In the search for gains in performance, most recreational athletes put the greatest emphasis on the training portion of the equation and rightfully so. After all, if we don’t train we can’t expect to get any faster. But as coaches, we know that training is only a small part of the bigger picture. Your training can easily be derailed by poor sleep, stress at work or home and poor diet. Getting a better handle on these areas can help you to see greater gains in both the short and long term. So learn to recover like a pro:
Sleep – More often than not, when things start to go haywire for our clients in training or racing it revolves around poor sleep. Sleep is important for recovery because while we sleep the body releases growth hormone as well as testosterone to help repair damaged muscle tissue and helps to boost the immune system. While you may not have the time to sleep 10hrs a night, it’s important to at least try and maintain a regular sleep schedule as best you can. Going to bed around the same time each night will make it easier to fall asleep and wake up more easily in the morning. Having trouble falling asleep? It could be a number of things happening. If you exercise later in the day, especially in the summer, you may be dealing with excess metabolic heat post workout. Taking a cool shower can help bring the body temp down making it easier to fall asleep. Big training day? You’ve burned through a lot of calories and you may be having trouble falling asleep because the body’s still hungry, even though you had a big dinner. This is common for athletes who eat their last meal 3-4 hours before going to bed. A small, healthy snack right before bed may be just the energy your body needs to finish replenishing itself reducing your tossing and turning. If you’re one of the lucky few that has some flexibility in your schedule, a midday nap can help speed recovery. A 20min power nap is helpful but, if you can swing it, over 45min is where your growth hormone levels really start to kick in, giving you an extra burst of juice.
Stress – As we all know, proper training creates a stress that the body adapts to and helps us to see improvement. But too much stress can have very negative consequences. Focusing on reducing your stress level can make it easier for the body to repair. Spend a little time each day just relaxing. Take a bath, read a book, spend a little time in your own private, quiet space or listen to some soothing music. You may also want to try some muscle relaxation techniques. Lie down on your back and focus on releasing all of the tension from your muscles starting in your legs, moving up to your back and then your shoulders and neck. Slow, rhythmic breathing can also help to relieve stress. If you can swing it, a massage is like a double whammy. It not only helps to work our tight, sore muscles but it’s also very relaxing. Avoid scheduling a massage in the last couple of days leading into a major event. Rather, schedule it at the start of your recovery week.
Hydration – Your hydration state affects not only your performance but your recovery as well. Most of the weight loss you’ll experience during a ride is from fluid loss. Weigh yourself before and after your ride. For every pound lost you’ll need to drink 16oz of water to make up for the shortfall.
Active Recovery Rides – After a long, hard day in the saddle a lot of us want nothing to do with our bike the next day. We rode hard so we deserve a day off, right? While a day off may be well needed a short, easy ride can actually do more to help you recover. Going out for a light spin in an easy gear and just getting the legs moving will help to increase blood flow to damaged muscle tissue helping to speed up repair and will also help to replenish the body’s glycogen stores. So don’t be afraid to get back in the saddle again.