A meticulous recovery strategy will make you a stronger, faster cyclist.
Riding your Campagnolo-equipped bike is one part of the progress equation. The other, when you’ve burnt thousands of calories and stretched every sinew, is recovery.
This is where your muscles, heart and lungs grow from your previous exertion. And, like many things in life, it’s an exact science to not only maximise the ride just ticked off but also to be in your best shape for the next ride.
Right, onto helping you grow as a cyclist…
REFUEL FROM RIDE
Before you’ve nipped into the shower after a hard ride, consume a recovery shake containing a blend of carbohydrates and protein. The carbohydrates refill your glycogen stores (stored mainly in your liver and muscles, which you turn into glucose when needed), while protein begins the process muscle repair.
There are plenty of sports recovery drinks out there that’ll do the job, but look for one that, unless you’re a vegan, contains whey protein. This is delivered to your muscles faster than casein protein.
Leucine’s another ingredient to look for. This is an amino acid that’s responsible for kickstarting muscle protein synthesis. You could also go for something like a banana blended with 500ml of full-fat milk. Whatever recovery drink you choose, timing is key.
Enzyme activity and protein synthesis increases after cycling and if you miss out on refueling within the first two hours post-ride, you’ll only take up 50% of what’s possible than starting straight over. So it might take 48 hours to recover instead of 24.
An hour after a long ride, continue to consume carbohydrate and protein via meals containing chicken, eggs, ham, cheese, rice and/or pasta.
While you’re consuming your fuel, you should do so dressed in compression socks. Nearly every WorldTour rider will slip into these, including the four teams who use Campagnolo’s groupsets and wheels: UAE Team Emirates, Lotto-Soudal, AG2R Citroen Team and Cofidis (groupset only).
Compression wear works by featuring graduated pressure, the idea being that a sock with greater pressure at the ankle than the calves will act like an extra heart, accelerating the venous return of blood – in other words, sending the free radicals created from cycling back to the heart faster, which accelerates their breakdown as well as oxygenating the blood at double-quick speed.
Fit is key, as the benefits of compression require enough pressure that the socks aren’t so tight that you apply tourniquet but not so loose that it slips down.
STRETCH OUT FATIGUE
We know many cyclists are resistant to stretching but long-term flexibility training’s been shown to slash the amount of muscle tearing during intense sessions. That means less soreness and swifter recovery.
Massage is also beneficial, albeit unlike the pros who’ll have masseurs, realistically yours will be from a foam roller or pulse gun.
Two 15-minute sessions a week is sufficient to stimulate many of the benefits of ‘real’ massage including dilating blood vessels to accelerate the removal of waste products and enhance the speed of oxygen deliver to the muscles; relieve muscle tension and soreness; and improve the muscle’s range of motion.
SLEEP TO RIDE BETTER
Arguably the greatest recovery tool you possess is sleep, one of the major benefits deriving from your hormonal profile. Human growth hormone, or HGH, accelerates recovery thanks to repairing and rebuilding muscles.
It achieves this by stimulating the liver and other tissues to make a protein called insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), specifically during hard exercise and sleep.
Hence, lack of sleep equals lack of HGH equals impaired recovery. Sleep shortage can also lead to rising levels of a hormone called ghrelin and decreasing levels of the hormone lectin. Both impact your appetite and explain why studies have shown insufficient sleep leads to weight gain.
That stems from poor food choices, and as nutrition’s vital for optimum recovery, again your path to peak performance will be inhibited.
Finally, once you’ve awoken, we have the final recovery tool in your arsenal: active recovery. There are actually two types of active recovery. One is the easing off between intervals, the second refers to a ride or rides after a particularly debilitating session where suffering was at the forefront.
The idea is that riding at a low intensity increases bloodflow to your limbs, increasing the speed at which you’ll feed damaged muscles with muscle-growing nutrients while accelerating the breakdown of toxins.
Key is that easy is easy, so keep your heart rate beneath around 65% of your maximum.
Counter-intuitively, you want to pedal at a reasonably high cadence as shifting your Centaur, Record, Super Record… but do so by shifting into a low gear.
This takes the pressure off your already damaged muscle; instead, the stress is placed on your cardiovascular system, which means more blood is pumped down to your muscles, leading to swifter recovery.
Tick off all these strategies and you’ll ride stronger and faster in 2021.