Recovery is where the magic happens and where benefits from our training actually occur. Read on to find out how to use recovery to your advantage.
Recovery refers to techniques and actions taken to maximise your body’s ability to repair itself.
We often find recovery is over-looked, with many riders feeling they won't improve their cycling performance if they are off the bike. However, recovery is an important component of any training programme, and getting the balance between training and recovery right, is absolutely key to helping you improve your cycling.
Do you find yourself often getting irritable very easily or struggling with small niggles? This can be a sign that you are over-training and not recovering correctly.
The body repairs and strengthens itself between training sessions or ride-outs, therefore, continuous training can weaken even the strongest athletes. It’s so important to recover properly so you experience the maximum benefit from all the training you are doing.
Have you taken a step back and actually considered your recovery recently?
Below we are going to look at the importance of recovery and also introduce our top tips to help optimise your recovery process.
Importance of recovery:
Building recovery time into any training programme is important because this is the time that the body adapts to the stress of training and the real training effect takes place.
It's during recovery that our body is adapting and our muscles, tendons, and ligaments are repairing, rebuilding, and strengthening. Our muscles also replenish their energy stores. Did you know a muscle needs anywhere from 24 to 48 hours to repair and rebuild?
However, there is more to recovery than just muscle repair.
To fully recover from the training load you put on your body, there are other systems that need to repair. Recovery is also important to regain a chemical and hormonal balance; repair the nervous system and it also benefits your mental state.
To help understand this further, we are going to introduce you to the basic principles of training.
Basic Principles of Training:
In essence, when you are training (working hard enough that you need a physiological adaptation to respond to that training) you are putting your body under stress.
If you get your recovery right then your body can recuperate and you can super-compensate from your training. The recovery phase is the phase that allows your body to naturally get better from training.
However, if you either have too high a training load or your recovery is not good enough, then your ability to perform optimally will decrease and also further hinder your ability to recover.
You could move from over-reaching which is your planned phase of short-term performance decline (before your bounce-back after recovery) to overtraining which is an unpleasant phase that you want to avoid at all costs.
How do I know if I am over-training?
Symptoms of overtraining often occur from a lack of recovery time. Overtraining is typically associated with the following signs:
* Continued poor performance,
* Low mood state,
* Poor sleep or over-sleeping,
* Increased incidence of illness and injury,
* Loss of interest in training.
In general, it is resolved through an extended period of recovery or rest.
Njinga's Tips to Optimising Recovery:
You can improve your recovery in the obvious areas from sleep to nutrition, however, you also should consider other key aspects of recovery which impact your emotional state, your way of thinking, and the social aspect of your life.
All aspects are important to help keep you fresh, interested and engaged in your training and time on your bike.
While sleep is always important, it is especially important when it comes to recovery. Sleep is the most important time to recover because when you're sleeping, your muscles are rebuilding and your body is preparing for your next workout. Getting a good night’s sleep will ensure you’re re-energised and also help to provide mental health, hormonal balance, and muscular recovery. During sleep, your body produces growth hormone (GH) which is largely responsible for tissue growth and repair. Optimal sleep is essential for anyone who exercises regularly.
2. Fluid Intake:
An easy way to boost your recovery is by staying on top of your fluid intake. We strongly recommend you are hydrated before starting every training session and also have electrolytes in your water during each session. A key part of recovery is ensuring you also hydrate well after each session to replenish the water your muscles have consumed and/or the fluids that you have sweated out. Water after a session will also help you to recover and prevent your muscles from cramping or tightening.
Water supports every metabolic function and nutrient transfer in your body and therefore keeping on top of your fluid intake will improve every bodily function.
3. Post Exercise Nutrition:
After depleting your energy stores during a training session, you need to refuel smartly to help your body to recover, repair tissues, get stronger, and be ready for the next session. Post-ride nutrition is so important for recovery, but even more so if you are doing back-to-back training or a multi-day event.
Muscles replenish glycogen stores 2-3 times faster straight after exercise as the muscles are more sensitive to insulin. Your nutrition after exercise should ideally contain protein in a ratio of 4:1 with carbs (4 carbs to 1 protein). Ideally, this nutrition should be consumed within 15 minutes of finishing your training session and should be in liquid form. A protein smoothie is ideal.
To aid recovery we recommend you try to eat a full nutritious meal within 60 minutes of the end of your workout and make sure you include some high-quality protein and carbohydrates. For even more nutrition support, download our Ultimate Nutrition Guide for Cyclists to help really boost your performance on and off the bike.
Stretching is an important part of recovery to help your muscles recover.
As cyclists, we spend long periods of time in a set position and train the same muscle groups in repetitive patterns, often with imbalances in the body which causes the muscles to tire and tighten. Over time these muscles lose their elasticity and in turn power. Your body becomes less able to use the muscle to its full potential and as your body becomes tight, you get an increased lack of joint mobility. This in turn makes you less efficient and can lead to injuries.
Your post-ride stretching should identify and work on especially tight areas. Foam rolling is also a great way to help your muscles recover as it helps to improve circulation which eases tight muscles.
5. Taking time out:
As part of your recovery, you should allow yourself time to do something different. Time is one of the best ways to recover after any training session or hard workout. Your body is great at taking care of itself if you allow it some time.
Resting after a hard workout allows the repair and recovery process to happen at a natural pace.
6. Stress management:
Our final top tip to aid recovery is to manage your stress levels.
Cortisol is the primary stress hormone and if you train hard and/or train regularly, you will increase your cortisol levels. Therefore, recovery is important in blunting cortisol.
Metabolic effects of cortisol in the body include:
* Increased appetite,
* Accelerated muscle breakdown,
* Elevated blood pressure
* Insulin resistance and elevated blood sugar levels
As part of your recovery to lower your stress levels, it is important to add in Yin exercises for example yoga and Pilates, to help bring your cortisol levels down.
Additionally, low-level exercise such as a walk helps to improve circulation, which in turn helps the muscles repair and refuel faster.
Failing to take your recovery seriously will increase the risk of slipping into an overtrained state where your risk of illness and injury will rise dramatically. The most important thing you can do to recover quickly is to listen to your body. If you are feeling tired, sore, or notice decreased performance, you may need more recovery time or a break from training altogether.
Just as importantly, if you are not taking the time and effort to recover properly, then you are not really taking advantage of the time you are spending on the bike or in other aspects of your training.
For access to all our recommended stretch sessions, yoga for cyclists and our top recovery recipes to really help build you as a cyclist, check out our Njinga Cycling Academy. Plus, you will also get access to all our expert training plans we have used to support 1000's of cyclists to reach their goals.