All your hard work in training is for nothing if you don’t allow your body time to recover and adapt. Recovery is the most fundamental point of your schedule. Some people say that without it you’re over-training but I prefer the term “under-recovering”.
After the Storm
You finish your session or race what do you do? Ideally you have a golden window of about 30-45 minutes to really help your body kick start the recovery process. During this time, you should be really focused on returning your body to a state equal to (or as close as possible) as prior to you starting training. This can include many but focus on the most important ones first.
Start with returning your actual being to normal. For me I’d suggest this includes at least 10 minutes of spinning your legs out, preferably this is turbo or rollers but not always practical so think about light gearing and low power with a high cadence. This should help flush your legs, reduce your heart rate and start to settle mind, body and organs.
Once you’ve spun your legs considering stretching, checkout my stretching for cyclists video, this will help keep your legs from locking up later and can reduce soreness. You can also look to reduce or increase temperature.
I don’t think that there are any definitive studies suggesting any of them work in every case, but, some work for some and others for others. Ice baths are a tradition among many professional sports people.
If you’ve raced and it’s been cold out, you will need to get layers on asap, even if you don’t feel cold. Allow your body to focus on recovery and not having to keep warm. If you’re wet, you’ll need to get dry quickly too so I’d suggest you always pack a towel in your kit bag even during summer.
Watch your immune system
Although not strictly something that’ll promote recovery and more a preventative measure, I’d recommend you treating the period immediately after racing and training like everyone around you has some form of horrible contagious illness. Your body’s immune system has been weakened by the training and you are at heightened risk of catching something.
Replace fluids and carbohydrates
One key area will also be replenishing lost fluids and carbohydrates. You can test how heavy a sweater you are fairly easily, this can involve weighing yourself before and after a session. The easiest way is to just check the colour of your urine after training or racing, the darker the colour the more dehydrated you are. Drink sensibly until your urine is almost clear. Check out Precision Hydration for what I consider the best electrolyte tablets you can buy, they can give you various sweat tests too to see the concentrate you need and don’t forget to use the code PAV15 at the checkout to get 15% off.
Working out how much energy you’ve spent isn’t as easy as most fitness trackers make it look, but, as a guide they are better than nothing. Depending on how you’ve fueled during the ride you’ll be tempted to reach for the nearest sugary, fatty piece of junk you can get your hands on. I’d approach this with caution, although at this point you’re probably at the best point to eat these types of food from the perspective of not putting weight on, you’re not going to do your recovery many favours eating junk. To really boost recovery, you need an optimal amount of carbohydrates and/or fats, mixed with good quality protein.
I am mainly a fan of getting a meal in straight after a session, real food beats any form of man-made or processed supplement or addition to your diet. However, this is not always practical and in most cases, if you’ve just finished a very intense session or race, the thought of eating a proper meal might make you nauseous.
The best recovery shake is the one you make yourself. First fuel (this can be carbohydrates and/or fats), this is easy by adding a mix of fruit like a banana and 80-100 grams of strawberries with about 25 grams of quality oats, or, a whole avocado and 1-2 tablespoons of coconut oil (high quality MCT oil). Protein is a little harder to get into a shake and this is where having a ready-made powder will be useful.
How you continue to replenish spent energy after the initial period will greatly depend on what you’re doing with your nutrition, training and goals. Periodizing your nutrition to match your training will dictate a lot of how you eat after.
Your recovery will be really optimized by carefully considering your daily nutrition as well as the window after training. If you consider the carbohydrates, protein and fats (macros) as the petrol you put in your car, then the nutrients you get from plant (micros) will be the oil that makes it run smoothly. You can put the most expensive fuel in a Ferrari but if you don’t put any oil in it, it won’t drive well! Think about upping your daily intake of fresh fruit and vegetables. Really consider and focus on why and what you are eating, ask yourself if the next thing you eat will increase or decrease your time to recovery, this will help motivate you to make a smart eating choice.
Eat little and often
I’m a big fan of eating little & often, not grazing but not massive meals, however, this is entirely individual and will depend a lot on your diet choice. Experiment with the ratio of protein, carbohydrate and fat as most people are different. Depending on how you are periodizing your training and nutrition you could consider eating more fats when your training is low intensity and more carbohydrates when your training is harder.
Moving on from the period immediately after you should always really have your recovery in the back of your mind. Sleep is a big one, although hardly practical, getting a nap in after training or racing might be the biggest way to boost recovery. If sleep isn’t an option, then try to elevate your legs or reduce the amount of time using them.
Consider a massage
Using a foam roller or percussion device, although horrible, is an amazing way to help and the only better would be having very regular sports massages. A foam roller or percussion device is one bit of kit I’d recommend every person have and regularly use.
Make recovery part of your daily routine
By simply thinking about your daily life you can really see where recovery gains can be made. Take the elevator not the stairs, sit down more and minimise the amount of work your body has to do outside of actually adapting to the hard work you put in during training.
Using the rule of asking yourself whether you are adding to the time taken to recover or reducing it when going about your daily life will really open your eyes to how much more you can do. In some cases, it’s just not possible, work, family and life get in the way but consider even the smallest margins as the difference between winning a race or setting a new PB, or not…
- Cool Down; 10-20 minutes of easy light spinning of legs after session.
- Stretch; consider your body temperature (cool down muscles or warm-up core depending on weather) and get your recovery meal, drink or snack inside you along with replenishing lost fluids.
- Continue to replace lost fluids carbohydrate stores for the rest of the day (work it out using a fitness tracker).
- Stay away from sick people.
- Sleep or get feet up; where possible.
- Foam Roller or Percussion Device; horrible but cheaper than a massage.
- Daily Nutrition; micro & macros.
- Think RECOVERY; make every opportunity count.
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