So you’ve just finished a hard race or workout, you’re covered in road grime, dehydrated, hungry as all get out and probably just want to take a nap. So what do you do next? Most cyclists know that they should stretch a bit or maybe hit a recovery drink (sorry, beer doesn’t actually count). Few, however, have a solid recovery regimen that they follow after every ride.
This is a shame because if you aren’t taking the time to recover properly, you’re not benefiting fully from all the hard work you just put in. Taking the time to go through a proper recovery regime will insure you get stronger and have more energy. You put the work in, make sure you’re reaping all the rewards!
The two most common excuses for skipping a recovery routine are; “Who has the time” and “I just want to relax when I’m done with a ride”. However a thorough recovery routine can be done in as little as 15-20 minutes and will leave you feeling reenergized and rejuvinated.
By following these five steps you’ll recover quicker, be less likely to get injured and feel stronger on the bike.
Spin-Down – Immediately after finishing a ride, take 5-15minutes to spin easily. This is best done by spinning an increasing easier gear at 80-100RPM. Just keep your legs moving. This allows your heart-rate to come down to a resting rate more gradually and facilitates your muscles in their removal of lactic acid/ammonia. You’ll be much less likely to experience cramps and severe muscle stiffness after taking a few minutes to cool down.
Unwind - Ahhhh the dreaded stretching routine. To make it even worse, I recommend combining your post ride stretching with a short core work-out. Oh. The. Agony. Even as the most time consuming step of your new recovery regime, a stretch/core routine can be done in less than 15 minutes. And you know what else, you’ll feel better on and off the bike if you do it after even half of your rides.
A good stretching routine will be dynamic and target your entire body while focusing on the legs. Yoga inspired stretches will get you the most bang for your buck, targeting multiple muscle groups at once. Make sure at the very least that you stretch your quads, calves, hamstrings and back (you know, all the muscles that you put through the ringer mile after mile).
Piggieback your stretching routine with a quick core workout. One of my favorite 5 minute core routines can be found here. Including a short core routine helps your body to buffer lactic acid after your workout. Not to mention the core strength you gain by dedicating to a regular core workout will increase your power on the bike.
Experiment with which stretches work for you and remember; Don’t push it! If you’re straining yourself, you’re most likely doing more damage than good. Stretching is a process and if you feel inflexible, be patient, you’ll feel better the more often you do it.
Rehydrate - Throughout your entire recovery routine make sure to keep taking in fluids. You’ve been poring out more fluids than your body can take in for the whole of your workout so you have some catching up to do. However, this doesn’t mean you should chug water until it’s coming out of your ears.
I typically drink one bottle of sports drink as i’m going through my cool-down and stretching routine. Following this I make sure to keep sipping on fluids for the rest of the day. After a particularly hot or hard ride I take a few electrolyte support supplements(such as Hammer Endurolytes or SportLegs) to help replenish my electrolyte levels. Remember when you sweat your not just losing fluids, your also losing electrolytes such as sodium, magnesium and potassium which are critical in the hydration process.
If you’re feeling particularly cracked make sure to take in some sugar/carbs immediately after getting off the bike. Fresh fruit is my favorite, however a spare gel, Clif Bar, or even chocolate and Coca-Cola will work in a pinch.
Replenish – One of the best parts about being an endurance athlete is being able to eat guilt free following a workout. While sometimes that double bacon cheese burger is fine, try to keep your post ride meals healthy and varied. Remember, you get out what you put in!
Keep in mind the two following steps to help make sure your body gets what it needs to repair itself.
- Within 30 minutes of finishing your workout: Take in 15-25 grams of a high quality protein(I recommend a whey protein isolate) and a moderate amount sugar and carbs(fresh fruit, bread/cheese, etc). Try sipping on a recovery drink throughout your stretching/core routine and then have a carb rich snack immediately afterwards.
- Within 60 minutes: Eat a nutrient rich meal full of healthy carbs, protein and fat. Green beans, currie rice and salmon, veggie/tofu stir fry, Baked chicken, sweat potatoes and whole grain bread, etc.
Rejuvenate – If you have the time, try napping after a long ride or hard workout. It’ll give your body a double dose of naturally occurring Human Growth Hormone(HGH) which is essential to muscle recovery and growth. This combined with an ample and regular sleep schedule will insure your riding strong day after day.
Next time you finish a ride or race, keep these recovery tips in mind.
- Spin Down
You’ll have more energy, recover more fully and get stronger faster.