance can be improved. Endurance athletes require more sleep than others due to the extra demands placed on their body. With busy schedules, it’s hard to get to bed at 9pm to get up at 4am for a workout, so a workout or two may have to be sacrificed. Plan your workouts better, see if you can get some training in over lunches and getting it in after work are all some alternatives to sleep deprivation.

Your spouse and friends may also like you better as you get more sleep. You will probably be in a better mood! You know you just shook your head “yes” with that one. Remember your most valuable resource, the support crew, and treat them well!

So the next time you snooze through a workout, don’t be too hard on yourself. You may not be out there while the competition is training hard, but you have added to your recovery base and will be better able to train harder at the next workout.

Ryann Ryan Falkenrath writes the blog , and is a married father of two, owner of three dogs and trying to balance life, work and multisport. Ryan has participated in multisport events since 2001.  Ryan is also the Kansas Endurance Sports Examiner and you can read more of his triathlon thoughs HERE .  Contact Ryan at: or follow him on @TriJayhawkRyan

*All opinions expressed in this story are by the author and are not necessarily those of EMT.

Follow on twitter @ everymantri or view latest videos on YouTube .

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