There’s no doubt the pros go hard and long all the time — especially in races like the Tour de France. But while the casual fan might only see the hours spent in the saddle, pro cyclists spend just as much of their daily efforts focused on the art of recovery.
To help you find that delicate balance between riding hard and taking it easy, we’ve gathered five tried-and-true principles used by the pros to recover properly for you to use on your next training ride.
1. Cool Down
The recovery process doesn’t begin once the ride is over — especially if you’ve just finished a long or hard workout. Instead of hammering it home so you can plop down on the couch, make sure you spend at least 10–15 minutes in cooldown mode before you get off the saddle.
Spin in an easy gear above 90 revolutions per minute to help rid your muscles of any lactic acid that’s built up during your ride. Your legs will thank you the next time you head outside.
2. Eat Early Post-Ride
The sooner you can eat following your ride, the faster you’ll fuel your body with the protein and nutrients needed to recover properly. Ideally, you’ll eat within the first 30 minutes. This can be a shake, protein bar, sandwich or whatever else you can get down.
But that’s not where it ends. Try to eat a full meal within 60–90 minutes following long or strenuous workouts — which is the time when your body will be ready to take in the largest amount of nutrients. According to a 2015 study in The Journal of Nutrition, you could also try a protein shake 30 minutes before you fall asleep for optimal muscle recovery while you rest.
3. Get a Foam Roller
In the pro peloton, breaking up muscle adhesions and increasing blood to the muscles are big parts of recovery. While this usually occurs in the form of massage, you don’t necessarily need a personal soigneur on your payroll.
In fact, you can get many of the same benefits by using a foam roller. You can use it for your hamstrings, quads, iliotibial band and even the lower back. Watch the video below for a few basic foam-roller exercises that are great for cyclists.
4. Get Plenty of Sleep
Cyclists in the Tour are said to sleep up to 70 hours a week during competition. While you probably won’t be afforded this luxury if you have a job and a family, getting at least eight hours of sleep per night will speed recovery through essential hormone production you might not get if you rest less.
If you have a hard time falling asleep, try reading or listening to classical music before heading to bed. Also limit caffeine intake after 4 p.m., and avoid alcoholic beverages, which can disrupt sleeping patterns.
5. Active Recovery
Going for an easy ride in between your hard or long days is another way you can speed recovery. By spinning in a really easy gear at an rpm above 90, you’ll help to remove any lactic acid, reduce muscle inflammation and increase blood flow — which will all make it easier on your legs the next time out.
If the mental fatigue of hard workouts is beginning to get to you, try an alternate form of exercise such as swimming, walking or hiking. These activities can provide the same benefits as going for an easy spin.