The 11 rules for an optimal recovery

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Recovery from day to day is often the challenge for every cyclist. Not only for a pro in the Tour de France, but also for the average amateur cyclist, the goal is often several days in a row a good number of kilometers and cols to finish. Although from day to day every cyclist always performs a bit less well, the trick is to keep this to a minimum. Although this recovery actually starts on the bike with a proper distribution of your energy and good food and hydration strategy, in this article we’ll go into the do’s and don’t’s between stopping the ride and getting a well-deserved night’s sleep.

The golden 11 rules for recovery

  1. Although for most cyclists priority number one is uploading their ride to Strava, this should actually be hydrating. Also, it’s not the proteins that comes first, but first of all the hydration, then the carbohydrates and finally the proteins. The longer and heavier the ride, the more important it is to replenish the proteins. For carbohydrates and proteins there is a window in the first hour in which you can absorb this extra easily. That’s why pros always have a water bottle ready with these proteins and carbohydrates after the finish, which is drunk immediately after a coke. This so-called recovery bottle usually contains in between 20 and 25 grams of whey protein, which is a smaller protein that is absorbed faster than the casein protein in dairy, plus somewhere around 50 grams of carbohydrates. There is also often more salts in a recovery share to make up for this deficiency.
  2. It’s certainly advisable to do a short recovery ride. You used to be the village idiot when you got on the indoor trainer after a tough stage. Nowadays this is completely the other way around and you can see complete cycling teams making an extra few kilometres at the team bus after the finish. Often 10 minutes is enough to turn on the sodium-potassium pump of your muscles again and thus actively dispose of all waste products. The trick is to let the pedals go around with a minimum of effort. Although most cyclists prefer to lie on the massage table instead of cycling for another 10 minutes, there are even teams where you don’t get on the massage table if you haven’t done a recovery ride. If your ride doesn’t end in a bunch sprint, you can of course do this in the last few kilometers instead of on a trainer.
  3. The well known massage is one of the most controversial recovery techniques of cycling. Simply put, the evidence for the healing power of the massage is scientifically wafer thin. However, very few cyclists prefer to do nothing more than crawl on the massage table after an exhausting day in the saddle. The role of the soigneur actually goes a bit further than just the work as a masseur. Usually the massage is the point of rest during the day and the carer is the therapist. The attributed effect of the massage will be partly related to this, but a good masseur also knows how to reduce muscle tension and thus promote natural muscle recovery.
  4. One of the most ancient cycling laws is that you have to sit down if you can, and you have to lie down if you can. So don’t stand unnecessarily on your legs or stroll through a town. There are stories known of Tour winners who let their teammates carry them to their hotel room 5 floors up. Although a very small light walk can provide some extra active muscle recovery for example after dinner. So the most important thing is to stay on your bed until you are called for dinner or a massage.
  5. Eat, eat, eat. When you’re no longer hungry, then you should start worrying. All the carbohydrates you’ve consumed need to be replenished. With an absorption capacity of 60 to 90 grams per hour, that’s often quite a trick to get done before going to bed. Often this can’t be done within one meal. There are therefore stories of cyclists who were awakened at night for an extra plate of pasta. Of course you also have to get all the other macronutrients in. So don’t think you can cycle a Tour de France with dry pasta or winegums. Make sure you eat good quality food with sufficient vegetables, proteins and vitamins with an extra large carbohydrate component.
  6. Extra protein before going to bed is a proven method to work on muscle recovery during sleep. Another 25 grams of casein protein through the yoghurt or milk is therefore recommended.
  7. One of the most barbaric recovery methods is a cold water bath. Actually this works almost in the same way as a massage. The cold water causes the blood vessels to constrict, this increases the speed in the blood vessel and waste products are discharged faster.
  8. Less barbaric and in exactly the same way the recovery socks or compression clothing work. Especially these socks are not a fashion statement, but the way to get the blood from the legs and especially the calves back up faster. Especially at the table during dinner, in the car or bus on the way to the hotel, the recovery socks are the rule rather than the exception.
  9. Good news! Although it is imperative to avoid alcohol immediately after exercise and to ensure that carbohydrates, fluids and proteins are replenished first, a glass of wine at dinner can do little harm. Research has shown that alcohol hinders protein synthesis in the muscles, but a small amount of alcohol will not do any harm in the short term. In the longer term the effects of alcohol such as on the immune system, the quality of sleep and muscle building are somewhat less positive, but a glass of wine at the table is therefore just fine.
  10. There are no good cyclists from Finland. So it’s no good at all to lose extra fluids in a Finnish sauna after a tough ride. Just ignore it and go back to bed with the recovery socks on.
  11. To bed on time. If you have a roommate who likes to read until late, unscrew the light next to his side of the bed when he’s taking a shower.

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