Find out how to recover effectively after cycling and use your rest days properly
Whether you've blasted a mountain track or racked up the road miles, rest and recovery after cycling is extremely important. Pro bike riders know all about recovery and have strict regimes to allow their bodies to adapt and become stronger after a race, but amateur cyclists may not have the time or resources to do the same. However, there are plenty of simple actions you can take to give your body and muscles the fuel and rest they need for you to stay fit, motivated and injury-free!
Cool down after cycling
After a hard ride it's very important to help your body and leg muscles to repair and recover. When you’ve been cycling for a while the blood vessels in your legs expand and stopping suddenly can make the blood pool. This can make you feel drowsy and lightheaded as well as stopping you from getting oxygen-rich blood in.
To help with your recovery, keep cycling for 10-15 minutes at an easy, leisurely pace along the flat to return your body to its pre-exercise state. A cool down will help remove waste products from your muscles and allow your blood to redistribute around your body which should prevent dizziness or fainting post-exercise.
Get your nutrition right
It's important to get your nutrition right before and after your cycle. After any strenuous exercise you're going to need to replenish your body's fuel tank and to do so, carbohydrates, protein and water are your friends. When you've finished your cool down your priority should be to take some protein on board. Protein is great for your muscles – it lowers the risk of exercise-induced muscle damage and helps muscles repair and build. Chicken, fish, eggs, milk and nuts are all great sources of protein, although if you don't have the opportunity for a post-ride meal within an hour of finishing, you may wish to consider using some protein powder.
It's also important to take carbohydrates on board soon after any period of hard exercise to aid muscle recovery. Always ensure that you remain fully-hydrated during and after your ride so it's a good idea to keep that water bottle with you at all times.
Rub your muscles down
Although a post-ride massage is impractical for most amateur riders you can still do your muscles a favour by giving them a good going over with a foam roller. Massaging your legs after a long ride helps to prevent muscular knots, pushes our fluid and waste products whilst aiding blood flow to speed up the process of muscle renewal and repair. If you don’t own a foam roller, then a couple of tennis balls can do the job!
How to rest properly after cycling
So, you’ve cooled down appropriately, you’ve taken on board the right mix of fluids, carbs and proteins and you’ve even treated yourself to a rub down. What else is there to do to recover properly after a long bike ride?
Well, the answer is – nothing! One of the key things you need to do after any strenuous exercise is to rest. We may not have access to the nutritionists and expert physios that your average race team does, but we can all nod off just like the pro cyclists do.
How many hours should a cyclist sleep?
Quality sleep is very important in helping your body recover from a hard workout. Although individuals are different, generally speaking try to get seven or eight hours sleep at night, especially after a long ride. If it's early when you get home, try a short power-nap. Restful sleep helps muscles to repair and recover - try not to train hard within two hours of sleeping and avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol before bedtime.
What are the benefits of sleep for recovery?
Sleep is great for muscle recovery. A good rest helps release hormones such as HGH (Human Growth Hormone) into the bloodstream. HGH is the same hormone that helps us grow taller as a child and plays an important role in muscle recovery.
After a long bike ride, HGH will be produced in stages during a deep sleep. Of course, none of this is a revelation to pro cyclists, who will make it an important part of their routine to get the right amount of rest each night to stimulate the production of hormones to aid recovery.