Now it may seem like a rather strange thing to say but…
From my experience, recovery doesn’t start the moment you step off the bike and head inside. There really isn’t a defined start or stop point when it comes to recovery.
I try and get into the mindset that it’s a continual process that should be taken into consideration throughout the day, and even more so during especially long rides or multi-day events such as the Haute Route. Here are a few pointers that I’ve found useful when it comes to optimising recovery, some are obvious whilst others less so.
On the bike
Use a smaller gear and maintain a higher cadence where possible and think about your gear changes in advance so that you can keep momentum and avoid repeated heavy loads on your legs that are needed just to get back on top of a larger gear.
Keep your legs turning over on the downhills (especially in the mountains) as opposed to freewheeling for the entire length of the descent. It may feel like you’re saving energy this way but just spinning your legs with a very low load will facilitate lactate removal from your muscles more quickly, subsequently putting yourself in better shape for the next climb.
Work to a nutrition strategy that ensures you never feel hungry or thirsty during the ride. Eat and drink more frequently than you may otherwise on a one day or shorter event. Between 60 and 90g of carbohydrate can be consumed efficiently in a 2:1 ratio of Matodextrin:Fructose but don’t forget to try everything in advance to ensure it agrees with your system. Remember, you’re fuelling to go the distance day-after-day so you want to try and finish each ride with glycogen stores that aren’t stripped and in the red. Topping up continuously throughout the ride will help to prevent this.
As soon as you finish, and within 20 minutes of stepping off of the bike, start replenishing your stores. I normally mix up a recovery drink in advance so that it’s ready immediately after the ride and I can start the refuelling process as quickly as possible. Following this I then shower up, knowing that whilst I’m doing this my body is starting the repair process, before coming onto points 3 and 4 below. Make sure that your evening meal is high in complex carbohydrates. A glass of wine is good for relaxation but try not to go over the top on the alcohol and try to eat earlier rather than later as you may find it hard to sleep after a good feed.
I’ve got a routine that takes around 20 to 30 minutes that I try and do each day. As well as helping to relax the mind and body, a regular stretching routine will help keep muscles supple and less prone to injury and cramp.
There’s a well known saying that every cyclist should remind themselves of from time to time…
Never stand when you can sit, never sit when you can lie down and never stay awake when you can sleep.
Take every opportunity to stay off of your feet. I always use the hotel stairs unless I’m thinking recovery then it’s the lift every time. Elevate your legs to improve blood flow around your body and so that your heart is under less stress trying to pump blood against gravity. And finally, despite not being able to bring myself to use them on the bike whilst riding, try using compression socks at all other times.
Undoubtedly the number one factor when it comes to recovery. You can try and do everything else right but at the end of the day if you don’t get enough good sleep each night your recovery will always be compromised.
If possible try and take a short nap (30 mins to one hour of rest will do) after the ride and get to bed as early as you can. An hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after midnight. Make sure that you give both your body and mind the care it needs to come out refreshed and motivated to ride day-after-day, and always have a pair of ear plugs with you just in-case you find that you’re in a noisy environment or your best friend on the bike happens to be an elite level snorer!
Best of luck. Ride safe and recover well my friends!
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