Training and racing break the body down (catabolic) while recovery allows the body to recover (anabolic) and adapt in a term called “Supercompensation.” Let’s look at a few of the many possible ways to assist in recovery:
Recovery all starts on the bike The important first step to recovery is beginning the recovery process on the bike while riding. Keep the body hydrated, fueled, and try not to finish the ride completely empty. Think about it this way; if you limit the loss of fluids and fuel, the body has less to restore, thus shortening your recovery time. Also remember that it doesn’t take long to lose valuable fluids. You could be keeping your fluid balance up to par, then climb a 10 minute hill in the heat and quickly become dehydrated. Always assume that you are trying to catch up your hydration and energy levels.
As soon as the ride is complete Make sure you do an easy spin to keep the legs loose and begin the process of clearing byproducts (or waste products) out of your system. After you warm down, return to you house or car and immediately get out of cycling clothes and clean your body of excess sweat and dirt (or shower if you can.) A stash of body wipe wet cloths in your kit bag is always handy for this purpose! This would also be a good time to weigh yourself (without cycling clothes) to see how much water weight you have lost. Obviously, the closer your weight pre and post race, the better, but the difference in weight can give you an idea about how much fluid you need to ingest to stay equal. A good rule of thumb is to stay under 2% in lost water weight.
Recovery nutrition Recovery nutrition starts with making sure you restore lost fluids. Place bottles of water in strategic areas and every time you walk by that bottle, take a sip. Places like the car, the office desk, and the kitchen. Next, glycogen stores need to be replenished and it’s best to begin that process as soon as possible after you are done with your workout or race. Prepare for this by taking food to your race or have it ready when you get home. On long training rides, it might even be useful to take a single serving pouch of recovery drink powder with you. That way, on your last drink stop of the day, you can mix up a recovery drink for the last leg of the ride to get a jump on recovery. In fact, itЎ¦s easier to just think about the whole fluid thing as an ongoing process. Research currently supports carbohydrate consumption within 30 minutes of the completion of your event. Combining it with protein can possibly enhance carbohydrate uptake for glycogen replacement and muscle recovery.
Ice bags Good to put ice bags on the major muscle groups of the legs after a hard effort, as it can eliminate swelling. Some athletes also take NSAIDs (Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs,) like Advil, Motrin or aspirin. Of course, when taking any over-the-counter medications, please follow the instructions for use.
Stretching We’ve written about the benefits of stretching many times. A lot of cyclists feel that stretching is not needed, but that is one of cyclingЎ¦s biggest myths. An ongoing stretching routine will keep the muscles smooth and supple and eliminate tension of the large muscle groups while riding, especially in a more aerodynamic position. It can eliminate a lot of potential stiffness, especially the mornings after races or long, hard training rides.
Massage Not much to say here, we just wish we could do it on a daily basis! The only caution is to not do deep tissue massage the day before a big race or hard effort. Use it more to aid recovery after these efforts.
Hanging the legs Elevating the legs above the heart (e.g., on a wall) helps eliminate byproducts out of the legs, which is one of the primary causes of swelling and extended fatigue.
Active recovery with “bursts” Usually, we refer to two different types of recovery. Rest is completely off the bike and active recovery has the athlete doing an easy spin the day after hard efforts. An additional element to add to the easy spin is high cadence sprints or “bursts” (39×16) for 5-8″. Keep them below 8″ in an easier gear, to avoid producing excess lactic accumulation. This workout can help eliminate that heavy leg feeling we always have. Think about it as “cleaning out the pipes.”
Recovery from hard efforts takes various amounts of times for different athletes. A lot depends on the intensity of the efforts, current level of fitness and time of the season. However long it takes, keep one thing in mind and that is to make sure you are recovered before trying to do your next hard workout. Always apply the rule of better over-rested than over-trained. When in doubt, take another day of recovery because if you don’t you may begin to dig a hole of fatigue that is difficult to get out of. And remember, with everyone looking for anything different to help them improve their fitness, it still remains the “basics” like recovery that enables optimal performance.
Bruce Hendler created AthletiCamps to provide cycling specific coaching and training to athletes and cyclists of all levels. Find out more at www.athleticamps.com