If you want to go further and faster than you ever have before on your bike, it is essential to allow your body time to rest, recover and, most importantly, adapt to the new challenges you are placing upon it. If you want to advance, it is necessary to progressively overload your body, which leads to your muscles being placed under stress resulting in muscle breakdown. Followed by sufficient recovery and repair, those muscles will be able to withstand greater stress than that which was previously placed on them.
If you are unable to give your body enough time and nutrients to recover, you face the risk of more than just sore legs: without enough rest and recovery you can reach the point of fatigue, which will put a spanner in the works of your training, and may even prevent you from racing. There is a fine balance between extending your body’s limits, finding where those limits currently are and not overstepping those limits. Read on for tips on how to recover properly from intensive cycling and to pursue your goals without pushing yourself beyond your abilities and into injury.
The building blocks for your recovery from a hard ride will be carbohydrates to replenish your glycogen stores and protein to repair damaged muscles. Your body will also have used up large amounts of vitamins and minerals, so it’s important to restock on those too. A large serving of protein-rich vegetables on a mound of rice is a good place to start. Vegetables rich in protein include peas, spinach, kale, broccoli, sprouts, mushrooms and more. If you like to eat a lot of meat, you might find that it can be too heavy immediately after a very long and hard ride. You can find other sources of protein from supplements – try adding protein to carb-rich recovery drinks to hit the right balance.
Within 15 minutes of your ride, you will want to consider replacing more of the fluid you have lost on the ride, especially if you have not already been doing so on the ride itself. Weigh yourself following the ride, and drink 1.5 times the body weight lost. Water is best, but you might want to add in carb and protein-rich nutrients as part of a recovery drink.
When you are not a professional athlete, but still enjoy training hard alongside your professional and private life, a common mistake to make which affects your recovery is to not get enough sleep. Professional cyclists often take up to 12 hours of sleep to recover from particularly challenging training and competitions. If you are at the amateur level, then it is unlikely you can reach these impressive sleep goals, but it is recommended to get a minimum of 8 hours sleep each night, and maybe try to slot in an extra hour after a particularly long and/or intensive training day.
Although dedicating a few seconds to stretching muscles at the end of a 6-hour ride is unlikely to have any considerable effect, working stretching into your training is an effective way of aiding your recovery. Long-term flexibility training is an effective way of reducing the amount of tearing which occurs during intense exercise. Give yoga a try two or three times a week and see if it is beneficial to your training.
Besides keeping yourself limber, it is also important to ease your body back into a resting state following intense exercise. Rather than racing full-tilt to your destination and stopping abruptly there, try gentle cycling for 10 to 15 minutes before stopping completely (but remember to stop your speedometer beforehand if you’re aiming for a PB!) This will help your body to re-adapt to being in a resting state and pump the blood appropriately.
Although they are pretty low in the fashion stakes, compression clothing can give you an edge when it comes to recovery. It is something that you will want to experiment with for yourself, since not everybody claims to feel the benefits of using compression clothing, during or after exercise.
Many endurance athletes swear by the practice of active recovery as a way of giving your body sufficient rest, but also not resting completely. The idea is to maintain your body’s resistance to the strain placed upon it by, for example, cycling at a very slow pace and cadence for a short period of time, say 30 minutes to an hour. This may reduce muscle soreness and reduce recovery time, but it is not popular with everybody. Some say that, because you raise your pulse through exercise, which means that you raise your metabolic rate, your body is unable to create the new proteins or the adaptation which your training is designed to achieve. All-in-all, a gentle walk may be the best mode of active recovery.
Take Home Message
Although everybody may choose their own method of rest, relaxation and recovery depending on their abilities and goals, there are a few pointers which will help you on your way. Make sure that you refuel properly and efficiently with good food and lots of fluid immediately after a hard ride, don’t skip on sleep, and incorporate flexibility training like yoga into your training plan. On your days off, you might want to try taking a stroll to “walk off” any soreness.