Recover Faster! 4 Simple Tips to Improve Recovery
We’ve all had that feeling of fatigue where it can feel hard to even walk up the stairs, let alone go for a training ride. That is usually the point at which training will do more harm than good. When we train, we are essentially “damaging” our bodies. We need to allow the body time to repair this damage in order to come back stronger. Finding the balance between training and rest is one of the biggest challenges to any athletes training program.
The ability to recover is one of the biggest determiners of performance. Athletes who naturally recover more quickly can handle much higher training loads and typically reach a higher level of performance. Both genetics and age determine how quickly an athlete recovers. Unfortunately this is out of our control. We can’t speed up our body’s ability to repair damage from training, but we can provide it with the best possible environment to recover. If we can recover quicker, we can handle the tough training sessions more often and become fitter.
While a lot of athletes will never skip a training session, they often do not give much thought to recovery. Training and recovery go hand in hand- and if both are dialed in, we can be certain that we are maximizing performance. Even by spending just a few minutes a day focusing on recovery can make a world of difference. Here are a few easy ways that you can improve your recovery. Done frequently, this can be a game changer for your ability to recover!
One of the easiest ways to improve recovery is through heat. When our bodies are subject to high temperatures, more blood flow is redirected towards your limbs to help dissipate this heat. When blood flow is increased to your legs, your cells will be able to repair muscle damage more quickly. Through sweat and blood flow, you will also remove toxins more quickly from your body.
There are lots of ways to get warmed up. A sauna is my personal favorite. Spending 30 minutes a few times a week in the sauna can make a big difference. A sauna can also help you adapt to heat better, which can come in handy for summer racing. Some studies have shown that frequent sauna usage can also increase your red blood cell count!
Don’t have access to a sauna? Never fear! A hot bath or even just sitting out in the sun on a hot day can have the same recovery benefits.
While it would be nice to have a soigneur massage your legs every day, most of us don’t have that luxury. Enter the foam roller. This do-it-yourself contraption isn’t as good as a masseuse, but it’s a whole lot cheaper! Massaging your legs has been shown to increase the release of endorphins. These endorphins enhance recovery by providing pain relief for sore muscles. Foam rolling has also been shown to improve blood flow to your legs. A foam roller is also great for preventing injury by helping to loosen areas that can commonly cause problems for cyclists. Massage your glutes and the side of your legs to help prevent the dreaded IT band syndrome or sciatic nerve pain. Lying with your back on top of the foam roller parallel to your spine is a great way to open up your chest from long hours of pedaling a bike (or sitting at a desk). Spend 10 minutes a day with the foam roller while you watch TV and you will reap a multitude of benefits.
After a hard workout, it is super important that you refuel within 30-60 minutes of your ride. In this window your body is crying out for sustenance. It is highly receptive to protein and carbohydrates that will help to repair muscle damage and restock your glycogen stores. What do you need after a hard ride? Carbohydrates AND protein. Studies have shown that when carbs are consumed together with protein that your muscles uptake significantly higher amounts of carbohydrates. Most studies show that whey protein or egg protein are the best for repairing muscles—although many studies have shown that plant based sources are just as effective. You’ll also want some easy to digest, high glycemic carbohydrates that will rapidly absorb into the bloodstream. This will help to spike your insulin, which in turn will turn on your body’s “recovery mode.” This works by down-regulating hormones that break down your muscle. Depending on your schedule and location, you can refuel with either liquids or solids. Some great examples of post ride meals are eggs or whey protein in combination with rice, pasta, cereal, juice, or pancakes (and maple syrup, of course). Recovery drinks are a great option if you are on the go. By dialing in your post-ride nutrition, your muscles will be primed for the next workout.
A phone can’t function if you don’t charge it. Likewise, your body can’t function properly if you are not getting enough sleep. Athletes place extreme demands on their bodies, and sleep is essential for repairing and restoring the athlete while training. When you sleep, your body will release anabolic hormones that will help to build and repair muscles. If you want to recover fully from your workouts, it is essential to get proper sleep. Your brain will also perform memory consolidation and regulate your emotions. If you are deprived of sleep, you will have impaired decision making, slower reaction times, and are more likely to have a negative mood. While in competition, it’s important to have a clear head that allows you to focus on your task. While one or two nights of less sleep has not been shown to have a significant impact on performance, a chronic lack of sleep can wreak havoc on your performance. Poor sleep can cause the following:
Slower recovery from training
Reduced adaptations to training
Poor decision making
How much sleep do you need? It varies from person to person, but general recommendations are 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Athletes tend to be on the higher end of this range. If you find that you are significantly under this range, it is definitely worth examining your sleeping habits.
Hopefully this article has got you thinking a bit more about your recovery. We ask a lot of our bodies, it’s important that we show them a little love in return. Thanks for reading!