How to nail cycling recovery: cheap, easy, and backed by professional cyclists
July 24, 2022
Photo by Viktor Bystrov on Unsplash
Cycling recovery is a science on its own. And I hate how complex some people make it. Another thing I despise to the core is that after giving an article a go, 5 minutes into it, I realize that this is a paid essay that tries to pursue me into buying another useless and overpriced product. During five years of intense training, constant education, and consulting with Kaunas Cycling, a Continental cycling team, I’m finally nailing cycling recovery.
The goal of my strategy is to stop spending unnecessary money and to stop overcomplicating cycling recovery. If you stumbled upon this article, I’m confident you know why cycling recovery is key to becoming a stronger athlete. I will not bore you with the same information that every other article repeats on and on. Instead, let’s create a step-by-step strategy to follow after a hard training session.
- Consume recovery shakes after truly demanding workouts
- Don't spend more time in cycling clothes than you must
- Rebuild your body by eating a well-balanced, carb-heavy meal
- Give active recovery a chance, and see if it is beneficial for you
- Don't deprive yourself of rewards
- On the next day, consume carbs and hydrate yourself, no matter if you have an easy or a day
First, you need to stop the draining process and replenish calories ASAP. An intense workout puts your body through stress. Once you finish the training session, you go straight into recovery mode, and taking a recovery shake in the first 15-20 minutes after you get off the bike will stop your system from draining little resources that you still have. If you in any shape or form bonked during your training session, a recovery shake is a must.
Without doing anything else, head straight into a kitchen and blend yourself a simple yet very effective recovery drink:
- 2 frozen bananas
- 3 tablespoons of Nesquik cacao powder
- 1 scoop of protein powder
- A couple of cracks of salt
- Milk. Enough to make it drinkable.
This recipe will produce ~0.5L of recovery drink that not only tastes amazing but also stops your body from eating itself. As you can see, most of the ingredients are already in your pantry, except for protein powder. But getting a box of it will be enough for a long time. There is no need to buy overpriced products that usually taste terrible and end up shoved in the back of a cupboard. This recovery shake will cost you like $2 per portion and doesn’t contain any additives. Once again, you must finish the recovery shake 15-20 minutes after your workout.
Get out of cycling clothes and take a shower
Although this might seem obvious to some, I see people who stay in sweaty cycling clothes for longer than necessary. Sitting around in bibs can produce skin issues- rash or blisters.
Getting out of sweaty clothes as soon as possible and taking a shower after finishing the recovery drink, will further improve the quality of your recovery. Your family will also be thankful. If they keep quiet, it doesn’t mean they don’t smell it.
Eat a proper meal
You might feel quite full from a recovery drink, but make no mistake, you need a proper meal to become a stronger cyclist. Once again, you must eat as soon as possible, but let’s be honest, that is not always doable. If other people in your family prepared a meal for you, god bless their souls, if not, here are some tips to whip a fast yet nourishing bite.
First of all, you need carbs, it can be pasta or rice with some chicken for protein and any seasonal vegetables that you might have laying around. Cooking chicken and preparing vegetables is easy, but making rice and pasta might become tedious. Instead of making a whole meal in one go, cook more rice at once and store it in the fridge beforehand. Once you need it, you can quickly reheat it in a microwave or skillet. You can do the same with pasta, but before storing, mix it with some lemon juice and olive oil to prevent it from clumping together.
Also, if you have trouble thinking of breakfast ideas for cyclists, I have shared my three favorite breakfast recipes that never disappoint.
You should aim to start eating in the first hour after the workout. Eating later than that might compromise your recovery as a cyclist, the recovery shake will be all used up by your body at this point and your system will once again start to pull resources from you to rebuild. During the recovery process, the golden cycling rule applies- if you feel hungry, it is too late.
Try active recovery
Some people prefer to stay stationary, watch TV or just sit around, but for me, it causes other issues, depending on how hard I trained. For example, finishing a hard workout in the evening might cause sleeping issues, such as problems falling asleep or cramps during the night. To fight this and let my body steadily cool down, I use one of these active recovery techniques.
Foam rolling. Foam rolling is used to reduce muscle pain, and improve both flexibility and recovery. It is also a great way to prevent injuries. Foam rollers usually cost around $15, a pretty good bang for a buck if you ask me. If you have never used it, there is quite a learning curve. At first, you might feel like you do not benefit from it, but give it some time and it will become an irreplaceable aid in cycling recovery.
Go for a walk. Have you ever felt jumpy or unable to relax after a hard workout? I did, so a friend of mine, who races on the Continental level, suggested to start cooling down by walking. Whenever I finish an extremely tough training session, I drink my recovery shake, take a shower, put a meal into a box, and head out to a local park beside me.
Core strength session. Although a bit controversial, there are some days when you don’t feel like recovering. I get that, if you are extra motivated or you don’t feel like you gave your all on the previous workout, it is hard to dial down. Instead of biking empty miles, do yourself a favor, and go for these cycling-specific core exercises. A strong core is the bread and butter of a versatile athlete, if you have been neglecting your core, this would be a great time to give it a go.
Fresh air, a stroll, and food puts my mind to rest and steadily reduce stress in my body after a demanding training session.
Grab a beer
Yes, you read that correctly. Of course, it depends on how strict you are with your training, but a can of beer to sleep better and reduce stress is way more beneficial mentally for cycling recovery than depriving yourself of something you like.
After years of gaining knowledge on my own and consulting with athletes who are racing on the Continental level, cycling recovery and performance, in general, are highly determined by your mood. If you feel like drinking a can of beer as a reward- go for it. Denying yourself a reward is a fast lane to burning out.
Not a fan of beer? Kudos to you. Maybe you enjoy croissants or candies? Go for it!
Next day matters as well
Depending on how deep you dug during the workout, you might feel similar to being hungover the next morning. Friends from the continental cycling team assured me that this is expected, although it shouldn’t be normalized.
To fight this level of fatigue you once again need to consume lots of carbs and vitamins. A lot of cyclists think that if you have a day off or a recovery ride the day after you went ham on the bike, you should eat less. If you are not trying to lose weight, you should speed up the recovery process by consuming a lot of fluids and carb-heavy meals. Buy a box of hydration tablets, I like SiS Hydro tablets, but you can choose whatever is available to you, and don’t be afraid to drink multiple bottles of hydration drinks. Once you fulfill your system’s needs, the surplus will be removed from your body naturally.
Recovery rides are also a great way to speed up cycling recovery, but these should strictly be easy ones. If you start to go for KOMs or chase local Freds, you will compromise your recovery and will take even longer to get back on track.
So this is my simple yet effective strategy for cycling recovery. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, I feel like nowadays it is more complicated than it should be. I suggest you give my strategy a go, after some time you will start to learn a thing or two about your body, this will allow you to make personal changes and adapt accordingly.
I have covered more training topics on BigBonkTour, give it a read!
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