While pro cyclists spend a lot of time on the bike, one of the biggest differences between the pros and the rest of us is the overall effort and time spent on the recovery process. This is because the time immediately following a ride is when the body adapts and your muscles become stronger, reaping the benefits of all your hard work on the road.
When recovery is neglected, the benefits of your hard work won’t be nearly as great, and the time it takes to fully recover for your next ride can be 2–3 times as long. To shorten your recovery so you can ride harder more often and become a stronger cyclist overall, follow these five tried-and-true recovery principles.
One of the most neglected principles of post-ride recovery is the cooldown. We know, you’re tired, hungry and your sit bones have probably seen better days. But if you hop off the bike directly after a hard effort and opt for the couch, all the blood that’s accumulated in your legs during your ride stays there.
This can not only make you feel a bit lightheaded, but it can also make it more difficult for your body to flush out metabolic waste so your muscles can recover properly. If you don’t feel like spinning a little more in a very easy gear, take a five-minute walk around the neighborhood instead. The extra effort pays off by decreasing soreness in the days that follow.
You’re off the bike and in the house, but the workout isn’t quite finished yet. To encourage blood circulation and remove waste products that can lead to muscle breakdown, a massage helps.
The good news is, you only need about a 20-minute session to improve circulation for the following 48–72 hours. While a personal masseuse isn’t practical for most of us, a foam roller, lacrosse ball or massage stick are feasible alternatives that can provide the same post-ride recovery benefits. If you have recovery compression tights, now is the time to slip those on as well.
Following a long, hard ride, your body will be depleted of most of your carbohydrates. Ideally, you’ll replenish what you lose within a 30-minute window following your ride. Yogurt, fruit and a sandwich are all good choices that can help replenish the glycogen you’ve lost.
To speed your muscle repair even more, skip the pizza and go for lean proteins. Chicken, eggs and fish are all good choices. If you don’t have anything you can make quickly, a protein shake is your next best option to get some protein in your system quickly.
You’ve cooled down, massaged your muscles and replenished your body with the nutrients it needs to recover properly. After your post-ride shower, the next principle you should always try to follow is to get some sleep.
Studies have shown shut eye improves hormones that promote muscle growth and recovery, while at the same time decreasing other hormones that cause muscle breakdown. Aim to take a 30–45-minute nap following your ride to reap some of these benefits in addition to the eight hours of sleep you should be getting each night.
Being hydrated before and during your ride is important to your performance, and it will also make rehydrating post-ride much easier. Whether you’ve done this or not, you’ll still need to make hydration a priority and keep drinking in the hours and days following your hard efforts on the bike.
If you skip this recovery principle, dehydration can make your blood become thicker and stagnant, making you feel sore and tired the following day. One easy way to make sure you’re rehydrating properly is to weigh yourself before and after your rides. The weight you’ve lost should be regained in the hydration process. Weigh yourself periodically in the hours after a ride to determine if you’ve rehydrated properly.