Recovery is seen as the most important of the two pillars of training. The first pillar is the training stress, which is simply the riding you are doing. If you recover quickly after riding long or riding hard, this is a good indicator of your fitness level. Much of the time needed for recovery has to do with your body creating new muscle protein to repair the damage done during the riding you are doing. This repair work starts almost immediately following any of your rides or workouts. There are a number are a number of things that occur during your recovery, and listed below are just a few:
An increase in the fat burning enzymes
More resilient muscles and tendons
Decrease in body fat levels, and an increase in lean muscle mass
Better glycogen storage (energy in the muscles)
Greater heart stroke volume
Lower resting heart rate
What this means is, the body has reached an adaptation stage to the amount of training stress you are putting on it and becomes fitter and more efficient. On the flip side, if you are just starting back into cycling after taking time off due to injury, illness or for another reason, you will notice your body does not recover as quickly, and you may experience soreness and fatigue to your body for up to 2-3 days.
TOOLS FOR RECOVERY:
- Rest – Rest can be inserted into your weekly and monthly riding schedules. I always advocate a two pronged approach to rest, and it is important for everyone, weather you ride recreationally or competitively. Starting on a weekly basis, include one rest day, with no riding, cross training or weight training (light gentle stretching would be acceptable). This day, can be rotated depending on commitments and time availability. Secondly, I also suggest every 3-4 weeks, taking what I call an “active recovery” week. During this week, decrease the mileage by a minimum of 10%, and upwards to 20%, while continuing to maintain the intensity of each ride. Recovery week, is a good week to take an extra day off, if you are feeling more tired and fatigued than usual.
- Recovery rides – A lot of cyclist believe to get stronger, faster and more fit, they have to ride every day. However, it is important to insert easy or what is commonly known as recovery rides on a weekly basis. These short, easy rides help the body “flush out the legs” (remove the lactic acid that has build up in the muscles from hard or long rides) and stimulate blood flow to increase the repair of damaged tissue. The ride parameters are as follows:
- Ridden on a relatively flat terrain.
- Focus is on a high or slightly higher cadence than ones average cadence
- Ridden in the small chain ring, with an easy gear
- Keep the intensity of the ride at zone 1 – or on a perceived level of exertion scale of 1-10, at a level 5 intensity.
- Short distance – 60 – 90 minutes in length
- Massage – Many cyclists find a massage by a professional massage therapist a very effective recovery technique (professional cyclist use massage therapist during the racing season, as well as the off season). Just 10 minutes of massage given within 3 hours after riding, maybe beneficial in alleviating muscle soreness, reducing the chemical by-products of muscle damage and reduce muscle and joint swelling. However, any kind of massage done within the first 36 hours after a ride, should be light and employ long flushing strokes to speed the removal of waste products, as deep and intense muscle pressure, may actually increase the muscle trauma, so should be saved for 36 hours. Cost may be a factor for cyclist, so I would suggest employing the use of a foam roller. Foam rolling has become transformative for many cyclist and athletes. By applying pressure to specific points on the body, you are able to closely mimic the efforts of hand massage. Foam rolling helps to smooth out tightness in the muscles and increase blood flow within the muscle. Foam rollers can be purchased online and have three different densities. If you are a light female rider, choose the less dense version and the bigger more dense the muscle mass of your body, purchase the more dense version. Here is the protocol for use of a foam roller:
- Roll slowly over the entire muscle group
- Use short, slow rolls over particularly tight spots, and spend only 20 seconds pressing on one particular spot.
- Start from the top of the muscle group, then roll downwards, then slowly back up the muscle group
- If you want more pressure on a particular muscle, then allow more of your body weight to press down on the foam, by not using as much of the hands on the floor to take the weight of the body. To decrease the amount of pressure on a particular muscle, let the hands on the floor take more of your body weight.
- 4. Stretching - Stretching, following a ride, appears to aid the recovery process by improving the uptake of amino acids by the muscle cells, promoting protein synthesis within the muscle cells. Stretching after a ride, need only take 15 minutes, and be done while having a recovery drink. Stretching is best done immediately after the ride, while the muscles are still warm and supple. Never stretch a cold muscle, as this can potentially cause an injury to the muscle or joint. Stretching although sometimes viewed as controversial in preventing injuries, has earned the respect of many cyclists and athletes to aid recovery by decreasing muscle stiffness and soreness in the proceeding days after a hard or long ride. During the stretching routine, incorporate stretches for the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, glutes, hip flexors, and if you experience a stiff neck, then include upper and lower back as well.
- Ice Baths – There has been a lot of debate over the years on the validity of doing an ice bath (cold water immersion). A most recent study from the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) suggests that fatigue and inflammation post exercise is necessary to promote long term adaptations to training and subsequent improvements in performance and fitness. Based on the improvements in performance observed in cold water immersion therapy studies, two adaptation theories have been proposed. Firstly, that this type of recovery tool allows the athletes to perform subsequent training sessions with a greater training load (harder workouts) thus leading to increased adaptation to training. Secondly, the theory also suggests that cold water immersion may decrease adaptations to training due to minimization of fatigue and inflammation – which signals the body to adapt and get stronger after training. If you think you may want to experiment with cold water immersion, the protocol is for 15 minutes in 15 degree water, which for most people is quite extreme. An alternative, if you live near a lake or have a pool at home, you could perform a slightly less extreme version, and submerge yourself for 15 – 20 minutes.
- Post ride recovery nutrition – This protocol is imperative when performing rides of 90 minutes or over, and unnecessary for workouts up to 90 minutes. The window of opportunity to replace the glycogen (energy stored in the body) is 15 – 60minutes post ride, although the quicker you take in the calories, the more efficiently it is replaced in the working muscles . Post ride nutrition has evolved over the years to include a specific ratios of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. The minimal ratio is 2:1 (up to 4:2 for longer and more intense rides or events) this is 2 times the amount of calories coming from carbohydrates to the amount of calories coming from protein.
How to determine how much of each you need:
- Take your body weight in pounds and divide by 2.2, this gives you your body weight in kilograms, then multiply this number by 1.2grams.
- For example if you weight 120lbs then this is 54.5kg. Then from here you multiply by 1.2 for the total number of grams = 65.4grams of carbohydrates and 32.7grams of proteins. Chocolate milk (if you are able to tolerate dairy) is seen as a very good recovery food option, as it is quick and easy to consume, with the right ratio of 2:1 carbohydrates to proteins. There are also many commercial products on the market (check online), that offer the same ratios, which come in powder form to be mixed with water, or come already pre-mixed.
I make my own by using the following protocol: (Blend the following ingredients and store in a sport bottle in your bag on a ice pack).
- 2 cups of water
- 1 scoop of my favorite protein powder
- 1 1/4 cup blueberries (or any other berry, or banana)
- 2 tsp L-Glutamine powder (you can purchase this at a health/vitamin store) it is to aid recovery and support the immune system after intense exercise
- 1 tablespoon of coconut oil – an excellent medium branched chain fatty acid, which helps with fat burning and promotes gut and immune health, after intense exercise.