This topic comes not from a question sent in by a reader but an observation that people have made about me: when I train hard – like really hard – I will suddenly be prone to fall asleep. I’m not talking, “I think I need to take a nap” kind of falling asleep, but rather “Joe was in the middle of saying something and his eyes closed” kind of falling asleep. So I thought I would write something about whether this is normal or not.
First of all, just because something happens to me, does not make it normal. But I think that being extra sleepy in the days after a long run or hard workouts is a normal response from your body.
When you are training hard, there are number of processes happening in your body that might cause you to feel extra tired. They are:
1) Restoration of your body’s fuel stores;
2) Repairs to damage done during workouts; and,
3) Changes to your body brought on in response to the workout itself.
All of these things together are part of the process of recovery.
Let’s start at the beginning for a minute. The reason that you should do any particular workout in a workout program is to get a response. Whether you’re running longer or going harder, you’re looking for something out of your workout. Once you’ve completed the assignment, your body then responds by making changes to make you better able to handle the workload next time. This is how we improve over time. We workout, then the body responds. By going longer and harder in our workouts, we can run longer or harder still the next time we try.
But it takes some time for these changes to take effect. During that period of time, the body is busy with its recovery. We need to make sure that we’re taking that time to recover properly before moving on to the next workout. If we push ourselves through another workout before we’re recovered, what happens? We have a terrible workout and we see poor results.
How long does a proper recovery take? It depends on the runner and the difficulty of the workout. It might take only a day for a well trained runner to recover from a track workout and be ready to go again for another one. But it also might take most runners two weeks to recover from a 20 mile run. That’s why it is very important to carefully manage your workout schedule and to space out those long runs in particular. (See my previous entry on trusting your schedule by clicking here).
Keep one more thing in mind when thinking about recovery. After an intense workout your fuel stores are depleted by some amount. Let’s say, whatever that amount is, you are able to restore those stores only to 95% of their original level in one day. That would then mean you would start your next workout with only 95% of the energy capacity of the previous day. The next day you would start your workout at 90% fueled, then 85% and so on. You can see which disaster we’re headed toward here. If you don’t get the proper rest and recovery between workouts, over time you will wind up being compromised before you even start your workouts. This is when burn-out, over-training and poor results happen.
What kinds of things can you do to help your body recover? Here are some tips:
1) Take the time between workouts to adequately recover;
2) Eat and drink what your body needs after workouts to replenish fuel and water stores;
3) If you need to sleep, sleep. Some people will zonk out like me when they are training hard, and that’s OK. This is a sign that your body needs to sleep to recover.
4) Vary your workouts between different types of activities to give yourself enough time to recover from each before doing that workout again.
5) Respect the rest days on your schedule.
Bottom-line: tired is OK. It means that your body is busy doing something in response to your workouts. But give your body the time and capability to do it. As always, listen to your body and if you’re doing too much back off. Otherwise: nap!
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