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What Should I Do To Recover From My Rides?

Ask a Pro — Diane Stibbard

Coach, Personal Trainer, and Two-Time Canadian Duathlete of the Year

Diane Stibbard - two-time dualthlete of the year

Question: “What should I do to recover from my rides?”

Diane’s reply: 
This reader is asking a very important question. Many cyclists think that following recovery protocol is only for top level competitive cyclists. Recovery protocols should be followed by everyone, especially those who participate in multi-day events or long charity rides that involve being on the bike for 6 to 8 hours. And it’s also important for those who are doing short intense efforts on the bike, such as a time trial or criterium.

Of the two pillars of training, recovery is seen as the most important. The first pillar is training stress, which is simply the riding you are doing. If you recover quickly after riding long or hard that’s a good indicator of your fitness level. Much of the time needed for recovery has to do with your body creating new muscle protein to repair the damage done during your rides. This repair work starts almost immediately following any rides or workouts. There are a number of things that occur during recovery:

• An increase in the fat burning enzymes
• More resilient muscles and tendons
• Decrease in body fat levels, and an increase in lean muscle mass
• Better glycogen storage (energy in the muscles)
• Greater heart stroke volume
• Lower resting heart rate

What this means is the body has reached an adaptation stage to the amount of training stress you are putting on it and it becomes fitter and more efficient. On the flip side, if you are just starting back into cycling after taking time off due to injury or illness you’ll notice your body does not recover as quickly. You may experience soreness and fatigue for up to 2 to 3 days.

I find personally and as a coach, the biggest obstacle when it comes to recovery is getting over the emotional response to taking time off, or reducing volume and intensity. Cyclists tend to think that if you aren’t always out hammering on the pedals or putting big miles in the saddle, you’ll never reach your goals. I experience this as much as anyone, even though I have been a highly competitive athlete all my life. In fact, I just recently returned from two intense weeks of riding in the French Pyrenees. I wanted to capture as much riding and climbing as I could, but still had to recognize the need to follow the recovery protocols I have established.

So what are the recovery protocols and which ones are the most important? I have made a list below in order of importance.


1. Rest – Rest can be inserted into your weekly and monthly riding schedules. I always advocate a two pronged approach to rest and it is important for everyone, whether you ride recreationally or competitively. Starting on a weekly basis, include one rest day with no riding, cross training or weight training (light gentle stretching would be acceptable). This day, can be rotated depending on commitments and time availability. Secondly, I also suggest every 3 to 4 weeks, taking what I call an “active recovery” week. During this week decrease the mileage by a minimum of 10%, and upwards to 20%, while continuing to maintain the intensity of each ride. Recovery week is a good time to take an extra day off. Especially if you are feeling more tired and fatigued than usual.

2. Post ride recovery nutrition – This protocol is necessary when performing rides of 90 minutes or more. The window of opportunity to replace the glycogen (energy stored in the body) is 15 to 60 minutes post ride, although the quicker you take in the calories the more efficiently it is replaced in the working muscles.

Post ride nutrition has evolved over the years to include a specific ratio of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. The minimal ratio is 2:1 (up to 4:2 for longer and more intense rides or events). This is two times the amount of calories coming from carbohydrates to the amount of calories coming from protein.

How to determine how much of each you need:
• Take your body weight in pounds and divide by 2.2. This gives you your body weight in kilograms. Then multiply this number by 1.2 grams.
• For example, if you weight 120lbs that’s 54.5kg. Then from here you multiply by 1.2 for the total number of grams = 65.4 grams of carbohydrates and 32.7 grams of proteins. Chocolate milk (if you are able to tolerate dairy) is considered a good recovery food option as it is quick and easy to consume with the right ratio of 2:1 carbohydrate to proteins. There are also many commercial products (check online), that offer the same ratios, which come pre-mixed or in powder form to be mixed with water.

I make my own using the following recipe: (Blend the following ingredients and store in a sport bottle in your bag on an ice pack).
• 2 cups of water
• 1 scoop of my favorite protein powder
• 1 1/4 cup blueberries (or any other berry, or banana)
• 2 tsp L-Glutamine powder it aids recovery and supports the immune system after intense exercise (you can purchase this at a health/vitamin store)
• 1 tablespoon of coconut oil – This is an excellent medium-branch chain fatty acid, which helps burn fat and promotes gut and immune health after intense exercise.
• 2 tablespoons amino acid powder – helps speed recovery and repair tissue breakdown due to intense or long exercise. (It can be purchased online or in a reputable vitamin/health food store.)

3. Recovery rides – It is important to insert easy or what is commonly known as recovery rides on a weekly basis. These short, easy rides help the body flush out the legs (remove the lactic acid that has built up in the muscles from hard or long rides) and stimulate blood flow to increase the repair of damaged tissue. The ride parameters are as follows:
• Ride on a relatively flat terrain.
• Focus on a high or slightly higher cadence than your average
• Ride in the small chain ring, with an easy gear
• Keep the intensity of the ride at zone 1 – or at a perceived level of exertion scale of 1-10 at a level 5 intensity.
• Ride a short distance – 60 to 90 minutes in length

4. Active recovery week – This week of riding becomes most important after you’ve reached a goal you’ve trained for. If you’ve competed in a race, event or participated in a multi-day tour or long charity ride, then a full “active recovery” week is essential to allow the body to fully heal and recover from the rigors of what it’s been put through.

If you’re in the middle of a training cycle a few days of recovery is necessary, but a full week is much more appropriate to end the entire process. Note that I call this and advocate an active recovery verse total time off, in which the cyclist does nothing. Active recovery allows the body to flush out the buildup of lactic acid that has accumulated over the duration of the race or event. Doing off-bike activities leaves you feeling physically and mentally refreshed.

Again, after a full season of training to ride in the Pyrenees, I built a 1-week active recovery into my schedule and came out of it totally recovered physically as well as mentally. The week after the recovery week I was extremely strong on the bike, producing power at the same levels as I did while riding in the mountains. But more importantly, I was mentally fresh and eager to return to riding.

Do not ride during the week of recovery instead choose other activities you enjoy doing such as:
• Vigorous hikes
• Yoga or Pilates to help stretch and lengthen muscles and ligaments
• Gentle walks in nature, or in your local park. Being in nature releases endorphins that stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (the parasympathetic nervous system is the nervous system that is responsible for reducing the stress response and lowers heart rate and blood pressure levels)
• Elliptical machine workouts – an excellent non-impact activity to create a gentle training response.
• Roller blade on flat terrain

5. Sleep – Studies have shown increasing sleep duration leads to increased performance, mental well-being and restoration of muscle and tissue breakdown due to high levels of intensity and long training/racing/event sessions.
• Try to exercise earlier in the day if possible, as late day and evening riding can reduce the quality and quantity of the sleep as it stimulates the body and mind.
• If possible don’t set an alarm to wake each day. If that’s not possible give yourself an extra 15 to 30 minutes of sleep time in the morning to promote muscle repair. Aim for one day per week, perhaps the weekend depending on the other demands you may have, where you just allow yourself to wake up when it is ready to.

In fact, this is one the ways sleep researchers tell us how much sleep we need. The typical 8 hrs of sleep per day is not always applicable to everyone. Depending on the person the range is anywhere from 6 to 9 hrs. I follow renowned sleep expert, Dan Pardy, (see link for more information) who has been researching sleep for many years. His research and insights are extremely helpful. http://blog.dansplan.com/

6. Stretching – Stretching following a ride appears to aid the recovery process by improving the uptake of amino acids by the muscle cells and promoting protein synthesis within the muscle cells. Stretching after a ride, can take as little as 15 minutes and can be done while having a recovery drink. Stretching is best done immediately after the ride, while the muscles are still warm and supple. Never stretch a cold muscle, as this can potentially cause an injury to the muscle or joint. Stretching, although sometimes viewed as controversial in preventing injuries, has earned the respect of many cyclists and athletes to aid recovery by decreasing muscle stiffness and soreness in the proceeding days after a hard or long ride. During the stretching routine incorporate stretches for the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, glutes, hip flexors, and if you experience a stiff neck, then include upper and lower back as well.

7. Massage – Many cyclists find a massage by a professional massage therapist an effective recovery technique (professional cyclist use massage therapist during the racing season, as well as the off season). Just 10 minutes of massage given within 3 hours after riding maybe beneficial in alleviating muscle soreness, reducing the chemical by-products of muscle damage and reduce muscle and joint swelling. However, any kind of massage done within the first 36 hours after a ride should be light and employ long flushing strokes to speed the removal of waste products. Deep and intense muscle pressure may actually increase the muscle trauma, so should be saved for after 36 hours.

If cost is a factor you can use a foam roller. Foam rolling has become transformative for many cyclist and athletes. By applying pressure to specific points on the body you are able to closely mimic the efforts of hand massage. Foam rolling helps to smooth out tightness in the muscles and increase blood flow within the muscle. Foam rollers can be purchased online and have three different densities. If you are a light female rider choose the less dense version. Here‘s how to use a foam roller:
• Roll slowly over the entire muscle group
• Use short, slow rolls over particularly tight spots, and spend only 20 seconds pressing on one particular spot.
• Start from the top of the muscle group, then roll downwards, then slowly back up the muscle group
• If you want more pressure on a particular muscle, then allow more of your body weight to press down on the foam. To decrease the amount of pressure on a particular muscle, let the hands on the floor take more of your body weight. Click here for our foam roller guide.

I hope this comprehensive recovery list becomes part of your cycling training so you can continue to ride strong and injury free.

Training for a two-day cycling eventDiane provides training programs for recreational and competitive cyclists, duathletes and triathletes, including nutritional counseling and personal training. Does your company need a fitness consultant? Get in touch with Diane to discuss fitness seminars for corporations

You want personal training but don’t live near Diane? No problem. Diane does email and telephone consultations. To learn more, visit Diane’s website or contact her at

Check out Diane’s e-programs: Keeping Fit in the Off-Season and Training For a Two-Day Charity Event For the Time-Starved Cyclist.

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