Post-ride recovery is one of the most important, yet least prioritised, aspects of completing a hard ride. The few hours after your training are optimal for getting the most out of your effort, and helping your body rebuild itself and progress to a new level in time for your next ride. Here’s how:
1. Cool down properly
Your legs may be dying, but stopping abruptly and kicking back on the couch as you step off your bike after a hard ride isn’t a great idea. A cool down is basically step one is preparing for your next training session, and one that shouldn’t be skipped. The reason for this is that progressively tapering down, rather than just stopping, helps remove metabolic waste products from your muscles – waste products that end up just pooling around in the muscles hindering proper recovery. It also helps redistribute blood around the body, and prevents it from getting stuck in the lower extremities where it was needed during exercise. Cycle at a light, easy pace for about 10 minutes after you’ve completed your session. One study found that cyclists who pedaled easy between two time trials were able to improve their performance in the next.
2. Eat your heart out
Adequate post-ride nutrition is essential for refilling muscle glycogen stores and reducing the risk of feeling overly fatigued. The optimal nutrient combination is carbohydrates and protein, in a ratio of 4:1, since fats take much longer to digest. Your best bet is a protein recovery drink, like HIGH5’s Protein Recovery, which provides muscle-mending protein and glycogen-replacing carbohydrates that are easy to digest and quickly enter the system. Both are vital in maintaining and repairing muscle cells and connective tissue taxed during the exercise.
Drinking Protein Recovery before bed is also a good idea. In a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, researchers had a group of exercisers drink a protein shake 30 minutes before bed, while another group drank a shake without protein. Overnight muscle-protein synthesis rates were 22 percent higher in the protein drinkers.
And remember to rehydrate – the body loses significant amounts of electrolytes during activity that are vital to the proper functioning of cells.
3. Rest, but don’t stop completely
Sufficient rest is vital to quick recovery, but this doesn’t mean you should stop training altogether. A couple of days spent doing low-effort training will help get the blood circulating and reduce inflammation. The key is really just to get the blood flowing, not pumping though; your ride should be completely relaxed, it shouldn’t feel like an effort at all. Keep your power and resistance low, heart rate slightly elevated. In fact, many Tour de France riders still put in two to three hours in the saddle on rest days for this very reason.
4.Get your full eight hours a night, and then get some more
For athletes, sleep plays an even more important role than for the average person, not only for physical regeneration, but mental and psychological as well. When you sleep, your body produces hormones that are critical to recovery, such as Human Growth Hormone (HGH). HGH is produced by the pituitary gland, and is part of the repair and restoration function of sleep. It is released by the brain into the bloodstream during sleep in surges. Poor sleep means less HGH being released, which means impaired recovery. If your sleep is poor or disturbed, stress hormones like cortisol will also be released and the body’s ability to resynthesise muscle glycogen may be impaired. Some studies have suggested sleep loss can cause as much as a 40% reduction in glucose metabolism, which is vital for performance.
5. Ease the DOMS
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is a serious hindrance to training. It’s that feeling you get 12-48 hours after a workout that’s like stiffness on steroids – the same feeling that gets you dreading having to stand up from your chair or washing your hair in the shower. It’s the result of microscopic tears in the muscle tissues, which is what happens when you’re pushing hard; it’s your body’s way of telling you that repair work is happening and you need to take it slow. There’s no quick fix, but there are a couple of things you can do to feel better:
- Painkillers: Over the counter painkillers – ibuprofen in particular – has been shown to decrease muscle soreness, and take the edge off a little.
- Gentle Stretching: When muscles are recovering, they tend to feel tight. Slow, gentle stretching may aid in blood flow and easing stiffness a bit.
- Massage therapy: Works similarly to stretching by increasing blood flow to the muscles.
- Warm bath: Warm water helps loosen up the muscles and improve circulation. Improved circulation means more oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood getting to the muscles to help ease and repair them quicker.