Recovery for cyclists and athletes - what to do and what not to do

Here is a summary of effective ways to recover from hard workouts. Please feel free to comment, ask any questions or request me to expand on any of these topics!

Also, as a background, recovery is not the same as adaptation. Recovery is when you feel better so that you are able to perform well at your next workout or hard ride/race. Adaptation is when the body adapts to the training you have been doing so that your performance improves (you go harder, faster, longer than before). In gaming-speak, adaptation is the same as “level-up”.

Best recovery strategies

  1. Sleep. Getting enough and quality sleep is arguably the most effective recovery method. Schedule your sleep diligently, as you would any other important commitment, and follow through. In close second is…
  2. Good nutrition. Focus on foods with high nutritional value. Not only before/after the workouts, but at all times. “One-ingredient” foods are the best :slight_smile:
  3. Pre and post-workout nutrition: high intensity workouts require glycogen (carbs). Make sure to consume 40-60g of carbs with some protein 1-2 hours before a hard workout. Do not workout fasted. Consume ~20g of protein and ~30g of carbs after a hard workout. The post-workout food can be your next meal of the day if you are close enough to it. Real food. No need to spend a fortune on supplements or special recovery powders. The 30-minute window post-workout is a myth, unless you need to workout again on the same day a few hours later.
  4. Learn about yourself, your body, and ignore what everyone else is doing. Focus on YOU. Your body knows best and it will talk to you if you listen to it. How often/hard are you used to working out? How long does it usually take you to recover? How stressed out are you, and how much sleep did you get in the last 2 days? A coach and training plan can guide you, but ultimately only you know yourself. Take days off as needed. Respect recovery days.
  5. Compression boots are the only recovery equipment scientifically proven to aid in recovery (and adaptation!!). Normatec boots cost a small fortune. Go for AirRelax instead if you are interested. I use mine daily.
  6. A light walk is likely better than sitting all day with your legs up. It gets fresh blood flowing into your muscles. The boots will do this for you as well.

What not to do

  • Do not take anti-inflamatory drugs (Advil, Ibuprofen, etc.) They negatively interfere with recovery and adaptation.
  • No ice baths
  • Stretching - it does not help with recovery. If your muscles are very sore, don’t stretch them as stretching and can further tear muscles. Leave the muscles alone and stretch when you are no longer sore. Careful with foam rolling, as that can also further damage the muscles that are trying to repair and get stronger.

Bottom line: your body knows what to do! Give it rest and good nutrition, then stay out of the way and let it do its job!!!

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Thanks for the great article @Coach_Theia. I completed Workout 2.2 this morning and I clearly was not recovered well enough nor I had enough nutrition. Was able to finish the workout but I was in the lower part of the zone. Lesson learnt. Loving the workouts and getting out of my comfort zone. Interesting about the stretchiing. Just had a similar discussion with another coach. No ERG has definitely been a challenge but I’m slowly getting the hang of it. Thanks again.

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Amazing advice - thank you! I have a pair of aiR relax but don’t use them that frequently. I need to pull them out and start using. Great tips on stretching and foaming too!

I want to print this off and look at it daily @Coach_Theia! You know that i struggled with taking rest/recovery days in the beginning - it felt like cheating - but once I let (forced) myself to do it, I realized that it did make a difference in my performance!!
Now, i sometimes feel like an extra rest/recovery day, sometimes truly how I’m feeling, sometimes just a factor of scheduling and its Much easier to convince myself its okay than it was 5 months ago.

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@Coach_Theia, no foam rolling post workout or at all? I actually hate it! It’s quite painful for me.

@Gossimrr it’s not a prohibition, but (1) it is not as helpful as the other methods; and (2) if misused it can be damaging. I used to foam roll 2-3 years ago, but have not touched a foam roller since.

The nutrition part of that is where I really struggle. I do try to focus on protein and carbs, but I just don’t really like (or ever crave) a lot of stuff that’s good for me. I’ve tried to change my diet several times over the years to get in more veggies, and I’m currently working at it again, trying to make a conscious effort to get more veggies in. However, after my most recent century the only foods that sounded good for about 3 days were olives and pork rinds. :face_with_raised_eyebrow: I can only figure I burned fat on that ride!

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@Coach_Theia, that’s refershing to hear. I really am not a fan but at times feel pressured to do it. I am a big fan of yoga post workouts. I usually do my yoga in the evenings. I find it relaxing and mind clearing. I usually do 15 minuts after my core exercises.

Question Coach Theia, if not rolling (I find it painful and awkward) is there any other way to ease hamstring and IT band tightness?

@CBell516 here is the interesting part that very few people (and even trainers/coaches) know about: tightness is a sign that the muscles need strengthening. The muscles tighten/contract to protect joints. By strengthening those muscles, the tightness should go away.

Stretching (or foam rolling) loosens muscles and joints, and also have a place in overall fitness- but not as a recovery tool or to relieve the feeling of pressure/tightness. It should be done as its own “thing” to balance the body, but not as a way to correct joint instability and muscle imbalances. Women are even more sensitive to stretching because of our hormones that naturally provide us with loser joints- hence we are more prone to injuries. Another reason why strengthening is key.

Here is an example that to me proved the above to be true. I suffered from low back tightness and pain for decades. Did yoga for decades. Pain only went away when I started doing core strengthening exercises daily for 15 minutes.

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Thanks for these interesting infos! I feel the challenge of not giving myself enough recovery between trainings for both cross-country skiing (new sports to me with a challenge planned 1. March) and keeping up and improving my cycling condition (my nr 1 sport, with a big challenge ahead in June 2020).

My questions on the topic: Is there a way that endurance rides can aid recovery, or not?
If I am muscle sore from running, can I still train my cycling muscles, or are it the same legs that need rest-:slight_smile: ?

Love my recovery boots, best investment ever :+1:t2::grin:

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me too :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye::+1::muscle:

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Now I want one too -:)!

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Are compression socks beneficial for recovery?

Interesting about foam rollers! I used to use one a lot but now rarely and only when I have a knot in a muscle as a way to try to loosen the knot. Now I won’t feel guilty about neglecting to use it as a recovery tool.

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Im so happy to hear this!

My witch doctor ( I call him that because he has a mixed background and he is sort of unorthodox) was very clear on what I needed for my back pain and hip pain. All the other people I went to told me to stretch, which made it worse. Problem was weak muscles in the glute area, back and hips. Just a few weeks after doing his stuff i was better. I like your 15 minutes routine, it correspondes well with the exercises he prescribed to me.

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Hi Jolien, it depends on what you mean by endurance ride. A true recovery ride is short (45-60 min) and the power does not go above 50% of FTP at any point. So anything different than that is not a recovery ride.

As for running and cycling… running is similar to cycling in that there are easier/aerobic runs and harder runs. Combining the two will depend on your experience in running and the purpose for your runs. Sorry but there is no one-size-fits-all answer. For example, I run easy for 15 minutes every Tuesday after a hard bike workout as part of my cyclocross training (so that I can run as needed during races). Some muscle engagement is the same as the bike, some are different. But triathletes for example can run easy one day and that can count as a recovery day - but they have built up to that.

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Not really effective, @Stefanie. To be effective, the compression socks would need to be SO tight that you would need help putting them on (like the ones people use post-surgery).

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@Silje makes perfect sense!! That doctor is a keeper :wink:

I find this topic so interesting and so much to learn in regards to getting full gains from workouts. I understand the recovery side but the adaption side is what confuses me more. Do you think its better to push hard for the 3 weeks and let the adaption happen in the 4th taper week or should there be adaption time allowances between workouts? With the no ice baths, is that because it stilts the adaption process? Would that apply to cold ocean wading? I often do this after a long run and I often see the footy players doing this a day after a game.