So often, we cyclists become somewhat obsessed with the latest and greatest training techniques and methods. You can hardly blame us – we all love to ride our bikes, so it’s easy to focus on riding further and faster without paying attention to the other side of the coin: recovery.
How you treat your body post-exercise is, arguably, even more important than the session you’ve just carried out. After all, ask yourself: what’s the point in trying to do a hard block of training if you’re not in good enough condition to carry out the session to the best of your ability?
And why slog yourself on the bike if you don’t give you body the chance to repair? After all, it’s during the recovery phase that you grow stronger, ready for the next ride. So what’s to be done?
Factory Media/Scott Connor
Often considered a dirty word in cycling until relatively recently, where riders used to fear putting on excess muscle and compromising the hallowed power-to-weight ratio, protein is now considered central to returning to as fresh a condition as possible.
It’s the main pillar of Vifit’s ethos: get your protein intake right and you’ll be well on your way to putting yourself in the best position possible to perform in your next session.
However, while nutrition should be at the very core of your strategy – especially if you want to kick start the rebuilding process as quickly as possible – there are also several other ways you can ensure that you fast-track your recovery.
Let us take you through five of the most effective methods to help you hit hit your lofty goals...
Increase your protein intake
First up, let’s tackle the big one: protein intake. As you’ll know from our beginner’s guide to energy use in cycling, protein (in the form of amino acids) forms the building blocks of your body’s lean muscle mass.
Think of it as building a house: carbohydrates are the workmen, protein the bricks, while fat and micronutrient intake helps to maintain the optimal function of cells among other functions (loosely speaking, you can think of it as the concrete in our fledgling house).
Without adequate bricks, of course there would be no house, so adequate protein intake is essential for optimal recovery. Vitfit Sport has determined that 20g of protein per serving within 30 minutes of a training session is an ideal amount to consume, alongside other nutrients, to give your body the hit it needs.
Each serving of a Vifit Sport product, whether it’s a bar, shake or drink contains 20g of milk-based protein, as well as vitamin D, potassium and magnesium. The range include a whole host of flavours, all naturally sourced and with no artificial colourings or preservatives.
The body craves quality nutrients immediately after exercise because it is in an energy deficit, which means it will start to break down its own tissue for energy to rebalance the score.
That’s bad news for your muscle mass, as well as resulting in a prolonged recovery time and potentially an increase in muscle soreness. All in all, not good news for ensuring your body gets the most out of a training session.
Immediately after your tough training session, especially if it’s ended on a high-intensity interval (like a sprint finish or hill climb), your muscles are not only in a catabolic state (where they start to breakdown for energy), but are also flooded with all the waste products of your effort, including lactic acid and carbon dioxide.
There’s a reason why pros have turbo trainers set up outside the team bus at the end of a hard day in the saddle. Aside from making you feel awful, these waste products inhibit the body’s ability to recover as fast as it can.
Pro riders spin out the legs for around ten minutes (depending on the severity of the stage), with steadily decreasing resistance in order to encourage blood flow through the muscles, taking these waste products with it.
With that in mind, it’s always worth ending a hard session by spinning out the legs to kick-start your recovery.
Massage is another recovery technique first used by pros but now seeing wider adoption in cycling. Deep tissue release through manual manipulation is another way to reactivate blood flow, literally forcing waste product away from your muscles.
Depending on how well you’ve cooled down immediately after a ride, the general state of your muscles and how hard your session was, a massage can be relaxing… or it can be very uncomfortable. Either way, it’s helping your muscles recovery.
Stretching regularly is also particularly useful in helping to boost your recovery rate. Post-exercise, muscles tighten as they cool and you can lose all-important flexibility.
Carrying out a stretching regime will help to maintain your hard-earned flexibility, helping to improve muscle performance on your next ride. At the same time, it’s vital to be able to return to your optimal riding position without discomfort, so don’t make the mistake of waiting until you’re suffering with back-ache before starting to stretch.
Sleep. We spend up to a third of our lives in bed, resting, so it’s logical that this plays a vital role in maximising recovery. In fact, that’s precisely what it’s for - it’s when your body is able to recover best.
After all, sleep is the body’s (and mind’s) way of recovering from the stresses of the day. As cyclists, those physical stresses are increased, so our sleep requirements go up, too. For more information on how important a good sleep pattern is to recovery, read our guide to the sleep cycle.
So, in short, if you want to make long-term gains on the bike, the recovery process is arguably as important - if not more so - than the ride itself. Or, to follow Vifit Sport's ethos, "Ride, Recover, Repeat".