Post Workout Recovery Tips

Post Workout Recovery Tips

Many of us enjoy riding hard: climbing steep grades, pushing huge gears on the flats and trying to put our riding buddies into difficulty at every opportunity.  But that desire, along with unusually strong work ethic possessed my most cyclists can be a doorway to damnation: overtraining can rear its ugly head.  The key to preventing overtraining, as well as seeing marked improvement may not be your workouts, but what you do in between them.

Check out the post recovery tips after the break and learn how to get stronger and faster by resting and recovering harder.

Post Workout Recovery DrinkWhat Happens During Post Workout Recovery

To understand what happens during recovery, perhaps we need to know what happens during exercise first.  This can be best described by the phrase “training breaks the body down, resting builds it back up.”

When we exercise the training stress creates a stimulus and recovery overcompensates to prepare your body for further stimulus.  Your body wants to work less the next time it is called upon to perform an exercise.  In the case of hard cycling, glycogen stores are depleted, enzymes are depleted, muscle tissue suffers micro-damage, our mental state deteriorates and we may even suffer more notable maladies like saddle sores, joint pains and tendon pulls.  All these issues can add up over time, and if adequate recovery isn't taken, the accumulated fatigue will eventually cause a decrease in performance as well as other symptoms such as irritability, increased sickness, depression and run down feelings.

Stimulus/Adaptation chartRecovery is the process by which the body rebuilds the damage done during hard training and if training stimulus was great enough, the body will build itself up stronger than it was previously.  During recovery, muscle and liver glycogen is restored, muscular micro-damage is repaired, mental states are refreshed and issues like saddle sores have a chance to heal.  Physiological changes occur as well, such as an increase in aerobic enzymes, increase in mitochondrial density (energy producing organelles in muscle tissue), increase in capillary density in muscles, increase in red blood cell and plasma production and muscle hypertrophy.  With how important these processes are to increased performance, how much recovery is needed to push fitness gains higher during the next workouts?

Post Workout Recovery Planning

Ideally, cyclists would have an easy day or complete rest day after every hard ride, but generally this neither creates enough training stimulus nor satisfies the mental desire to spend time on the bike.  In this case, the athlete may need to have back to back hard days followed by a rest day.  For example, someone training 5 days per week (centered around the weekend) may have the following schedule:

  • Monday – hard
  • Tuesday – rest
  • Wednesday – hard
  • Thursday – hard
  • Friday – rest
  • Saturday – hard
  • Sunday – hard
Note in this case the athlete has 3 hard days in a row over the weekend and starting the week with rest days mid-week.  Bear in mind that with three back to back to back days, training intensity may not be as high as the athlete would like, but volume will trump intensity in this case.  A more typical scenario may be the 4 day per week cyclist, who's schedule may look like this:
  • Monday – rest
  • Tuesday – hard
  • Wednesday – rest
  • Thursday – hard
  • Friday – rest
  • Saturday – hard
  • Sunday – hard

In this case, rest days are more plentiful and break up workouts in such a way that intensity can be higher during each workout.  Remember that you don't have to stick to this schedule religiously; if you have commitments that prevent you from riding on one specific day, maybe you'll sandwich two days together, riding hard for two days and recovering for two days.  Be careful that your training days don't burn you out before you recover, though.

Now that we have an idea of what a recovery schedule looks like, let's see what it looks like in terms of planning a week of riding:

  • Monday – rest – 1 hour recovery ride, very easy intensity/RPE (Rating Perceived Exertion) scale 1-2
  • Tuesday – hard – Group ride over flat to rolling terrain, RPE 6-8
  • Wednesday – rest – off bike or yoga
  • Thursday – hard – Solo or group climbing ride with intervals, RPE 7-10
  • Friday – rest – 1 hour recovery ride, very easy, RPE 1-2
  • Saturday – hard – Group ride OR longer distance ride over rolling terrain RPE 7-9
  • Sunday – hard – Group ride OR longer distance ride over rolling terrain RPE 6-9

Training and recovery cycle

Now it's easy to see how recovery days and workout days can be shuffled around to fit schedules.  A couple of things to note: recovery rides (or active recovery) are great ways to satisfy the mental need to exercise while still allowing the body to perform necessary “recovering.”  In fact, some studies show that active recovery may be more beneficial than passive recovery in helping the body to heal.  Also noteworthy is the variability of Sunday's effort: depending on the difficulty of Saturday's training, the Sunday workout may be easier in order to ensure the body is able to recover adequately before the next scheduled workout. But the biggest question is, even though the schedule is bing followed, how do we know if we have recovered enough?

How Much Post Workout Recovery Is Enough?

The easiest way to know if you're recovered is to actually listen to your own body.  While this takes a while to get really good at, you can easily begin by taking note of how you feel when you get out of bed in the morning.  Sluggish or heavy feeling legs, stiffness and soreness when climbing stairs and lingering muscle aches are telltale signs that you may need an extra rest day.  These feelings may persist longer as we age, since recovery seems to be hindered as the body ages; you may not be able to do that three day block without taking two rest days as you get older.  But even if you feel good and you've got a workout scheduled, you may end up aborting it if you're not properly recovered.

If you go out to ride a hard workout and you just can't seem to produce normal speed and/or power, or your legs feel achy and tired, you may be better off bagging the workout and just taking an easy spin through the neighborhood.  There's no sense in struggling through a workout when you clearly should be resting; the biggest benefits from workouts come when the body is refreshed.  If you insist on a workout with fatigued legs, you'll only eke out mediocre gains while piling on more fatigue.

Finally, there may be occasions where you'll need to take more extended rest.  You may have an important race coming up or you may just have piled on three or four weeks of heavy training and need some downtime.  That week may look like this:

  • Monday – hard – Group ride over flat to rolling terrain, RPE 6-8
  • Tuesday – rest – 1 hour recovery ride, very easy intensity RPE 1-2
  • Wednesday – rest – off bike or yoga
  • Thursday – hard – Solo or group ride, RPE 5-8
  • Friday – rest – 1 hour recovery ride, very easy, RPE 1-2
  • Saturday – rest – 1 hour recovery ride, very easy, RPE 1-3, (add couple of short intervals to open up the legs, keep them loose and get heart rate up for a short period)
  • Sunday – race – “balls to the wall, win or bust”
So now that you have an idea of how to plan your recovery, you can also help your body along the recovery path with a couple of easy nutritional boost as well.

Post Workout Recovery Supplements

Aside from planning post workout recovery into your training (in much the same way you'd schedule an actual workout), you can help boost your body's recovery processes with a few simple supplemental stacks.  I've used these (and continue to use them) in my day to day training in order to help my body recover faster and ensure my workouts as of the highest possible quality.  Check these out and give them a shot: you may be pleasantly surprised.
BCAA 4g,
Glutamine 6g,
Vitamin C 1 g,
protein 30g:  This stack is one of the best stacks available for boosting recovery after a long, hard workout or race.  To break it down, BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids) are easily shuttled into the cell to assist in rebuilding following intense exercise, and it prevents muscle catabolism post workout.  Protein is an essential macronutrient and building block of muscle tissue, which will help to rebuild damage to the muscles.  Glutamine is used by the muscles to buffer acidic buildup in tissues during high-intensity exercise and is easily depleted, but more importantly it helps to buffer the lasting effect of increased cortisol (and prevents catabolic muscle breakdown.)  Vitamin C also helps to buffer cortisol and prevent muscle breakdown.  So you can see, this combination is designed to really help the body rebuild after a long intense workout.
D-ribose 1 g,
Citrulline Malate 4g:  This is the ULTIMATE recovery stack.  D-ribose is part of the background of the ATP molecule (the main energy currency of your body) and the creatine phosphate (active ingredients in creatine monohydrate) are another part of the ATP molecule.  By providing both substrates, your body can more quickly and directly restore energy balance in muscle cells after a hard training session.  Citrulline Malate is also a great substance for reducing post workout soreness along with providing substrates for the citric acid cycle, which will help you to execute your next workout more efficiently.
In addition to those stacks, you can always rub on some
And there you have it.  Thinking of your training in terms of recovery, not training load, can be difficult to get used to but it can lead to significant increases in fitness over time.  Additionally, it will help prevent overtraining and/or injury, which will be more detrimental to overall fitness than a couple extra days off the bike would have been.  So pay attention to your body and reward it for all the stress you put it through.
You'll thank it later.

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About the Author:

After graduating from Ithaca College with a degree in Exercise and Sport Science/Pharmacology, I continued my education with a doctorate of Chiropractic from New York Chiropractic College. As I progressed through my education, I was able to apply the concepts I learned in the lab to my own daily workouts and goals. At the time, I was following some of the principles of traditional coaching and getting mediocre results. Frustrated, I realized that if I could apply all my physiology, chemistry, nutrition and training knowledge, I could “build a better mousetrap” not just for my own training, but for other athletes. With this goal in mind, I started Tailwind Coaching, to help cyclists [with busy lives and limited training time] become stronger, faster, fitter and healthier. And while I may not be a ex-ProTour rider, an Olympic Coach or even a prolific race winner, I am something that most coaches are not: a regular guy just like you who has a job, a family and a desire to be a stronger cyclist.