Recovery is just as significant as training. If you don’t take proper action to recuperate post-activity, you can increase your risk of burnout and injury – you may even limit your performance on upcoming rides.
Here’s what you can do to optimise the recovery process as soon as you get off the bike.
Is there a way to measure recovery?
Researchers are continually trying to find the most optimal techniques for recovery to relieve the fatigue, injury and soreness resulting from training. Nevertheless, this can often be contradictory, leaving you more perplexed about the best way to recover than when you started.
Unlike Functional Threshold Power (or FTP, which is the highest average power you can sustain for roughly an hour, calculated in watts), recovery can’t be precisely quantified. So how can you tell if you’re recuperating well or need to change things?
“It’s the most important bit of training,” former British professional cyclist Liam Holohan says. “So many guys go over the top with the training and just don’t recover from it.” 
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When it comes to making long-term fitness improvements, it’s vital to do the proper amount of training, as it needs to find the balance with recovery.
Overtraining is also something to be conscious of. It’s a common factor in causing injury and is generally attributed to overdoing activity and poor recovery.
“Under-recovering and overtraining are more common among amateur athletes than professional athletes,” explains Iñigo Mujika, sports physiologist, level III swimming and triathlon coach and associate professor at the University of the Basque Country. He is also the former head of physiology and training at Euskaltel Euskadi pro cycling team.
Professionals usually have a formal training programme, which includes enough time to recover. They have enough understanding and advice for sleep, proper nutrition and proactive recovery.
For most of us who have day jobs and dependents, recovery from exercise can’t be in our daily top priorities. “An amateur must deal with work, life, family and other social issues,” says Mujika.
What are some key metrics for optimal recovery?
Optimise sleep for adequate recovery: first, you need to get enough sleep. What is enough? Seven to nine hours a night or around eight to ten hours for teenagers. Athletes need more sleep than non-athletes to rebound from the physical and psychological demands of the sport.
- Look into taking power naps: a 20-30-minute rest can augment poor night-time sleep and be helpful for those needing a boost in alertness. Although be careful – exceeding 30 minutes may make it harder to sleep that night.
- Practise good sleep habits: bypass heavy meals and consuming alcohol and caffeine when it’s close to bedtime. Enforce a bedtime routine in a conducive environment (dark, cool and quiet) and ideally wake to natural light the next day.
- Obey your chronotype: this is your genetically determined inclination to be a morning lark or a night owl. Research indicates that athletes are more likely to be morning chronotypes, so train at an hour that suits your preference.
- Don’t be too reliant on devices: your tracking device does not fully comprehend you as an individual athlete, so don’t let it dictate your recovery terms.
Also, aim to stick to a sleep schedule. Take note of the approximate time you fell asleep and when you woke. A sleep tracker may help if you suspect your sleep is being disturbed.
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Observe your resting heart rate: “If you want to keep it simple, resting heart rate (RHR) – along with sleep – is probably the simplest variable that you can use,” advises John Wakefield. He heads the coaching company Science to Sport and is performance coordinator and assistant sports director at UAE Team Emirates. He has been coaching amateur and professional athletes for 17 years.
“The protocol is easy: wake up, go to the toilet if you need to, then return to bed and relax for several minutes. Now take your resting heart rate.” The lower the resting heart rate, the fitter you are. If you notice that your RHR is more than 10bpm over your lowest recorded rate, it’s a sign you may be overreaching.
“If you want to get a more complete picture of recovery and how your body is responding to training, heart rate variability (HRV) works really well,” adds Wakefield. Various apps out there track HRV, usually alongside a spectrum of recovery-based metrics like sleep duration and quality.
HRV is a great indicator of how well the body is doing in terms of recovery. The higher the HRV, the better job your body is doing.
If your RHR is greater than 5bpm or higher than its normal range, you should decrease or even postpone training until it has returned to normal. You can also consider taking a rest day.
Fuel suitably for your training: sustenance is also one noteworthy way to help your body’s recovery.
Stay hydrated: don’t forget to hydrate your body after your race. Dehydration can slow down your recovery process. You can try protein-type drinks like chocolate milk, plain water, and electrolyte. Sports drinks are okay, but some contain excessive sugar, so better to take them in moderation, according to Matthew Winters, a Senior Physical Therapist at Cleveland Clinic.
Load up with protein: to jumpstart repair, consume a lot of protein. “That’s one of the biggest recommendations,” Winters adds. You can start with a high-protein snack after your race and, consequently, when you begin to cool down. Afterwards, make sure to eat a high-protein meal, including chicken, beef, fish or nuts. A high-protein shake is also acceptable and will help decrease any muscle damage and help encourage muscle repair and recovery.
Your body goes into a catabolic state, devouring its muscles after exhausting activities. The number one priority is reversing that state to become anabolic – building up instead of breaking down muscle tissue – by consuming protein within 30 minutes of finishing, if possible.
It’s also noteworthy that this is especially important for women whose hormones tend to leave them more catabolic than their male counterparts .
Cool down before full stop: after a hard ride, take five minutes and continue cycling slowly. This is helpful because the blood vessels in your legs were expanding during your ride. If you stop suddenly, the blood stays in place like pools of water.
This can make you feel lightheaded and minimises your body’s capability to get fresh blood in and metabolic waste out. “You have the joy of being done and you just want to be done,” says Winters. “But it doesn’t end at the finish line. There’s still several hours of recovery time and muscle repair and it all begins with a cool-down process.” 
When your body stops moving after a race, every muscle becomes tense and may become sore and stiff. Following a five-minute cool-down period where you cycle around slowly, get off your bike, but keep moving.
Get a massage: massaging your legs will help push out fluids loaded with waste products during muscle breakdown. A massage will help improve circulation and allow fresh blood to flow more efficiently to repair muscles. It can also help break up knots that may form in your body from muscle overuse.
If you can’t get to a massage therapist, try mini foam rollers or some tennis balls tucked inside socks.
Take a cold plunge: ice baths, especially for those with the motivation and grit to do them, are a long-standing recovery technique. The idea is to deceive your body into redistributing the blood from your still warm skin back into central circulation to shuttle out metabolic waste and decrease swelling and inflammation in your muscles. Studies on their effectiveness are limited, with some suggesting ice baths alone may delay recovery. Try contrast therapy where you alternate cold and heat to passively push and pull blood in and out of your muscles instead.
Reset with plenty of rest: rest is critical for recovery and muscle repair. It can help heal your body overall. Your muscle-building hormones increase as you sleep, and they’re essential for repairing your muscles while you train and after a race.
Striking a balance between training and rest can be more complicated than it sounds. Too many rest days, and you’ll risk stagnating. Too few, and you’re at risk of overtraining.
“The best way to know if you need a rest day is to listen to your body,” says James Mark Hayden, Transcontinental Race winner of 2017 and 2018. “During training, I normally have at least one day completely off the bike and one easy day, but if I haven’t slept well or feel rough, then whatever I’ve planned will go out the window, and I’ll take more time to recover.”
Let your mind rest too: as well as giving your body time to rest and recover, you need to give your mind some downtime – particularly if you’re trying to train and juggle other life demands like family and work.
“Mental recovery is probably more important for me than physical recovery,”adds James. “If I haven’t recovered mentally it doesn’t matter what physical shape I’m in because I won’t be able to push myself to the limits.” After a big race such as The Transcontinental, James will take up to two months out of training and competing.
For amateur cyclists, post-race is an excellent time to catch up with friends, try some other sports or exercise classes and chill out so you can get back in the saddle, mentally and physically refreshed.
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Signs that you may need extra rest include:
- An elevated heart rate
- Feeling mentally tired
- Not being able to hit your training goals.
Getting to know your body’s signals is a skill that comes with experience. “It took me six years of nearly full-time riding to be able to understand my body,” says James. “If you’re unsure, getting a coach or asking a friend who’s an experienced cyclist to assess you can help.” 
Muscle recovery and age-related fatigue
Rest is strongly highlighted because as we age, we get exhausted quicker – and the less energy we have. Though it seems universally accepted, it doesn’t have to be this way.
Whether you’re cycling for fun or professionally, boosting the process of muscle recovery, supplements are one way to support the body’s healing function. This way, you’re also potentially able to do more of the physical activities you love.
Urolithin A with Mitopure from Amazentis
The worms’ mobility also improved with age and extended activity. Urolithin A also enhanced exercise capability in mice with age-related muscle decline.
Recent research indicates that urolithin A can play a critical role in enhancing muscles and extending activity – which is especially important as muscles deteriorate with age, exposing us to the dangers of frailty.
Using urolithin A in human trials indicates that a precise dose is mandatory. Amazentis introduced Mitopure, a proprietary urolithin A supplement, including powder and soft-gel forms.
Urolithin A improves mitochondrial and muscle function – while a metabolite, indicating that the body makes it from raw materials from fruits (predominantly pomegranates). Yet, not everyone can produce adequate quantities of this antiaging molecule, and that’s where the supplement comes in.
Much research into urolithin A has been done on the general population – but a recent study, particularly regarding aging, means it could translate to elite athletes as well.
A study on urolithin A presented at sports medicine conference documented improvements in muscle function and VO2 max, so any endurance improvement is the first to show beneficial effects in a healthy middle-aged population.
Testing urolithin A in human trials means a precise dose is needed. The trials succeeded in a statistically significant way, with two measures of muscle endurance shown to be improved in the supplemented group when compared with a placebo group. Muscle endurance was measured with exercises involving the hand and leg, with researchers measuring the increase in the number of muscle contractions until fatigue between a baseline test and the final test four months later.
By bypassing the need to have the correct microbiome flora, an easy and effective way to boost muscle recovery is available to everyone. A daily dose of Mitopure is equivalent to drinking six glasses of pomegranate juice, and all without the worry that you can actually convert it (and the sugar!).
As with any athlete, recovery is a vital part of a cyclist’s agenda.
When you train, you’re placing your body under stress and breaking down muscles – and it’s during recovery that these muscles rehabilitate, adapt and grow stronger. It also helps so that the same workout feels easier next time.
If you don’t give yourself recovery time to rest and repair post-ride, then you won’t advance – and you’re also putting yourself at risk of disease, injury and over-training. Rest days are critical.
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