Recovery after a ride is really important for our health but also for our cycling enjoyment. Feeling great on the bike should also translate to feeling great off the bike as well, especially after a big event where you have pushed yourself hard and done some amazing work.
In order to enjoy every part of your ride, it’s important to train ahead of an event, eat a vibrant array of natural foods, stretch and warm your muscles gently before and after a ride, and do what you can to help your body recover gently after a new or especially challenging ride.
With so many suggestions out there on how to recover well; ice baths, ice packs, training rides, massages, it can be daunting to know which ones are right for you and which are more fad than fact. To help you make an informed choice we’ve taken a (shallow) dive into the bath to see if there is any truth behind the healing power of Epsom salts.
Epsom salts are made from a mix of the natural minerals magnesium and sulphate.
Having an Epsom salt bath is supposed to increase relaxation as well as aid nerve function and muscle recovery while reducing inflammation, swelling and muscle soreness. It is also said to be a fast and impacting detoxification.
Skin is watertight, so the general expectation is that our bodies can’t absorb the dissolved minerals in bath water. One way to combat this is by using an Epsom salt cream as creams can be absorbed through the skin pores, although a nice long bath after a gruelling ride seems much more relaxing.
A magnesium deficiency in the body does lead to muscle soreness and cramps. Taking magnesium supplements is a proven way to boost magnesium levels in the bloodstream.
Externally magnesium cream is known to draw out deep splinters. Warm, diluted Epsom salts have been used effectively to ease swelling and pain in people suffering haemorrhoids and nursing mothers with breast pain.
So while the key ingredients do work, the question remains, can our body identify magnesium and sulphate in the bath water and absorb what it needs to heal and recover? It would be pretty smart if it could, but bodies have shown some amazing and smart moves in the past. Unfortunately, the evidence just isn’t available until more testing can be done.
While we wait for that we thought we would do our own tests and see what results we find (through monitoring how we feel) following an Epsom salt bath.
I was really looking forward to being the test guinea pig, especially as there’s little to no risk, as long as I stay hydrated and don’t have the bath water too hot, it’s perfectly safe.
I did this after a really big 150 kilometre ride with some challenging climbs.
I waited for two hours after I’d finished dinner (not because I was swimming, just because I really wanted to relax and focus on healing).
I chose a warm bath of 39 degree Celsius and a pretty big amount (2 kilos) of Epsom salt (I emptied both the one-kilo packs in).
To help the crystals dissolve completely I added the salt early on and covered it with hot, hot water, then topped the bath up with warm water.
I kept the bath thermometer in the water the whole time I was running it and let it rest a while before I got in, to make sure it wasn’t too hot.
I stayed in my bath for 35 minutes (for test purposes only, of course). I had two water bottles with me as well as a mug of green tea so I could keep drinking and stay hydrated. Hydration is also a really important aspect of recovery.
After I towelled off I lay on the bed to cool down. I didn’t rinse or shower after, I just left the salt on my skin and put my PJs on and climbed into bed.
I’d definitely do that again! I’m not sure I could say that my body absorbed any magnesium but I certainly felt that the bath helped my recovery, and that’s what we’re looking for with this.
So if you are looking for a reward after your ride that also relaxing and refreshing for your muscles and joints you could do a lot worse than draw yourself an Epsom salt bath.
Bathing your way to a quick recovery? That’s freedom!