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Cycling Recovery Fundamentals

Cycling is always the lengthiest discipline in any triathlon. Whether a sprint distance or an Ironman event, you’re going to be on your bike for the longest duration before you arrive to T2. In order to make the most out of your ride on race day, try to dedicate three to four sessions per week to cycling.

There are no shortcuts to improving speed on the bike and there’s no such thing as race-day magic. In order to get stronger, you must exceed the demands of racing in training. To put it more simply, you need to spend plenty of time in the saddle to improve. Big gear work, threshold intervals and drill work can take a toll on your body if you neglect proper recovery techniques. But, it’s easy to set yourself up for success if you simply listen to your body and balance your training load. Follow these tips to get the most out of your body on and off the bike.

Stick to the Plan:

Follow your session’s guidelines and don’t be tempted to do an extra repetition or go harder than prescribed. I love Strava as much as anybody else, but save the KOM hunting for when it fits in with your session. As a multisport athlete, your next workout starts during the current one. Do the work, but more importantly, believe in the work you’re doing.

Fuel Your Session: Underfueling your session can easily negatively impact future training sessions by increasing recovery time. Triathletes who put themselves into a nutritional deficit are much more prone to injury, fatigue and general irritability. Fueling strategies are unique to each athlete and usually dictated by an athlete’s sweat rate and the training environment. For a 90-minute session, Jennifer Lentzke MS, RD, CEDRD, CSSD, recommends drinking 20-22 ounces of water per hour during exercise. If you’re deep into training cycle aim to drink 8-10 oz of a sports drink (with no more than 8% carbohydrate) every 20 minutes and a gel every 30 minutes.

Refuel & Rehydrate:

If your bike session included intensity or was more than 90 minutes, it’s critical to get in a regenerative meal within 15-20 minutes of completing your training. Your body is particularly responsive to carbohydrates (replenish glycogen stores) and protein (repair muscle trauma) during this 15-20 minute window, so it’s imperative to have your post workout meal timely. It’s especially important if you have another session on the same day. Jennifer Lentzke recommends consuming at least half of your body weight in ounces of water daily in addition to what you sweat out during your session. For every pound of water weight lost (16 oz of sweat), drink 2-3 cups of water. A good post workout recovery snack for a 90-minute session is a simple smoothie with greek yogurt, banana, nut butter and ice. Eat real food that will reduce inflammation and stabilize blood sugar.

Shake it Out:

Go for a very easy 10 min jog/run after a hard bike session to improve blood flow, flush out lactic acid and loosen up your legs. This will expedite your recovery time and improve your run durability. It doesn’t need to be fast to be effective. Slow is pro!

Keep Moving:

Don’t stack consecutive hard cycling days. Remember that in order to go fast, sometimes you need to go slow—even embarrassingly slow at times. Slow is pro, remember? Riding easy the day after a hard bike session is a good way to absorb fitness and expedite recovery. When you’re planning out your week, be sure to place a swim, easy ride or an easy run the day after a hard effort on the bike.

Massage & Compression:

A monthly recovery massage can reduce tightness, increase blood flow and manipulate fatigued muscles that will reduce recovery time. Chat with your local triathlon club to find a massage therapist that knows the triathlete’s body well. For more than 60 years medical professionals have recommended compression clothing for patients in need for increased blood circulation and leg health. Medical-Grade-Compression allows the arterial walls to relax and increases the oxygen delivered through our blood by up to 40%, which can improve athletic performance. Find a compression garment that fits comfortably snug and reap the benefits of improved circulation and expedited recovery on and off the bike. Our go-to compression wear is made by Acel. Their socks are amazingly durable and are specifically designed and manufactured using state-of-the-art materials to meet optimal 20-30 mmHg graduated compression for maximum comfort and performance.

Sleep Harder:

Establish a consistent routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. Turn your smart phone/tablet off at least 60 minute before your head hits the pillow to help quiet your mind. Try to pick up a book instead of falling asleep to the glow of a TV. Seven to eight hours of sleep per night is OK, but 8-10 is better. You’d be surprised how much better you feel even with just 30 minutes of extra sleep.

Avoid NSAIDs During Exercise:

When a dehydrated endurance athlete ingests NSAIDs (ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen) during exercise, the athlete’s kidneys can become overwhelmed. This increases the risk of hyponatremia (dilution of electrolytes within the body), which will cause the brain to swell. The end result could be a trip to the ER or even worse. Any pain or inflammation that flares up while cycling is not something you should medicate with NSAIDs, but a signal that it’s time to reevaluate your training plan.

Listen to Your Body:

The omnipresence of technology and gadgets in the current state of triathlon can make it easy to get hung up on the metrics while you’re on the bike. However, the strongest and most accurate computer is between your ears. If your training session calls for intervals and your body is telling you that it’s not going to happen, respect that. Let your coach know that you simply didn’t have the legs for the prescribed workout and move on. That is part of being an athlete. In order to avoid injury, listen to your body and schedule a weekly rest day to help keep your training consistent week after week, month after month.

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