8 Quick Recovery Tricks to Get You Back on the Bike
Take a few minutes to spin easy after you’ve throttled your legs with a hard ride. The blood vessels in your legs expand while you’re hammering away: Stop abruptly, and the blood just pools down there. This not only makes you lightheaded, but also limits your ability to get fresh nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood in and metabolic waste out—two keys to muscle repair and recovery.
You probably don’t travel with a massage therapist, but you can travel to races and events with a massage stick or mini foam roller—or even a couple of tennis balls and socks. Whatever works, bring it and use it. Massaging your legs helps push out the fluid carrying the waste products of muscle breakdown, and encourages fresh blood to flow in and help rebuild. Research shows that massage following exercise can improve circulation up to 72 hours later. It also breaks up muscle adhesions (knots) that can form from overuse, so your muscles work more smoothly.
Slip on the Socks
The research on how much compression wear improves performance is still fairly equivocal, but studies indicate it can help reduce swelling, fatigue, and muscle soreness after intense exercise. If nothing else, slip on some compression socks. The soleus (calf muscle) is called your second heart because it shepherds blood back to your chest. Compression socks accelerate that process, which in turn improves blood oxygen levels and subsequent recovery.
Dehydration can delay the recovery process because your blood essentially turns to sludge. So stay hydrated as best you can during hard efforts and chase a hard ride or race with a bottle of your favorite recovery drink, be it chocolate milk or something fancier.
Skip the Antioxidants
People used to believe that dosing up on antioxidants like Vitamins C and E could stave off free-radical damage done during hard exercise and accelerate healing. Today, we know the opposite is true: Research shows that during the acute recovery period immediately following a hard workout, antioxidant supplements can counteract the beneficial effects of exercise. By squelching free radicals before your body can react and adapt to them, you keep your muscles from recovering appropriately. In head-to-head comparisons of muscle damage and cell rupture between supplement users and those who go without, those who popped antioxidants appeared to experience more muscle injury and slower recovery. Some studies have found taking C and E after exercise can also counteract the insulin-sensitizing effects of exercise, which is a fancy way of saying your muscles won’t be able to pull in the glycogen and nutrients they need to restock and repair.
Eat More Protein
Branched-chain amino acids found in protein have been widely shown to decrease exercise-induced muscle damage and promote muscle building and repair. You can buy branched-chain amino acid supplements, but eating high-protein foods like beef, chicken, eggs, fish, nuts, and legumes will also get you what you need. Get a high-protein snack, shake, or meal in your system after you crush a ride to kick-start your muscle repair.
Hard rides blow out your carbohydrate stores. You body is most primed to replenish them within about 30 minutes of a vigorous workout. Get in a carb-rich snack within that window. Plus, that protein you’re also eating speeds up glycogen restocking as well as muscle repair. A nut butter sandwich or some Greek yogurt and fruit are a couple ideal post-ride recovery foods.
Sleep is healing. Muscle-building hormones surge during shut-eye, while those hormones that break down muscle decrease. Aim for seven to eight hours of sleep a night or sneak in a 30-minute power nap, which research shows can also help lower stress-hormone levels and promote recovery.