Sleeping for Speed. Using Quality Shut Eye to be Fitter and Faster.

Successful athletes need to approach training with a perspective beyond workouts on the bike. While many athletes do pay attention to nutrition, recovery is often left to the wayside. One area of recovery often neglected, but essential to peak performance is simply getting a good night’s sleep. Often we reduce the amount of sleep we get to make more room for our training, work, or any other activity throughout the day.
Sleep has a significant effect on exercise performance. Endurance athletes feel the impacts of poor sleep more so than many, as sleep deprivation has particularly adverse effects on
prolonged submaximal exercise. This means that the less you sleep, the worse your recovery post race or workout will be. The result is riding much slower than your potential. It’s not just tired legs that you will have to deal with however. There are a number of physiological processes under the hood that are affected:
  • Glucose Metabolism – The body becomes less efficient at processing carbohydrates, meaning decreased energy stores to work with, and as a result it will take longer for on the bike nutrition to kick in.
  • Protein Synthesis – The body becomes less efficient at making the proteins used to repair the muscle damage induced by training. Recovery is going to take much longer than normal.
  • Appetite – Appetite is increased, which in turn means a higher caloric intake overall. Staying lean and maintaining a good power to weight ratio is difficult when the body’s calorie intake is higher than what is burned during training.
  • Immune Function – The immune system becomes suppressed, making fighting off illness much more difficult. Combined with the hit the immune system already takes from training; disaster is much more likely.
  • Cognitive Function – Concentration and decision making skills are going to be impaired. The resulting lack of focus could consequently be the difference between making the winning break or finishing in the pack.
Whether it’s staying healthy or making sure your glycogen stores are adequately topped off, all of these processes are vital to ensuring peak performance on race day.
So how do you improve your sleep?

Nutrition

Nutrition plays a big role in performance, and often athletes put considerable effort and thought into how they eat. However, many people never give much thought to how it may affect their sleep, which is the most important aspect of the recovery process. Here are a few tips on how to use your diet to help you sleep better:
  • Eat a high carb, high GI (glycemic index) meal 1 hour or more before bed. This can decrease you sleep latency (time it takes to fall asleep).
  • Incorporate a high amount of protein into your diet. This can improve your overall sleep quality.
  • Dose a small amount of Tryptophan (~1g) from sources such as turkey or pumpkin seeds. Tryptophan is the precursor compound to melatonin and can improve both latency and quality of sleep.
  • Don’t drink coffee right before bed. I know its hard, cycling and coffee go hand in hand. Depending on your caffeine tolerance, that coffee with dinner can keep you revved well into the night.

Daily Habits

  • Set a time to wake-up and fall asleep every day. Even the weekends. This will help set your circadian rhythm to make you tired at an appropriate time.
  • Avoid electronics, such as your phone or television in bed. Depending on the individual, these may keep the brain working and further extend the time it takes to wind down.
  • Do some sort of calming activity, such as reading before bed. This will allow your brain to cool-down from the day. Depending on the book you’ll be out in minutes!
  • Don’t workout before bed if you can help it. Sometimes you have to and that’s life, but it is not ideal. You will probably be wide awake after, regardless of how intense it was.

Conclusion

Sleep is vital to success as an athlete, and as you can see there are a number of ways you can sleep harder in order to ride harder. Prioritize your shut-eye and you’ll be better equipped to tackle anything your day or race throws your way!