How to rest and recover from cycling

September 24, 2019 4 min read

How to rest and recover from cycling

RnR might be something most people crave and are willing to pay through the nose for, but when it comes to riding, the last thing most serious cyclist want is anything that looks like rest and recovery. 

This is a problem because proper rest is just as important as a well-timed training regime for your performance and health. 

Not resting has implications. At best we are not giving our muscles time to repair, heal and grow, meaning our performance on the bike suffers. When tired we are more likely to ride in a position that is less controlled, opening ourselves up to injury and strain. At worse we risk overworking our muscles and causing serious, possibly irreparable long-term injury. 

Don’t up the anti when you are feeling sluggish

One of the biggest problems is when performance dips due to a lack of rest time, the usual response is to ramp up the training and go harder to try to climb over the slump, which obviously just makes the fatigue and achiness worse, and the cycle continues. 

The fatigue affects not only your overworked muscles but also your central nervous system and neural responses. Those most at risk are professionals who cycle competitively. Juggling work, home life and cycling takes a heavy toll. 

This isn’t just cyclists. With every sport taking time off to rest and recover is an essential part of achieving your best performance. Unlike other sports, though cycling doesn’t really have an official off-season, the bike is at your fingertips and the road stretches out before you no matter what. And when you can box up your bike and take it on holiday with you, it makes it all too easy to keep that exercise routine in place and suffer from burn out. That means it’s in your hands to take some time off, let your body recover and enjoy putting your feet up for a while. 

So how to get motivated and love the time spent doing… nothing? 

Swap a ride for another activity

If you are feeling achy or fatigued have a backup plan ready. That might be going for a massage, standing on the beach with your legs in the water, taking an Epsom salt bath or going for an alternative medicine treatment like dry needling, yoga, cupping or physical therapy. Having an activity to do as part of your exercise options is a great way to relax and rest without the guilt of hitting the snooze button. 

Write a bucket list

Have a list of relaxing or different activities you want to do or people you want to spend time with. That way you can use your downtime to get some different goals checked off. 

Don’t go overboard.

Worried about losing form off the bike? You don’t have to take a complete holiday. Maintain a healthy diet of meats, fish, vegetables, fruits and wholegrain. You might like to reduce your portion sizes to match your reduced activity. Reduce your intake of carbs, refined sugar, processed foods and alcohol and you will stay lean and feel great.

Just because you aren’t in training doesn’t mean you have to throw in the towel and make every night a party. 

What if you can’t rest?

There are no shortcuts. If you have an especially competitive cycling event calendar then you’ll need to look after your body with massages, stretching and cool (room temperature) baths, however, even then the rein of racing has to end with a well earned rest and genuine break from riding to give your body that much needed time out. 

Get huge amounts of sleep while training. Pro-cyclists are known to get as much as 12 hours sleep a night so they can adequately heal and recover. 

Don’t compete in everything. Aim for a well-balanced lifestyle where you have a good mix or work, hobbies, exercise and time with friends and loved ones. 

This is why you’ll find pro-cyclists carefully choosing which ITC events they are going to participate in each year. They never over extend themselves, no matter how strong or talented they are, they hone their energy and dedicate their body to limited events with rests between. 

Ease recovery

To help ease your body through a long stint of races you can wear compression clothing both for enhanced recovery after a ride but also during training. Compression pants have been shown in a test by the AIS (2010) to not only improve performance but also lower heart rate, decreased swelling and reduce soreness. 

Food for recovery also has proven benefits. Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant rich foods such as cherry juice, beetroot juice, omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, pineapples, blueberries, passion fruits and mangos can help ease sore muscles and help aid your body’s much needed repair work. 

Protein rich foods are also helpful in providing building blocks for your muscles to work with. A blend of carbohydrates and protein is one that is used with professional cycling teams, most favouring at ratio of four parts carbs to one part protein, which can be something as simple as a homemade milkshake just after riding. 

Does active recovery work?

It depends, is the short answer. Depending on your muscle responses, your general health and how hard you have been pushing you may find that light recovery training offers enough respite for your body that you don’t need to take time off the bike entirely. Even then you don’t need to be riding every day. Plan to have at least two full days of no activity to help your body rest and strengthen. 

If you find that lighter gentle riding doesn’t improve your fatigue or sluggish performance or it actually exacerbates injuries you’ll need to switch to passive recovery options. 

Using rest to improve your cycling? That’s freedom! 

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