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Time spent out of the saddle can be as beneficial to your cycling performance as that spent riding – if you use it wisely and effectively – and enjoying the best-quality recovery between rides is essential.
HOW DO I RECOVER BETWEEN RIDES?
For pro athletes, team coaches, sleep specialists and physiologists focus on discovering the optimum means of restoring energy levels, resting muscles, recuperating the mind, and returning the athlete to action in prime condition and ready to compete.
When thinking about improvement, athletes are always concerned about the training, but often pay little attention to the recovery process. To adapt to training, and thus improve, you must follow this simple formula: training plus recovery equals adaptation.
To recover properly, the body needs fuel. The two most important macronutrients for this when you step off the bike are carbohydrate and protein. Take a ‘food first’ approach, which means eating a meal that is high in carbohydrate with up to 20g of protein. A recovery drink is a good plan B if the meal is not possible. For example, after a race.
Plain water isn’t enough when it comes to recovery because when you sweat, you will also lose electrolytes
– which you need to replace in order to maintain the body’s mineral balance. The main losses will come in the form of sodium, so make sure your recovery beverage is high in this. Aim to sip, rather than ‘down’ the drink. That way, it will be better absorbed by the body.
Sleep really shouldn’t be underestimated. This is where the bulk of the recovery will come from. It’s important that you have a good bedtime routine with a consistent wake and sleep time. Having a big lie-in on the weekends can be counterproductive as it’ll interfere with your sleep cycle come Monday morning. A nap is very beneficial but limit it to around 30 minutes so as not to interfere with your sleepwake cycle.
Alongside rest, refuelling and rehydration are the basic recovery techniques. However, when competing in a stage race or multi-day gran fondo, further recovery can become necessary. Massage is a common practice amongst the pros. However, its effects aren’t fully understood and there’s little in terms of physiological evidence to say that it speeds up recovery. That said, most riders report feeling better the next day.
Compression garments are another good option. Cyclists report less delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMs) – the ache from your muscles 24-48 hours after a gruelling ride – ahead of the following session, and these items are relatively cheap to buy and not bulky to pack. Liam Holohan, cycling coach
“There’s little in terms of physiological evidence to say that massage speeds up recovery. Even so, most riders report feeling better the next day”
HOW CAN I IMPROVE MY POSTURE?
Long bike rides and too much time spent scrolling on your phone can give you a hunched posture, which can cause aching or tight muscles around your neck, chest, back and shoulders. Road cyclists, who inevitably spend hours leaning over their handlebar, are also vulnerable to upper crossed syndrome (UCS) – a particular combination of postural issues that can cause nagging pain and tightness. “Muscles that are primarily used in holding your body still tend to become excessively tight, which can increase pain and tension in that area,” explains Laurence Plant, specialist chiropractor and clinic manager at Henley Practice and a Meglio physiotherapy expert ( mymeglio.com). “The cause of upper crossed posture is tight muscles across the front and top of the shoulder girdle along with weak and loose muscles around the posterior and inferior portion of the shoulder.”
So what is the best way to deal with postural issues like this? “Stretch out the pectoral muscles and strengthen the muscles that pull the shoulder back and down,” advises Plant. He recommends two exercises. Start with pectoral stretches. Place your arm against a door frame with your hand just above head height. Allow the arm to straighten as you turn away from that side. Feel a stretch across the front of the shoulder and chest. Do three reps of 30sec holds each side every day. Move on to scapular retractions. Secure a resistance band at waist height, grasp both ends with your hands and pull the band slowly towards you while squeezing your shoulders back and down, working the mid to lower part of your shoulder blades. Do three sets of 12 reps two or three times per week. Mark Bailey, sports journalist