How to Recover Faster after A Long Ride

Written by : Mr Mamil
Last updated :

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As much as riding hard helps improve your cycling fitness, recovery is equally important but often overlooked. You need to give your body enough time to recover and rest to prevent the risk of illness, injury, and mental fatigue.

Everyone is different in age, fitness, cycling experience, work and family. We recover differently; some recover faster while others take longer.

Having to ride with a tired body takes the fun out of cycling. After all, we’re not professional cyclists, and we’re in this sport to enjoy and be healthy.

Here are nine ways to help you recover faster after a long and hard ride.

Start earlier

Stephen Covey is fond of saying, begin with the end in mind, and this couldn’t be much further from the truth when it comes to recovery.

Plan to start your long ride as early as possible so that you can finish earlier and have more time to recover in the afternoon. If you’re riding in hot conditions, starting earlier also means that you’ll spend lesser time under the hot sun.

Studies published in the Human Kinetics Journal have shown that exercising late into the afternoon and evening could impact sleep quality, especially during summertime when the day is long. It gets worse if the ride is long and intense.

Instead, you want to use your late afternoons and evenings for light activities such as stretching and massage to bring your heart rate down and get the body ready to sleep.

Cool down before getting off the bike

The legs’ blood vessels expand while you’re riding, and if you stop riding abruptly, most of the blood will remain there instead of circulating through the body. For some, this could lead to lightheadedness and hamper your recovery when you get home.

Your recovery starts even before you get off the bike. Have you noticed that the pros these days warm down on the trainer immediately upon finishing the stage at Tour de France and other races?

Take a (very) slow 10 to 15 minutes spin around your neighborhood or around where you’ve parked your car if you drove to the start. Spinning the legs will get the blood to continue flowing and remove the lactic acid built up in the legs.

Keep hydrating

Your body losses a lot of water and minerals through sweat as you ride. Many cyclists remember to hydrate while on the bike; they often forget about hydration once off the bike.

For some, the ride ends with a coffee or even beer, which has a diuretic effect, causing your body to lose even more water. Caffeine and alcohol will affect your sleep with a higher heart rate through the night.

Have a recovery drink such as chocolate milk, protein-based drinks, electrolyte drinks, or plenty of plain water. Recent studies have shown that including 500 to 700mg of sodium with around 20oz of water for each pound of lost water weight helps to transport carbohydrates from the gut into the bloodstream.

Eat nutrient-dense foods

You have a 30 minutes window immediately after the ride to replenish your depleted glycogen stores. This period is often referred to as the glycogen window or metabolic window.

Ideally, you want to eat around 300 calories of carbs and proteins with a 4:1 ratio.

According to Training Peaks, you want to be consuming 0.8g carbs and 0.2g protein for each kg of body weight. For example, a 75kg cyclist would consume 60g of carbs and 15g of protein in the 30 minutes post-ride window.

Popular post-ride snacks include recovery bars, protein shakes, bananas, and peanut butter sandwiches. You can easily prepare all these before you leave home for the ride or bring them along in your car. Once you’re home and cleaned up, you can focus on protein for recovery and muscle repair.

Eat (again) after two to three hours. You can start eating earlier if you’re feeling hungry, but don’t delay this window beyond three hours. This would be a proper, wholemeal that consists of carbohydrates, protein, and some fat.

Stretch the muscles

Your muscles shorten as they work out. You might not feel the soreness or tightness immediately after the ride, but you’ll feel it the next day.

Remember to take time to stretch and loosen up the body. It will help maintain flexibility and reduce the risk of injury in the longer run.

Invest in an exercise mat and foam roller, and watch some Youtube videos of the common stretches for cyclists.

Elevate your legs

As mentioned above, the blood will pool on your legs when you’re riding. Bringing your legs higher than your upper body will help redirect the blood into your brain to prevent dizziness.

Lie flat on the ground and bring both legs up against a wall. Aim to stay in this position for five minutes for every hour you’ve ridden. Remember to take deep breaths and relax.

Wear compression socks

Like getting a massage or elevating your legs, wearing compression socks pushes blood away from your legs. It helps to reduce fatigue, soreness, and swelling. Ideally, you want to do all three together to recover faster.

Brands such as 2XU produce recovery compression socks that go all the way up to the knees. That way, you have your feet and calves covered.

Get a massage

Getting a massage will significantly improve blood circulation, allowing fresh blood to flow into the legs and accelerate muscle repairs. It’ll also push out the lactic acid and minimize the soreness, especially after a hard, long ride.

Pro cyclists get a massage after every stage in their race. But getting a massage after every ride is not something every one of us can afford. The cheaper DIY alternative is a foam roller or a massage gun.

Focus on the thighs, hamstrings, calves, and lower back, as these are the areas that experience the most stress while riding.

Sleep earlier

Get enough (more) sleep. Go to bed earlier that night. Aim to have at least 8, but ideally 10 hours of sleep. If possible, throw in a 30 minutes power nap in the afternoon.

Don’t waste time on Netflix or scrolling aimlessly through social media on your phones. You want to reduce the blue light exposure in the hours leading up to bedtime for a better night’s sleep.

If you want to bring this to the next level, wear earplugs and an eye mask to cut out the distractions. Set your room temperature to around 65ºF to 67ºF. Your core body temperature will be warmer after a long ride, and you want to avoid sleeping in a warm room.

These days, pro cyclists use Whoop or Oura Ring to track and analyze their sleep and recovery patterns. Having a bad night’s sleep will hamper the next day’s performance.

Go for active recovery the next day

Many cyclists tend to sleep in the next day. After all, you’ve done a long, hard ride the day before.

Experience and research show that going for an active recovery ride the next day will help in the recovery process. No doubt your body is still recovering, but doing some movements will do you more good than harm.

Keep your riding efforts to no higher than 50% of your FTP, or keep your heart rate below 60% of your maximum. In short, go super easy or go for a coffee ride.

If you’re sick of the bike, go for a 20 to 30 minutes walk or swim.