Did you ride the Kansas City MS 150 this past weekend (or at least the first day)? Cycling 150 miles in two days can be a tall order for any cyclist. Hopefully you are taking the right precautions after the event to recover properly. Read on below for some tips on how best to let your body recover after a huge event, or any event for that matter.
So what are the methods cyclists, marathon runners and triathletes use to decrease recovery time and increase training frequency?
1. Peri-workout nutrition. The foods and supplements you use before, during and after training have a direct effect on muscle recovery. We’ve already discussed how endurance training breaks down and injures muscles, causes muscle inflammation and creates free radicals. If your supplementation plan can reduce muscle damage during exercise, then that means less muscle to recover after exercise.
So what supplements can I use to reduce muscle damage?
Including protein in your peri-workout nutrition is an excellent idea, but it is highly impractical to eat and digest steak, chicken breasts or fillets of fish before or during training. Free form branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are the answer. BCAAs can limit muscle damage during exercise and increase protein synthesis after exercise — a process vital to complete muscle recovery. (1,2)
Ample amounts of carbohydrates before, during and after training serve two important functions to muscle recovery: when carb intake is kept high during training, the body is less inclined to break down (catabolize) muscle for energy, and carb intake immediately after exercise helps refill depleted muscle and liver glycogen.
Antioxidant use in peri-workout nutrition may help reduce inflammation and minimize free radical damage. (3,4)
2. Active recovery. The day after intense training or competition is a good time to perform low-intensity exercise like walking or lifting very light weights for higher repetitions. Light exercise improves blood circulation, which delivers nutrients and oxygen to the worked muscles and removes waste products out of the muscle. Light exercise is key — too much intensity may damage the muscle further and slow the recovery process even more. (8,9)
3. Ice bath/Contrast showers. Many athletes swear by cooling or icing the muscles to speed recovery, but results are mixed. The idea behind ice baths or contrast showers (alternating between periods of hot and cold water) is the cold temperature causes blood vessels to constrict, which forces waste products out of the worked muscle. When the muscle warms up again, nutrient-rich blood rushes in, which aids in recovery. Although studies seem conflicting, (5,6,7) athletes report feeling better the day after they ice or cool the muscle.
4. Adequate sleep. Not getting enough sleep can certainly affect the performance and recovery of an athlete. Poor sleep can lower levels of hormones important to muscle recovery and growth, including testosterone, growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor 1. Sleep is restorative and refreshing, so be sure to make it a priority in your training schedule. (10)
Other recovery methods include sports massage and light stretching after exercise, but the studies are inconclusive on the effectiveness of both. While each method feels good, their role in speeding recovery is unknown at this time.
The bottom line: Recovery is the key to being a successful athlete. The sooner you recover, the more you can train. The more you train, the faster you make progress. Incorporate these methods into your regimen to perform better and to be better.
Parts of this article were provided by Kevin Klumpyan, Co-founder of Push Endurance (www.pushendurance.com). Push Endurance is a partner of Man Versus Triathlon and Kevin has developed his own drink supplement called Push Endurance.