Top 10 tips on Rest and Recovery
Recovery and Recuperation
It’s when your body recovers from training that it adapts and you become fitter. Fail to schedule in and prioritise recovery and you’ll limit your gains and increase your risk of burn-out, illness and injury.
Nik Cook, former coaching consultant at British Cycling and author of the Road Cycling Performance Manual, gives you his top 10 tops to optimise your recovery.
1. Schedule it into your plan
A well designed training plan should schedule in regular (every 3-4 weeks) recovery weeks where training volume is significantly reduced to allow adaptation to take place.
You should also have rest/recovery days during the week. This doesn’t mean doing nothing, this is your chance to do some yoga, pilates or similar, but it should involve giving your legs a rest.
A simple rule of thumb is to have an easy day before and after each hard day.
2. Your next ride starts during the current one
The ride you’re currently doing can easily impact subsequent rides – this particularly apples on multi-day events. Make sure you pace the ride well and don’t be tempted into thinking that more or harder is necessarily better. Fuel and hydrate properly as, if you exhaust your body’s energy reserves excessively or allow yourself to become dehydrated, you will significantly increase the time necessary to recover from the ride. Try to end any ride with 10-15 minutes of easy spinning to cool down.
Don’t hang around in your sweaty cycling kit as this is a guaranteed recipe for saddle sores and infections which will obviously impact future rides. Get clean and save obsessively checking Strava for later.
4. Protein is the priority
On finishing any ride longer than 90 minutes, the priority is to take on some quality protein and, for this, using some protein powder is probably easiest. You will also need some carbohydrates to replenish your body’s glycogen stores but this can often wait until your post ride meal if it’ll be within an hour. Think about when you’re likely to get that meal and, if it’s going to be more than an hour, add some carbohydrates to your recovery drink. Be a bit careful though as it’s easy to end up doubling up on carbs.
5. Stay loose
Some stretching, mobility exercises, foam roller work or even a massage is great for keeping on top of those knots, kinks, imbalances and aches both from your ride and probably having been sat at a desk for most of the week. Arguably the optimal time for this type of work is immediately after you get back from a ride but get clean and warm first. You’ll still get the benefits later on and, if you’re more likely to do a good job when relaxed. This is preferable to a rushed token effort straight after riding.
The old pro maxim of “never stand when you can lean, never lean when you can sit and never sit when you can lie down”, isn’t especially practical or applicable for those of us who have to fit our cycling around work and family. However spending some time elevating your legs after a hard ride can make a difference to recovery by promoting lower body blood flow and preventing pooling. With a pillow behind your head, place your legs up against a wall and aim to stay there for 5 minutes for every hour ridden.
Quality sleep equals good recovery. Equally long term poor sleep will result in diminished mental performance and an increase in the body’s stress hormone cortisol. This will impact on both your ability to train and to recover. Poor sleep can be an early indicator that you’re pushing too hard and not recovering enough.
Follow these top five sleep tips:
- Don’t train hard less than two hours before sleeping.
- Avoidance/reduction of caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol before bedtime. Drink warm milk as it contains the natural sleepy chemical Tryptohan.
- Associate the bedroom with relaxation, get rid of the TV and your mobile.
- Keep the bedroom at a well-aired comfortable temperature and make sure it’s properly dark.
- Don’t lie in bed worrying if you cannot sleep. Do not watch the clock, this encourages a stress response. Not everybody needs 8 hours, give your body the chance and it will find its own perfect sleep pattern.
A very easy “recovery ride” can enhance recovery but, if there’s one thing that amateur riders consistently get wrong, it’s a recovery ride. It has to be strict Zone 1, flat, imagining you’ve got “glass cranks” and, if people on shopping bikes are overtaking you, you’re getting it right. Anything more than this and you won’t be getting any recovery benefit and will actually be adding fatigue. If you don’t think your ego can handle this and you won’t be able to resist pushing a bit harder, do something else.
9. What about ice baths?
The idea of sitting in a bath of ice after a tough ride, especially during the winter, is hardly an attractive proposition but fortunately doesn’t need to be part of your recovery routine. Although ice baths may be beneficial for participants in contact or high impact sports, for cyclists, unless you take a tumble, save the ice cubes for your post-ride recovery smoothie.
10. Don’t pop a pill
Popping a few pain killers during or after a hard ride to prevent next day soreness may seem like a good idea but you could be doing more harm than good. Studies on the use of painkillers during endurance activities have shown negative effects on digestion, kidney function and an increased risk of hyponatremia (dilution of electrolytes within the body).