Welcome to a common reality for many cyclists. Work-related stress, inadequate recovery and lack of sleep are common factors that affect a working athlete’s performance. Many athletes don’t realise that they need to recover properly to adapt to training stimulus.
Training hard without a break could lead to losing out on the training adaptation or contracting an illness, and progress to an overtraining syndrome with a prolonged state of fatigue requiring months of rest to recover.
But optimising your recovery is a science in itself. Here are a few ways to help you recover between training sessions:
Get Some Sleep
Getting enough sleep and having quality sleep are two critical aspects of recovery. Regularly getting less than eight hours sleep will impede recovery, and negatively affect your adaptation to training. In addition, it can change your immune system’s response to pathogens, increasing your susceptibility
Lastly, lack of sleep can alter the cyclical rhythm of your hypothalamus, reducing anabolic hormone production and raising concentrations of stress hormones.
Wear Compression Garments
Compression garments apply graduated compression to the legs, facilitating the return of blood and lymphatic fluid to the heart. Studies have proven that they reduce the symptoms of muscle stiffness and pain following hard training sessions.
When compression gear is worn, Creatine Kinase (or CK, a key marker of muscle damage) is lower in the days following exercise. Studies haven’t measured any performance improvement, though. But this doesn’t mean performance won’t improve – it may just be that the difference is too small to measure.
Active recovery usually involves low-intensity, shorter-duration exercise such as walking, jogging, swimming or some easy cycling. This has consistently proved more effective than doing nothing. Enhancing blood flow, reducing muscle soreness and increasing range of motion are the most important benefits of active recovery.
Ingesting protein immediately after exercise can reduce muscle damage related to exercise. However, ingesting carbohydrates to restore muscle glycogen is even more important. As a result, the ideal post-exercise recovery drink should consist mostly of carbohydrate, and 10-15% protein. This should be taken in the first hour after training. Additional benefits can be achieved by ingesting approximately 30g of protein before heading off to bed.
ZZZ – Do’s and don’t of better sleep
1. Ensure that your bedroom is at the optimal temperature (17-18°C), and that your bedding is appropriate for the temperature of the room.
2. Don’t expose yourself to blue light from computer screens, smartphones or tablets before bedtime. This light resets your internal clock, tricking you into thinking it is daytime.
3. Don’t drink alcohol before bedtime. It can negatively affect sleep, by inhibiting your normal sleep cycles and preventing deep sleep. Alcohol also impairs protein synthesis and will delay the recovery of damaged muscles.
4. Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening. Caffeine is found in a wide range of products, so read labels carefully to make sure you aren’t ingesting it accidentally.