As I write this I’m getting caught up on today’s stage of le Tour de France, eating a sweet potato topped with pumpkin chili, and drinking coconut water. It was a HOT and humid ride this morning, and I’m certainly beat from the heat on this 36+ mile ride. I’m currently on a cyclocross bike that forces me work harder in order to keep up with my riders on their carbon fiber road bikes, and I was riding with some strong people on a route with a lot of rollers. It’s time for recovery!
This post discusses recovery for work efforts of a moderate to hard intensity – think working in a heart rate zone over 70% heart rate maximum (HRM); if you’re new to cycling or are on a multi-day tour with long miles each day think over 60% HRM.
As I mentioned, I’m watching the Tour. If you’re into one of the best and most challenging sports events in the world and are watching, too, you’ve probably noticed the cyclists spinning on their bikes during interviews post-race. It doesn’t take a lot of time to spin out those legs and cool it down – 10 to 15 minutes of easy spinning, either on a trainer at home or slowing it down and taking an easy pace as you approach the end of your ride, is enough to take the edge off those legs, lower the heart rate, and prepare you for dismount.
Your body has been working hard, burning calories from glycogen and fat stores, and shredding down muscle. You need to feed your body to replenish the lost fuel and help protein synthesis to rebuild muscle. Strive for a 4 to 1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein post-ride (Stuart, 2014), and start eating as soon as you get off the bike (within 15-30 minutes), if not sooner – finish the food you took with you for the ride (Hughes). Cycling Coach John Hughes recommends eating 2 calories of carbs per pound of body weight every hour until you can eat a regular meal (if you weigh 125 lbs that would be 250 calories from carbohydrates).
Intake of anti-inflammatory foods also aids in recovery, and many are loaded with the carbs needed to replenish your glycogen stores.
Cherry Juice has been found to have positive benefits on muscle damage, and has been shown to reduce muscle pain and loss of strength.
Beet Juice has been shown to boost stamina and increase VO2max (some are calling it the new EPO – think I’ll go and pour myself a glass right now!).
The omega-3s in fish are able to increase the oxygen intake of damaged muscles and lower fatigue.
While there are a lot of synthetic sports foods available that have been scientifically engineered with just the right combination of macros in them, all the pros agree that real food should dominate your nutritional program. One of my favorite pro cyclists, Mark Cavendish, agrees. The Manx Missile loves snacking on pistachios between stage races as they are loaded with protein and lots of good vitamins and minerals, such as potassium which is necessary when you’re losing all those electrolytes out on the road (O’Connor, 2015).
A big congrats to Cavendish on his first yellow jersey at le Tour de France this year – that is one happy guy!
As I mentioned, I’m watching the Tour. Did you know the riders on Team Skye are weighed after each stage and drink 1.5 times their body weight lost to replenish hydration (Hughes)? You should aim to drink 16 fluid ounces for every pound lost. Fruit and vegetable juices are great alternative to water as they will help you replace those carbohydrates mentioned above, as well as lost electrolytes as they are full of potassium and sodium. Again, good hydration starts on the bike during your ride, so make sure you always bring plenty of fluids with you.
Sleep is the most important time to recover, and we could all use a little more of it whether we’re training or not. In fact, 40% of Americans aren’t getting the recommended 7 hours of sleep a night (Jones). Pro cyclists, on the other hand, average 70 hours of sleep a week during a stage race such as the Tour de France; contrast that with 40 hours a week that most of us get (Stein).
Why is sleep so important to recovery? When you sleep, your body produces hormones that are critical to recovery. A lack of sleep also slows reaction time, something that is critical when you’re out on the road riding.
Hughes equates the lymphatic system to a sewage system, moving waste from the muscles to the lymph nodes for removal. Muscle action stimulates the lymphatic system and moves that fluid to the lymph nodes.
The day after a hard ride, get out there and MOVE – go for an easy hike or walk the dog, a nice swim, or take an easy spin either on the trainer outside – note, if you opt for the saddle, make it a SLOW and EASY ride; this is NOT a workout, and you are simply moving the muscles. It should be slower than you think, and keep your heart rate below 50%. I know athletes who hide their data from their coaches because they went too hard on a recovery day – these days are an important part of the process, and you should really put a priority on them. This is why if I do decide to ride, I do it on my cruiser to 1) remind me of the simple joy of cycling, and 2) I simply can’t go fast and hard on it, thus maximizing my recovery.
Being a fitness professional in addition to a cyclist, I am always active. Massage is a huge part of my regimen – in fact, I have a membership at my local spa in order to remind me of the importance of massage in recovery, and to help motivate me to actually do it (I mean, I’m paying for them; I ought to use them!). I look ahead at my calendar when scheduling my sessions and book them after hard rides when I know I’m going to need them.
Many spas offer convenient, monthly memberships that help make massage affordable. If you aren’t able to work such a thing into your budget, you can do it yourself. The day of a ride gently massage your legs; in the days that follow, you can take that massage a little deeper and use a tool such as a foam roller. You can also try incorporating compression socks, which I personally love and have found aid in recovery.
While it can seem complicated, recovery doesn’t have to be. To break it down, take it easy coming back to the barn or spin it out post race, finish off your food to start refueling before you’re even off the bike, drink up to replace lost hydration and electrolytes, and get a good night’s sleep. The next day go for an easy hike or walk and get a massage. Now, it’s time for me to put my compression socked feet up on the table, grab a glass of beet juice, and finish watching Stage 14!
Jenn is a Moxie Cycling Ambassador and blog contributor. Check out her bio here!