How important is rest and recovery? Simply put, we gain fitness as a result of training and not as we are training.
Training and racing break the body down (catabolic), while recovery allows the body to recover (anabolic) and adapt in a term called supercompensation. Let's look at a few of the many possible ways to assist in recovery:
Recovery all Starts on the Bike
The important first step to recovery is beginning the process on the bike while riding. Keep the body hydrated, fueled and try not to finish the ride completely empty. Think about it this way; if you limit the loss of fluids and fuel, the body has less to restore, thus shortening your recovery time.
Also, remember that it doesn't take long to lose valuable fluids. You could be keeping your fluid balance up to par, then climb a 10-minute hill in the heat and quickly become dehydrated. Always assume that you are trying to catch up your hydration and energy levels.
Immediately After the Ride
Make sure you do an easy spin to keep the legs loose and begin the process of clearing byproducts (or waste products) out of your system. After you warm down, return to your house or car, immediately get out of your cycling clothes and clean your body of excess sweat and dirt (shower if you can).
A stash of body-wipes in your kit bag is always handy for this purpose. This would also be a good time to weigh yourself (without cycling clothes) to see how much water weight you have lost.
Obviously, the closer your weight pre- and post- race, the better, but the difference in weight can give you an idea of how much fluid you need to ingest to stay equal. A good rule of thumb is to stay under two percent in lost water weight.
Recovery nutrition starts with making sure you restore lost fluids. Place water bottles in strategic areas and every time you walk by that bottle, take a sip. Places like the car, the office desk and the kitchen.
Next, glycogen stores need to be replenished, and it's best to begin that process as soon as possible after you are done with your workout or race. Prepare for this by taking food to your race or haveing it ready when you get home.
On long training rides, it might even be useful to take a single serving pouch of recovery-drink powder with you. That way, on your last drink stop of the day, you can mix up a recovery drink for the last leg of the ride to get a jump on recovery. In fact, it's easier to just think about the whole fluid thing as an ongoing process.
Research currently supports carbohydrate consumption within 30 minutes of completing your event. Combining it with protein can possibly enhance carbohydrate uptake for glycogen replacement and muscle recovery.
It's good to put ice bags on the major muscle groups of the legs after a hard effort, as it can eliminate swelling. Some athletes also take NSAIDs (Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs) like Advil, Motrin or aspirin. Of course, when taking any over-the-counter medications, please follow the instructions for use.