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Planning for a Faster Recovery

Updated: Feb 27, 2020

Planning for a Faster Recovery Training and racing are a stress on the body. It takes time to recover from that stress. The harder the workout, the higher stress and therefore the longer the recovery. What you do before, during and right after you complete your workout (or race) greatly affects how you will feel later on and the next day. Here are some guidelines to consider.

Fueled Ready to Go Start your workout, event or race already fueled. I prefer to fuel using real food rather than energy bars and drinks. There are some great ideas on how to fuel with real food in Allen LIm's books: 'Portables' and 'Feed Zone'.

During the workout Eat and drink responsibly!  Don’t leave it until your fuel stores and fluids reach extreme low levels.  If you do, then you’ll need more recovery time.

What and how much you eat and drink during a workout depends on several factors:

-Intensity (how hard are you working) -Volume (how long are you working) -Temperature (working out in 90 degrees versus 40 degrees have very different fueling requirements) -Individual differences (every athlete has different requirements)

There are lots of guidelines out there. And that is just what they are: guidelines. Don’t expect to find a fueling plan that is ideal for you. You will need to experiment and see how your body responds to different types and quantities of fuel.  Here are some ideas to start with:

1 hour ride: 1 bottle of water or electrolyte drink (like Ultima) 2 hour ride: 1 bottle of water and 1 bottle of energy drink (Hammer Heed) 3 hour ride: 1 bottle of electrolyte drink, 1 bottle of energy drink, plus 1-2 gels and/or a bar. 4 hour ride: 3 bottles electrolyte, water and energy drink. 2-3 gels and/or a Bar.

When you are doing LSD (Long Steady Distance) workouts,  make sure you use the food/drink you would during your long events/races. Not only are you working on improving your endurance, but also training the body to utilize specific fuel.  For these workouts aim to ingest 200-350 calories per hour.

I think one of the biggest errors for many athletes is to wait too long into a workout before starting to eat and drink. 15-30 minutes into a LSD workout you should start to drink.  If you wait until you’re thirsty/hungry; it’s too late. To get on a fueling schedule, set the timer on your watch to beep every 20 minutes. This serves as a reminder to eat a gel and to drink a couple of gulps of drink. It is amazing how fast 20 minutes can go by and you may not feel ready to eat and drink again, but you need to in order to stay strong to the end of the workout.

Read the labels: There are so many gels, bars and sports drinks on the market. Make sure you read the labels. Stay away from electrolyte drinks that contain too much simple sugar. This will give you a quick burst of energy, and not a sustained energy. You want a mix of simple and complex carbohydrates. Some gels contain electrolytes and some caffeine too. Experiment in training to see what your stomach can handle. Don’t leave it to event day to try something new. With the added stress of the event; adrenaline, nerves, and the intensity can wreak havoc on your digestive system, so don’t give it anything new to contend with.

Note: Anaerobic efforts cause the digestive system to slow down because blood is being drawn away from the stomach to the working muscles. If you have been fueling then this can give you an upset stomach, make you feel bloated, nauseous, or cause diarrhea.  Anaerobic workouts tend to be short in duration (2 hours and this includes the warm up and cool down).  You really don’t need to eat anything during the workout; just afterwards.

After the workout: Re-hydrate and Re-fuel Typically fluid/nutrition intake during the workout won’t fully replace what was lost during the workout. Most athletes will find themselves in a bit of a deficit. Consuming the right nutrients shortly after exercise will help repair tissue damage and re-fuel muscles.   There are many post-exercise recovery drinks on the market that claim to have the correct ratios of electrolytes, carbs and protein to aid in recovery, such as: Hammer Recoverite, Endurox R4, Gu Brew Recovery. Their goal is to: Hydrate, Replenish muscle glycogen stores, and Repair muscle and tissue damage.

Timing is critical: After intense or long workouts, the body is very receptive to absorbing nutrients to replace those used, and to help repair any muscle damage.  There are two post-exercise recovery fueling windows. 1). within the first 30 minutes post-exercise, and 2). 2-3 hours post-exercise.  It is during the first window that the body readily absorbs nutrients at a quicker rate. It is reported that carbohydrates eaten will be converted into muscle glycogen at 3 times the normal rate. This rate drops off dramatically after 30 minutes. So make sure you drink/eat 20-30 minutes post-exercise. And then follow up with a nutritious meal 2-3 hours later.

Compression Garments Research has shown that the use of compression recovery socks and tights help reduce leg fatigue and muscle soreness, thereby also reducing recovery time. This helps your legs feel fresh for the next time you exercise. How does it work? Graduated or progressive compression increases blood circulation back to the heart. Research has shown that this can be up a 138% increase with the correct compression (18 mmHg at the ankles working up the leg to 8 mmHg according to Sigel et al (1975)). This helps remove exercise induced by products (such as lactic acid and carbon dioxide) from the muscle tissue. This aids recovery.

The key is to have the right amount of compression for these garments to be effective. Too little compression, and circulation is not increased, and too much will actually inhibit circulation. It's key is to have graduated compression. My favorite socks are made by Swiftwick: the Aspire twelve. If tights are your thing, look at Cep or 2XU.

Ice bath To help heal the muscles from the stresses of intense workouts (especially running) and reduce post-exercise muscle soreness consider taking an ice bath.  The stresses of exercise cause small tears in the actual muscle fibers. An ice bath prevents further break down of the muscles, constricts blood vessels that help flush out waster products, reduces swelling and stimulates the muscles cells to repair the muscles tears.

Fill the tub with cold water and add a few cups of ice or ice packs. The goal temperature is 53-59 degrees Fahrenheit. Fill the tub enough to cover up to your waist. Don’t stay in the tub too long; 5 to 10 minutes is adequate. This is not a case where more is better. Too much can cause cold induced muscle damage. If you are like me and an ice bath makes you shiver just thinking about it you can sip a hot drink, wear a warm layer on your upper body, and try to distract yourself by reading or listening to music.  Take a warm shower/bath about 30-60 minutes later.


Stretching is the most overlooked component of most endurance athlete’s regimens.  It has big returns for a small time investment. You really need to commit to a stretching routine to make it happen. Build it into your workout time. If you have 3 hours to workout, then ride for 2:40 hrs and spend 20 minutes on recovery practices including the stretching. I know that my best years of riding/racing are the years I’ve committed to a stretching program.

During a workout your muscles contract and relax many times, especially performing a repetitive motion like cycling or running. Stretching has numerous benefits: reduces muscle soreness by improving circulation, reduces muscular imbalances, increases range of motion (and thereby decreasing injury potential).

Massage Restricted blood flow to the muscles following exercise hinders muscle growth, muscle repair and glycogen replention. Massage increases blood and lymph circulation. The movement of blood and lymph may help clear the body and the tissues of metabolic waste products thereby increasing the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the tissues. Massage helps relieve muscle spasms and cramps, and also decreases the recovery time by helping to flush the lactic acid produced while training/racing at high intensities.

Not everyone can afford the time and expense for a professional massage.  However, for a small investment you can be set up at home to do your own massage work.  I like the massage stick and the  foam roller.

Put your feet up Elevating the legs above the heart helps eliminate by-products from the legs, which is one of the primary causes of swelling and extended fatigue. Elevate your legs so they are higher than your heart. Lie with you feet up the wall to have gravity assist with recovery by lengthening the muscles (hamstrings) that have been contracting for a long time, dilating blood vessels and speeding the removal of lactic acid and other waste-product buildup that can leave you stiff and sore the next day.

Sleep 8 or more quality hours of deep sleep aids muscle repair and recovery. It’s a hormonal thing. The deeper and longer the sleep (REM sleep) the more testosterone you produce that aids in muscle repair.  Get as much sleep as you can.  Without adequate sleep, fitness can be lost. Throughout the year it is common for athletes to have trouble with sleep. Here are some guidelines to help promote a good night’s sleep:

-Reduce caffeine intake and alcohol intake -Exercise in the early morning rather than later in the evening. -Take a hot shower/bath just before going to bed -Take a short slow evening walk followed by some gentle stretching -Go to bed the same time each night and get up the same time every morning. -Try some calming, sleep promoting yoga poses. -Breathing exercises -Quieten the mind. If you have a lot on your mind write it down. Think of this exercise as purging it from your mind. -If you are napping during the day, eliminate the naps.

Get into a nightly routine so your body and mind knows what to expect and falls into a pattern that prepares it for sleep.

Lots of ideas. Try implementing one or two to see if it makes a difference. Happy recovering!

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