After a long ride it is very tempting just to collapse on the sofa. However, spending a few minutes post ride on getting your recovery right, will not only help avoid muscle soreness the days following but will also build endurance and lessen the risk of injury. Here are some steps to help optimise your recovery after a long ride.
Of course wherever you go, make sure your sports travel insurance covers you for your choice of activity. SportsCover Direct offers a range of insurance options such as Cycling Travel Insurance and Golf Insurance so make sure you’re covered!
On the bike
Effective recovery actually starts before you’ve finished your ride. Make sure that you are taking in enough fuel whilst cycling, so that you don’t get too depleted or dehydrated, as this will hamper your recovery. Taking on too few calories or liquid will make it harder for your body to recover. If you’re doing a long ride at a steady pace, then there isn’t really a need to do a cool down but it is worth ensuring that the final miles of your ride are easy – so ideally a nice bit of flat terrain where you can just spin the legs out at an easy pace. Try not to finish your ride at top speed, or by going up a steep climb, as you won’t have had any chance to start to get rid of waste products, including lactic acid. Spinning your legs out will effectively be your cool down, which will help reduce the risk of post training muscle soreness, commonly known as DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness).
Even if you have been taking on plenty of calories and fluids whilst riding the first thing to do when you stop is to refuel. Taking in food within 30 minutes of stopping is the best time for your muscles to absorb nutrients to help them to repair and grow. A protein shake is a convenient and fast way to give your body the essential nutrients as they take seconds to make and are quickly absorbed by the body. A cheaper option is to have a chocolate milkshake, as some research has shown this is also a good way of getting protein. If you prefer solids then try apples and natural yoghurt, cottage cheese on crispbread, bagel with cream cheese and have a proper meal within 2 hours of finishing your ride.
After having some food or a shake, have a stretch. This is often neglected by cyclists as it is very tempting to just sit down after your ride. Ideally, schedule about 10-15 minutes to stretch the major muscles you’ve used. Hold the stretch for between 30 to 60 seconds. Static stretches, that is stretches that you hold, are best for post training as they help the muscles to relax, realign muscle fibres and re-establish the normal range of movement. Don’t forget to stretch your upper body as well, your shoulders and back will need a stretch to counteract the effects of being hunched over the handle bars for hours.
Compression kit can help with recovery. It is thought that by increasing blood flow, muscles are resupplied with their fuel- glycogen and metabolic waste is cleared, enhancing recovery. There is a vast array of both upper and lower body compression kit on the market, including full length leggings or kit that just covers a particular muscles group, such as calves or quads. I have tried a range of compression products and my personal favourite brand is Compressport, as it feels as if it is really supporting the muscles and reducing vibration. There are even some electronic recovery boots that cover the whole leg and apply pressure up and down the legs but these are very expensive.
Muscles repair and grow when they are resting, so try and take it easy after a long ride. If your ride is part of a tour and you have to ride the next day, then at least get some rest in the evening and try and keep the weight off your legs. If your ride is a one-day ride and you have done more miles than you would normally do, then I would seriously consider taking the day after as a recovery day. That means either complete rest, or just a short easy spin out on the bike or even just a walk or swim. But feel free to do nothing – you deserve it after a long ride!
Having a sports massage is a great way to help the body to repair and recover. A sports massage will improve blood circulation, which in turn will assist recovery. Massage helps to remove waste products in the soft tissue and replenish the muscles with blood filled with oxygen and nutrients. The best type of massage is with a trained therapist, as they will be able to identify any specific tight areas or niggles but there are also various products that massage your body, including vibrating foam rollers and massage guns. Traditional foam rollers are cheap and use self-myofascial release (SMR) to help relieve muscle tightness or soreness.
About the author
Helen is the former British Quadrathlon (swim/kayak/bike/run) Champion and British Quadrathlon Trophy Series winner. She was also the 2019 middle distance World Quadrathlon champion in her age group and the 2018 age group World Cup Series winner and sprint distance World Champion. Before turning to quadrathlon, Helen was age group World and European Duathlon champion and European Triathlon champion. In 2015 she was part of the One Day Ahead team, which raised £1m for Cure Leukaemia by riding the entire route of the Tour de France one day ahead of the pros. This year she is turning her attention to Stand Up Paddleboard racing. You can follow her on Twitter via @helengoth.