Training With Power Requires Recovery

All athletes have a lactate threshold. Knowing where yours is will help performance.  Credit: Tim Defrisco/Allsport

Research conducted at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs has shown that maximal oxygen consumption and lactate thresholds do not vary much between the athletes on the national teams when matched for age and sex.

However, what appears to be a deciding factor in who excels at this level is their ability to produce power at their lactate threshold, and also their ability to produce very high power outputs to attack and power up short hills.

Simply put, the best cyclists produce more power and can maintain it for longer periods of time, which translates into higher speeds on the roads or trails.

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With this knowledge becoming available over the last few years, more and more athletes are incorporating power training into their program with the use of a power meter on the road, or the CompuTrainer for indoor cycling, to measure power outputs to improve their power output at lactate threshold.

Most of these training programs require intervals of as little as three to five minutes at 110 percent-plus of lactate threshold power output or longer intervals of, let's say, 15 to 20 minutes at 90 percent to 100 percent of lactate threshold power output.

Because your muscles are working at such a high intensity during a power training session, your muscle glycogen stores (stored carbohydrate) are greatly depleted and your muscle cells are also traumatized by the high stress placed on the muscle cells, which leads to undue muscle soreness.

Your ability to train at a high level several days per week is limited by how well your body recovers its glycogen stores and repairs muscle tissues after strenuous training. The key to maximizing recovery is to consume the right nutrients in the right proportions to ensure your muscles' health and to improve performance the next day.

More: Why Diet and Recovery Matter in Stage Races

The latest research on muscle performance and recovery shows that carbohydrate replacement immediately after exercise can have an enormous impact upon your next day's performance. Therefore it is essential that a carbohydrate supplement be taken in this time frame to optimize recovery.

Even more significant are research findings showing that protein and the amino acid arginine, when combined with a carbohydrate supplement, can strongly stimulate insulin levels in a synergistic fashion. The ratio of carbohydrate to protein is extremely important to obtain this synergy. By further stimulating insulin with protein and arginine, muscle glycogen is restored quicker. The result: improved performance and a faster recovery.

Cyclists who wait more than two hours to consume carbohydrates restore about 50 percent less muscle glycogen than those who consumed carbohydrates during the two-hour period. The difference relates to insulin, a hormone released by the pancreas that is essential for the manufacture of muscle glycogen. Not surprisingly, researchers have focused on enhancing insulin release during recovery. Increasing carbohydrate consumption is one way to stimulate insulin, but the effect of carbohydrate on glycogen storage reaches a plateau.

More: Carbs: Fuel for Your Cycling

John Ivy, Ph.D., from the University of Texas and L.J.C. van Loon, Ph.D., from the University of Maastricht, the Netherlands, have shown that protein, when combined with carbohydrate, almost doubles the insulin response. The ideal ratio of carbohydrate to protein is 4:1 (4 grams of carbohydrate to 1 gram of protein.)

This is also a case where more is less. Too much protein (fat has a similar effect) taken in the zero- to two-hour post-exercise period slows rehydration and glycogen replenishment. A 4:1 ratio which I call the Optimum Recovery Ratio, or OR2 delivers the benefits of protein without having a negative effect on rehydration.

In the Maastricht University study cyclists depleted their glycogen stores during a vigorous, high-intensity cycling workout on three occasions. They refueled with either a placebo, carbohydrate only or carbohydrate-and-protein drink. The researchers then performed a muscle biopsy. Those athletes who took the carbohydrate-protein mix had 100 percent greater stores than those who only drank the carbohydrate. Insulin was also highest in those who consumed the carbohydrate-protein drink.

The more power you can generate, the higher the likelihood that you will get good results in races. Adding power training to your program, and ensuring you use the proper amounts of carbohydrate and protein during recovery, will lead to effective training and improved race performance.

More: Determine Your Century Nutrition Plan

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