Before you wrap yourself in compression wear and guzzle chocolate milk after every ride, make sure your effort warrants it. If you didn't go hard enough to induce muscle-fiber damage and suck your energy stores dry, you might not need full-on recovery, says coach Hunter Allen. But if your ride is anything like one of the descriptions below, you could probably benefit from some R&R. Try some of the tried-and-true techniques suggested underneath.
If you've hit it really hard, the next few hours are the optimal window for helping your body get the most from your effort, says exercise physiologist Stacy Sims, PhD. The good news is you don't have to spend the whole time recovering. Even just a couple of these proven methods will make you feel good.
Recover If You Rode...
- 2 hours or less with at least 20 minutes at maximum effort.
- 2.5 hours with at least 30 minutes very hard.
- 2.5-plus hours with at least 40 minutes hard.
- 4-plus hours with at least 40 minutes moderately hard.
RefuelHard efforts deplete energy stores and trigger production of the stress hormone cortisol. Carbs will restock glycogen. But you need protein, preferably a mix of whey and casein, to shut down cortisol so your muscles can start rebuilding. (The combination helps prolong the process.) "Blend milk, whey protein powder, dark cocoa powder (for flavor), and a shot of espresso," says Sims. Caffeine revs your metabolism, which speeds the restoration. "Or mix low-fat Greek yogurt with honey and wash it down with green tea," she says.
Cool DownIf you've wrapped up your last interval within 300 yards of your driveway, spin easy for 10 minutes before getting off the bike. One study found that cyclists who pedaled easy between two time trials were able to improve their performance in the next.
Baby Your MusclesStretching and massage after a hard effort are proven to reduce inflammation and help maintain a healthy range of motion. Try some of our suggestions in The Best Stretches for Cyclists.
Press and Cold
Research shows that applying compression over ice boosts deep-muscle cooling. To do: Wrap an ice bag under an elastic bandage. Research is divided on whether compression alone improves performance, but many athletes are believers. And even skeptics agree it feels good.
Drink UpSip an electrolyte beverage with potassium and sodium to replace what you sweated away. "Rehydrate slowly so your body has time to absorb it," says Sims.
Take a Catnap
"A 20- to 30-minute nap boosts the release of growth hormone, which helps muscles rebuild," Sims says.Search for a cycling event