If you haven’t trained for a long bike ride (as I found out on our GGB Casual Ride last Sunday), the chances are that your muscles will be very sore the next day. It got us thinking here at GGB what is the best way to aid recovery after a long, hard ride. Is the usual casual cyclists’ post ride recovery strategy (ie visit to the pub) the best option?
Apparently not! As a result of our research we’ve gathered a selection of tips on what to do post ride in order to make your recovery slightly less achy. Everything we mention below should be done on the same day of the ride, though it is also good advice for your recovery efforts a few days afterwards. Also see our tips on what to do the night before a major ride.
On the Ride
It is sometimes easy to forget but the recovery process starts while you are still on the bike. If you’re already struggling out on the ride due to running out of energy and not refuelling when you should, the likelihood is that your eventual recovery time will be longer.
On the ride itself, always keep your body hydrated with your selected drink. This means sipping or taking on water even if you don’t feel thirsty. Food wise, take on easy to eat carbohydrates such as fruit or energy bars during a ride and top up at regular intervals.
Carbohydrates are important as they are the fuel for your muscles to work as they break down into glucose molecules in the body. If your body does not have any use for the glucose, it is converted into glycogen and stored in the muscles as an energy reserve. When working muscles need an increased fuel supply, glycogen is broken down into useable glucose.
Even if you hydrate yourself well while on the ride, you will still have lost more fluid from your body that you have taken in, so get to a water source and make sure you get a couple of glasses down you every half an hour for the next couple of hours. A sports recovery drink such as Gatorade is also an option on top of drinking water. Such drinks are useful in replenishing muscle glycogen and minerals (electrolytes) such as sodium and potassium that you’ve lost while out riding. More tips on hydration during a ride can be found on Going Going Bike here.
While strictly not great science to aid recovery, we also strongly promote the psychological benefits of a post-ride beer. It will temporarily numb the pain from those muscles for a few hours at least.
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When a ride is over, the body will need to start replenishing the energy that it has depleted on the ride. To aid quicker muscle recovery, you have a half an hour window after a ride where the body converts carbohydrates to muscle at three times the normal rate and where muscle repair increases three-fold.
In this time, take a mixture of foods rich in carbohydrate and protein. Protein is vital for the repair and recovery of muscle tissue, while carbs will help to restore glycogen levels. Health bars containing nuts, seeds, dried fruit are a good option with this in mind.
When you have your main meal after the ride, don’t be tempted by your local Mcdonald’s or any other fried food outlets. Instead prepare a dish that includes high protein levels such as chicken, turkey salmon, tuna or tofu along with some carbs such as wholegrain pasta or rice. More on what to eat to aid recovery can be found in this GGB blog from the Endurance Coach Rebecca Dent.
It is a good idea to do some light stretching as soon you get off the bike from your ride. This is probably the best time as the muscles are warm and responsive and you are yet to feel the pain of those tired muscles. Our advice is to stretch the back, arms, legs and each calf. A good guide on stretches can be found here.
A hot soak or a cold bath?
Most of us would naturally just want to soak in a steaming hot bath after such a long ride and not move but this isn’t the best type of bath to help prevent the onset of muscle pain and soreness. A cold bath will help the body flush out any lactic acid or any other metabolic debris out of the muscles that has built up in a body during the ride.
Cold water therapy like cold baths will constrict blood vessels in the muscles and decreases metabolic activity. This helps reduces swelling and tissue breakdown. Once the skin is no longer in contact with the cold water and your body slowly rewarms, the increased blood flow speeds circulation, and in turn, improves the healing process.
If you plan to have an ice bath at home, run the cold water tap, add in as may ice cubes from the fridge as you want and immerse yourself for as long as you feel that your body is getting very numb. One useful tip, have a hot drink next to you while you are in the bath. It might take your mind off the freezing temps.
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Cycling on a long ride will cause the build up of waste products in the muscles and this will create soreness in the muscles several hours or days after the event. Massage helps to stretch and relax muscle fibres reducing muscle soreness as well as increasing new fresh blood flow into the muscle fibres to encourage muscle repair. A massage will also help you make you feel relaxed, less tense, while lifting some of the tiredness from your body.
Given that you won’t have a professional team masseuse on call to deliver the massage, it will be up to a loved one or a friend to do this for you. Unless they are qualified, they shouldn’t attempt to give you deep rooted muscle tissue massage.
If you need some guidance on the techniques specific to cycling, check out the Youtube channel of Asian cycling Team Fuji. The team has a series of videos on how to massage the specific areas of the legs. Unfortunately if you don’t have a partner or a friend to give you a massage then you will have to self massage. Some tips on how to self massage for cycling can be found here.
Make sure you get a good deep and long nights sleep. When you rest your body begins the work of repair to get you fighting fit for another ride.