THE BEST AND WORST WAYS TO RE­COVER

Get back on your bike sooner with a few smart tac­tics

Cyclist - - Contents - Words MICHAEL DON­LEVY Pho­tog­ra­phy TA­PES­TRY

What do you think about when you fin­ish a ride and step off the bike? Chances are it’s your next ride, but if that’s the case you’re miss­ing a trick. If you pay more at­ten­tion to your re­cov­ery, you’ll be able to get back on the bike fit­ter, health­ier… and sooner. Re­cov­ery should start be­fore you even step off the bike, with a war­m­down. ‘The im­por­tant thing is the fact that the part of the cir­cu­la­tory sys­tem that deals with get­ting blood back to the heart isn’t ac­tive,’ says Bri­tish Cy­cling coach Will New­ton. ‘Blood is ac­tively pumped to the mus­cles, but it re­turns via a pas­sive sys­tem that re­quires mus­cles to con­tract. The same is true of the lym­phatic sys­tem for flush­ing waste prod­ucts out of the mus­cles. You need gen­tle mus­cle ac­tiv­ity to re­turn the blood to the heart and flush out your sys­tem – five min­utes af­ter a steady ride and 10 min­utes af­ter a hard in­ter­val ses­sion will do the job.’

A stretch in time

What you do when you set foot back on solid ground will de­pend on your phys­i­cal state and how much time you have avail­able, but some el­e­ments of your re­cov­ery should be as fun­da­men­tal a part of your rou­tine as fas­ten­ing your shoes. The first is stretch­ing.

‘A mus­cle is com­posed of many strands of tis­sue, and tis­sues are in turn com­posed of bun­dles of mus­cle fi­bres,’ says coach Paul But­ler of PB Cy­cle Coach­ing. ‘When you stretch, these fi­bres are length­ened to their fullest and the con­nec­tive tis­sue takes up the re­main­ing slack. Col­la­gen fi­bres in the tis­sue align them­selves along the same line of force as the ten­sion. This re­align­ment of dis­or­gan­ised fi­bres is good for the body and can help scar tis­sue to re­pair, for ex­am­ple.’

That doesn’t mean you have to en­ter into a seated back twist the mo­ment your foot hits the floor. ‘It may be bet­ter to eat and rest [first] to speed up re­cov­ery,’ says But­ler. ‘Later in the day is fine. Be sen­si­ble – if you’re cold or wet, then shower and get warm first. When­ever you stretch, it’s im­por­tant to make sure you’re warm.’

Eat­ing soon af­ter a ride is an ex­cel­lent idea, so long as it in­volves pro­tein. Just don’t overdo it.

‘The im­por­tance of pro­tein can be over­stated some­times,’ says New­ton. ‘You’re not a body­builder who needs 2g of pro­tein per kilo­gram of body­weight. But the amino acids in pro­tein are the build­ing blocks of mus­cle, and if you want to re­pair mus­cle dam­age and get stronger – as much as you need to as a cy­clist – you’re go­ing to need it.

‘For me, 1.2g per kilo of body­weight is enough,’ he adds. ‘If you take on too much it will be con­verted to glu­cose to be used for en­ergy and will end up be­ing shov­elled into your glyco­gen stores. And what’s cheaper: car­bo­hy­drate or pro­tein? Pro­tein is ex­pen­sive so it’s a waste of money us­ing it for fuel.’

At some point af­ter your ride, un­less you’re a ro­bot, you’re go­ing to go to bed, and this is an un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated part of the re­cov­ery process. ‘In my opin­ion sleep is the most im­por­tant re­cov­ery aid, be­cause this is when the body is in the best state to re­pair it­self,’ says But­ler.

To op­ti­mise your chances of a good night, make the room as dark as pos­si­ble – use blackout blinds if nec­es­sary – and keep the room at around 18°C. Don’t eat for two hours be­fore go­ing to bed and don’t watch TV or use your phone from un­der the du­vet. ‘And don’t have caf­feine af­ter 1pm or any al­co­hol,’ But­ler adds. So put down that beer and get off to bed – you can con­tinue read­ing this in the morn­ing.

Rise and shine

Good morn­ing! Af­ter a good night’s sleep your temp­ta­tion may be to head out for an­other long ride, but if you’re still a bit sore from yes­ter­day’s ef­forts there are other things you can do to con­tinue your body’s re­cov­ery, such as a de­cent mas­sage.

Not only does cy­cling leave you with tired and heavy legs, but your mus­cles go through hun­dreds of con­trac­tions through a very short range of mo­tion while you’re hunched over in a static po­si­tion. ‘It’s hard to undo these neg­a­tive ef­fects by stretch­ing alone, so mas­sage is a fan­tas­tic in­vest­ment in your body to re­lax your mus­cles,’ says But­ler.

Ian Holmes, a soigneur for pro team Madi­son Ge­n­e­sis, ex­plains, ‘The heart pumps blood around the body, but mas­sage puts pres­sure on the ves­sels and forces blood through at a cel­lu­lar level to ar­eas that aren’t get­ting blood­flow as read­ily. Ex­er­cise causes mi­cro­dam­age to the tis­sues, and mas­sage aids re­cov­ery by help­ing blood reach these ar­eas.’

While Holmes will dish out mas­sages to the pros within two hours of fin­ish­ing a stage, this isn’t prac­ti­cal for all of us. ‘Your best bet is to book one for the day af­ter a big ride. If that’s a Mon­day, you might be a bit sore on Tues­day but should be OK by Wed­nes­day. A good mas­sage means you can train harder, with less rest.’

If you’re feel­ing brave, you can al­ways try an ice bath. ‘The the­ory is that it re­duces swelling and tis­sue break­down, and con­stricts blood ves­sels to flush out waste prod­ucts – lac­tic acid,’ says But­ler. ‘When you warm up, the in­creased blood flow speeds cir­cu­la­tion and, in turn, im­proves the heal­ing process. Re­search has been in­con­clu­sive but many top cy­clists swear by it.’

New­ton isn’t so sure. ‘Ice baths are re­ally fash­ion­able and you see rugby play­ers jump in af­ter a match, but I’ve never seen an ice bath on a pro team bus, and I’ve been on the Team Sky bus. My ques­tion would be: if you have mus­cle dam­age, why would you want to slow down the cir­cu­la­tory sys­tem so there is less blood flow through the tis­sues that need it? There are some good ar­gu­ments for us­ing it in other sports, but it’s not some­thing I’d use or rec­om­mend for cy­clists.’

OK, so what about the things you may have no­ticed be­ing mar­keted to you as ideal re­cov­ery tools? Com­pres­sion tights, for ex­am­ple.

‘You want com­pres­sion on the tis­sues, but not while you’re sat with your feet up,’ says New­ton. ‘Again, it’s move­ment that flushes the tis­sues through, so there’s a good ar­gu­ment for com­pres­sion tights so long as you stay ac­tive.’

Fi­nally, you could spend your money on those lit­tle pots of won­der known as re­cov­ery balms. New­ton’s re­sponse is em­phatic, and although the printed word doesn’t quite do jus­tice to the noise that comes out of his mouth it goes along the lines of, ‘ Eeeeuhmm… meh.’

Let’s leave it there.

‘Ice baths are re­ally fash­ion­able and you see rugby play­ers jump in af­ter a match, but I’ve never seen an ice bath on a pro team bus, and I’ve been on the Team Sky bus’

Ice baths may be pop­u­lar but not all coaches agree on their ef­fec­tive­ness for cy­clists. ‘If you have mus­cle dam­age, why would you want to slow down the cir­cu­la­tory sys­tem so there is less blood flow through the tis­sues that need it?’ asks Bri­tish Cy­cling coach Will New­ton

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