If you want to ride your bike day in day out, it’s important to pay special attention to helping your body recover after each race and training session.
Every time you ride your bike hard, you fill your muscles with lactic acid, microscopically damage the muscle fibres, and leave the muscles with a certain amount of residual tension – more than you started with. All these factors need dealing with if you’re going to be in top condition over the next few days.
So, what’s the worst thing you can do to aid recovery? Well, finishing your ride with a sprint for your front door isn’t a great idea as you don’t then get the chance to flush some of the lactic acid out of your legs with a short period of cool down riding. Getting off your bike and immediately going and sitting in front of the TV is always tempting but having a stretch is a really good idea. It’s also tempting to get home from training and rush straight out again without getting any decent food to eat. If this sounds like your recovery regime, you’re probably starting the next day’s ride undernourished, stiff and with legs still full of lactic acid.
Every ride you do, apart from recovery rides that is, which are all ridden at an easy pace, should end with a short period of spinning. This will allow your heart rate to return to a more normal level and also flush a lot of the lactic acid out of your muscles that has accumulated during the ride.
Stretching after a ride is an essential aid to recovery as it helps return the muscles to their normal length. It also encourages the muscles’ fibres back into their correct orientation, thus preventing “knots” developing in your muscles.
What you eat after a heavy training session will also have an effect on how your body recovers. After training your body has a window of opportunity where any carbs you take in will be stored more efficiently. We’re also coming round to the idea of taking some protein on board after a hard session to help repair damaged muscles. A couple of slices of toast and jam with a protein shake should suffice to help your body repair itself and be ready for your next session of hard training. It’s worth taking a quality multi-vitamin/mineral supplement too, especially if you find it difficult to include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet.
Massage is also a useful tool when it comes to recovery. Visiting a professional sports masseur is obviously the best option, but it’s expensive and can be time consuming; most authorities on the subject reckon self-massage is a good compromise as it can be done in just a few minutes while you’re in the bath. Start at your ankles and work your way up your legs always putting pressure on in the direction of your heart.
Riding your bike is a vital part of the recovery process as it increases blood-flow through the muscles, flushing out by-products of intense exercise such as lactic acid, and rejuvenating the muscles with oxygen and nutrients. An hour riding at an easy pace – less than 60% maximum heart rate – is often more beneficial to recovery than a day of total rest.
The final, and possibly the most important factor in recovery is sleep. We live in a time-poor society where sleep is often seen as an optional extra to be squeezed in around other activities. If you are riding your bike regularly and want to take maximum enjoyment out of cycling, making sure you get plenty of sleep is essential. Ten hours every night is not uncommon for professional cyclists, followed by a nap during the day – those kind of figures should be what you are aiming for during periods of intense training, racing or riding, and you should arrange your schedule to include as much time in bed as possible.
Riding a bike is a tiring business and if you’re not recuperating properly, you won’t be riding your bike properly. Make sure you eat well, sleep well, stretch and include recovery rides in your regime, and you should find yourself turning up at the start line fit and raring to ride.
Got any tips on aiding recovery? Lets hear them in the forum…