Promoting recovery after training
Promoting recovery after training is very important as it ensures that your training is as effective as possible. Recovery allows your body to return to a physiological steady state and also allows some adaptations to occur. When planning your training you should therefore also think about planning your recovery. Here are some simple tips to help you with this.
Time to recover
An important thing to consider when planning recovery is that every physiological response to training takes a different length of time to recover.
Heart rate, body temperature and blood lactate may take minutes to return to pre-exercise levels. However muscle glycogen (carbohydrate) and muscle damage may take days to restore. A competitor in a nine day stage race with numerous hill top finishes might therefore need to rest or perform light recovery rides for five or six days following the event before they are ready to compete again.
There are often occasions when the recovery duration is out of the athlete’s control if they are competing in heats or a multi-stage event. In these situations cyclists have to employ strategies to promote and possibly accelerate recovery which I discuss further below.
When designing training it is imperative that you plan your recovery strategy, including planning in regular recovery weeks. For most cyclists the maximum period of training should be no more than three weeks. Alternatively, some coaches may occasionally employ single highly strenuous ‘crash’ weeks followed by one week of recovery. It is also worth including one full rest day per week and scheduling enjoyable non-strenuous activities such as going to the cinema or having a meal out to get a mental break from training too.
Be aware of external stresses
You also need to be aware of external stressors such as exams, work, dieting and altitude as these can apply additional training stress. Where these stresses are present try to reschedule training and recovery to account for them.
Mental stress can have a profound impact upon physical well-being. Similarly, physical stress can affect your mental well-being. Any stresses should always be taken into account and planned for in advance if possible.
Look after yourself
Avoid having excessively long periods of racing without any kind of break. You should also ensure that your diet is adequate to support training and racing.
Balance your energy intake
Cyclists can become obsessed with maintaining a low body weight. However a severely restricted energy intake can hinder your recovery, training and performance. It can also have an adverse effect upon your health.
Your overall energy intake should be balanced against your overall training load. Some forms of training such as high intensity intervals can deplete glycogen reserves so your diet should be rich in carbohydrates to support this. When you are ill or injured your overall energy consumption and protein intake may need to be increased to support your immune system and help recovery. Adjusting your diet in response to the varying demands of training is known as ‘dietary periodisation’.
Get some sleep
One of the most important recovery strategies is ensuring you get a sufficient quality and quantity of sleep. You can improve your sleep by keeping to a regular sleep schedule and creating a relaxing bedtime routine. Avoiding large meals, alcohol and caffeine in the evening and eliminating screens from the bedroom can help with this.
I can highly recommend this book by Matthew Walker (no relation!) as an excellent guide to the benefits and physiology of sleep.
Consider other interventions
There are a number of interventions that may be beneficial in promoting and accelerating recovery. Some examples are hydrotherapy, compression, sauna, whole-body cryotherapy, floatation tanks and stretching. There is evidence for and against these methods but in developing a recovery strategy it is important to consider both what the scientific literature says as well as what works for you.
Recovery after training – top tips
If your acute and chronic training loads are balanced with enough recovery you will see more benefit from your training.
Unfortunately some cyclists fall into the trap of paying great attention to training but forget their need to recover. This can mean that they end up digging a training hole and once they are exhausted at the bottom it is extremely hard to climb out. Simply planning ahead and devising a recovery strategy can help avoid a catastrophic downturn in performance and a long road to recovery.
Here is a recap of the key things to think about when planning for your recovery after training:
- Include one full rest day per week in your training plan.
- If you know you are coming up to a stressful time in your life, plan your training around it so that you don’t have a high training load at the same time.
- Avoid scheduling long periods of racing without any sort of a break.
- Ensure your energy intake meets your body’s requirements when taking into account the type of training you are doing.
- Be sure to get a good night’s sleep.
Promoting recovery after training is very important for both professional and amateur riders. I hope this helps you to gain an understanding of some of the things to think about. I’d love to hear if you would like any more in depth information about any of the specific things talked about here so please contact me or comment below with your thoughts.