The Importance of Recovery After Your Ride - How to Do It Effectively
Whether you are new to road cycling or a seasoned professional, you will know that the pain in your legs, back and neck can be an unwelcome companion after a long ride or a particularly tough climb.
And while 'day after' pain can be irritating, if left untreated, it can bring more painful, long-term muscle problems.
Quite apart from limiting your enjoyment, these can ache and pains can develop into long-term issues that can leave you off your road bike for extended periods.
The biggest factor in avoiding post-ride pain is an effective recovery routine. Many road cyclists spend a lot of time in the training and planning phase of their riding lives, but far fewer spend the adequate amount of time required to allow their bodies to recover effectively and leave them in top physical condition for the next day and their next ride, whenever that may be.
So here are the top tips for helping your body recover effectively after a ride, and reaping all of the health rewards that being an active cyclist can bring.
We've written about hydration in earlier posts, and when it comes to effective recovery, we know that it's almost impossible without the right replacement of fluids and salts after your ride. This is particularly true in Australia and Victoria, where the humidity of the summer months saps more water out of your body than you realise.
The most common mistake cyclists make with regards to their hydration is not consistently consuming replacement fluids in the hours after their ride. A good rule of thumb is to monitor if you get thirsty in the hours after a ride. It's a little-known fact that if you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated and playing 'catch up'.
Another good way to really quantify how much fluid you lose in a typical ride is to weigh yourself before and after a ride. If you do this consistently across a week, you will get a good idea of exactly how much water you need to drink to replenish your body.
Another useful rule of thumb is that for every kilogram lighter you are, you should aim to drink twice that amount of water over the next four to six hours. So if you end your morning ride one kilogram lighter than when you began, you should aim for two litres of water by lunchtime.
Supplement Your Recovery
Water is undoubtedly the best replacement fluid, but your body also needs specific nutrients to recover effectively. To get the best effects for your recovery, these nutrients should be delivered between 30 and 60 minutes after your ride ends.
Carbohydrate and protein-rich drinks are the best options, and one the tastiest ways to get both is to drink low-fat milk or flavoured milk. Try to avoid artificial sweeteners and high sugar concoctions though, and opt for additions like cacao powder instead of iced coffee.
A decade ago, compression garments were a bit of a novelty, and fairly expensive as well. Now, there is a whole range of high-quality compression brands on the market, including some great Australian options. Knee high compression socks, shorts or full-length tights are all great for decreasing recovery time.
The garments stimulate good blood flow, especially if you follow up your morning ride with a day sitting in meetings or at a desk. Even better, compression garments can be worn underneath clothes so that you are passively recovering throughout the day.
Stretch it Out
Most healthy people who work out know the importance of stretching, but almost as many equate stretching with a few half-hearted movements at the end of a ride while they chat to their friends.
Proper stretching is as much part of a proper ride and recovery as the time you spend in the seat of your road bike. Keep in mind that warm muscles are the only ones to stretch, as 'cold stretching' inactivated muscle groups has been found to increase injury.
Not for the faint-hearted, an ice bath is one of the most effective recovery techniques. Immersing your tired muscles in frigid water forces the thousands of blood vessels in your body to contract. This, in turn, forces out blood, lactic acid and other waste products that slow down recovery.
As you leave the ice bath and warm back up, the blood returns to the muscles at an increased rate and helps to reduce pain, swelling and muscle fatigue. While it's unlikely to make it into your daily ride routine, this technique is something to keep in mind after you attempt a particularly challenging ride or competitive event.
Recovering effectively from rides decreases your immediate pain levels, helps keep your body fresh and injury free, increases your enjoyment of the sport and has positive long-term health effects. Different people find the best results from a mixture of techniques, so be sure to test the above methods and others to see what works best for you.