Recovery: Whole Athlete Performance Center

Optimize Your Training off the Bike
By Dario Fredrick
[Velo News, Vol. 34/No. 7, April 25, 2005]
Effective training has many components: proper intensity, sufficient volume, intelligent
nutrition, and a balanced psychological approach. While each of these components plays
an important role, the most important part of effective training actually happens off the
bike: recovery. The process of physical training literally breaks us down, both physically
and mentally, and it is only during the recovery from training that we build resilience,
power and endurance. Without proper recovery, the damaging effects of training
accumulate and can lead to burnout, overtraining or injury.
Most competitive cyclists have little difficulty training hard, devoting plenty of energy to
their physical training. While it is essential to apply workloads that stress the body
beyond its current state in order to improve, benefits are realized only when recovery
from the training occurs, as the body rebuilds itself and adapts to a higher level of power
or endurance. Recovery is as important a part of training as the physical training itself.
The rate of recovery is important for competitive cyclists, particularly as they commonly
train and race on consecutive days. A proactive approach, following some basic
guidelines can speed the rate of recovery, improving performance potential for
subsequent workouts or on back to back race days. We can divide proactive recovery into
three main categories: refueling, rebuilding and restoring.
Refueling for Recovery
The primary fuel during exercise, especially at moderate to high intensities is
carbohydrate stored as glycogen. Muscle glycogen is a “fast” fuel located directly at the
site of work production, and its depletion leads to fatigue, reducing peak sustainable
power. Logically, replenishing muscle glycogen stores after a race training session
becomes a priority for optimal recovery. Furthermore, sufficient carbohydrate intake
before and during endurance exercise may help reduce stress on the immune system
inherent in prolonged and intense training.
The timing of replenishing glycogen can affect the rate of recovery. The most current
research has demonstrated a window of opportunity within the first 30-60 minutes
immediately following exercise in which carbohydrates are more quickly stored as
glycogen. This accelerated rate gradually slows over the next few hours to a normal,
resting level. After a glycogen depleting exercise session, such as a long training ride or
race, the highest post-exercise glycogen resynthesis occurs when ingesting at least one
gram of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight in that first hour. For a 150 lb cyclist,
this translates to approximately 68 grams of carbohydrates.
The type of carbohydrates consumed during this period can also make a difference. Highglycemic
carbohydrates appear to be the most effective during the 30-60 minute postexercise
window. While some research has suggested that including a small amount of
protein improves the rate of glycogen storage, there is also evidence showing no
improvements when adding protein. Given that protein is an essential component for
rebuilding tissue and that it does not limit glycogen storage, it makes sense to take in
both. There are numerous recovery drink mixes that use a carbohydrate/protein ratio of
3:1 or 4:1, simplifying the process for you.
Re-hydration is arguably the most important element of refueling for recovery. Intense
exercise can cause a large loss in fluid, and in hotter conditions, endurance athletes can
lose as much as three liters of sweat per hour. A fluid deficit of as little as 2% of body
weight can impair performance, emphasizing the importance of hydration as part of
optimal recovery. Try to take in at least 16-20 ounces of fluid for every pound of body
weight lost during a training session or race. It is also important to recognize that the
thirst mechanism is delayed compared to your body’s hydration needs. Drink before
you’re thirsty on the bike, and consume the appropriate amount of fluid during recovery
regardless of thirst.
Minerals such as sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium and magnesium are lost through
sweat. A mineral imbalance can negatively affect muscular contraction and hormone
function. Replacing the minerals that are lost in the highest quantity (sodium &
potassium) can be easily achieved using many of the common sports drinks available
Vitamins and minerals play an important role in energy production. For example, the
mineral iron is essential for carrying and transporting oxygen in the blood. Vitamins such
as B1 and B2 are involved in metabolizing fuel for working muscle. The vitamin and
mineral needs of most athletes are satisfied with a well balanced diet. If you suspect that
you are lacking in some areas of your diet, a multivitamin antioxidant may help fill some
of the nutritional gaps. Antioxidant vitamins such as C, E & beta carotene appear to help
reduce some of the damage from oxidative stress in muscle. Keep in mind that vitamin
supplements should not replace a balanced diet, as nutrients are best obtained from
wholesome foods.
Rebuilding for Recovery
Protein is an essential element in the structure of every cell. Without it we would not be
able to repair the muscular damage caused by training. Furthermore, amino acids (which
form proteins) play an important role in metabolism and in regulating blood glucose
levels, directly affecting the fueling of muscle.
The optimal amount of dietary protein intake has been argued over extensively, and is
still not entirely agreed upon. For endurance athletes, the ideal amount appears to range
somewhere between 1.0-1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. This
suggests that a 150 lb. cyclist should consume between 68-109 grams per day. While this
is clearly a wide range, the timing of protein intake should also be considered. For
example, when tissue repair is critical to recovery, such as during periods of significant
increase in volume or intensity, protein needs may be closer to the higher end of the
range, while less intense training phases may require a slightly lower protein intake.
During sleep, the body goes through its most significant regenerative processes, which
include the production of growth hormone (GH). GH stimulates rebuilding of muscle,
improves the delivery of fuel to muscle and stimulates fat metabolism. Taking a brief nap
during the day can provide additional GH release, potentially improving recovery. The
duration of a nap need not exceed 20-30 minutes to be effective.
Sleep also supports proper mental functioning such as memory and other important tasks
required for optimal cycling performance. Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, can affect
maximal exercise performance, reducing exercise time to exhaustion by as much as 20%.
Loss of sleep can also increase your perceived effort during exercise, with potentially
adverse affects on your confidence and motivation.
While researchers are not certain of the optimal volume of sleep for athletes, it is clear
that sleep deprivation can hinder performance and recovery. If your mental focus seems
impaired after a limited number of sleep hours, or your perception of effort on the bike
seems higher than it should, try gradually increasing your hours of sleep until feeling
clear minded and strong on the bike again.
Restoring for Recovery
Intense physical training stimulates the stress response (sympathetic division) of the
nervous system. Stress hormones are produced that increase the breakdown of glycogen
for fuel and damage muscle tissue, while placing strain on the immune system as well.
Conversely, the counterpart of the stress response in the nervous system (parasympathetic
division) is naturally enhanced during periods of rest or while digesting a meal. When the
parasympathetic “counter-stress” response takes over, restoration and recovery are
Psychological stress produces a similar response as intense exercise even when not
exercising. You can promote the restorative effects of recovery by reducing sympathetic
activity and encourage parasympathetic activity whenever possible. For example,
restorative Yoga poses support parasympathetic activity, enhancing recovery. We can
also train this response in the brain in a similar way that we train the body on the bike. By
practicing relaxation, the mind learns to reduce sympathetic stimulation off the bike,
minimizing the stress response when it is least needed.
Musculoskeletal alignment refers to creating and maintaining the natural and full range of
motion in the joints, muscles and connective tissues of the body. Flexibility and joint
alignment allow optimal movement patterns. Flexibility can also describe a tissue’s
ability to change in length or form without injury. Restoring muscle tissue to its natural
length from a chronically contracted state can improve its ability to produce force. Good
flexibility also supports joint health through improved lubrication and prevention of
injuries. Alignment-based stretching, such as in certain styles of Yoga can help improve
these restorative aspects of recovery.
Massage is a commonly employed recovery tool for cyclists. It is interesting that little
scientific evidence supports performance benefits from massage other than a reduction in
perceived effort. Nonetheless, massage can increase circulation to a given area,
nourishing heavily worked muscles with fresh blood to help repair and restore damaged
tissue. Massage can also assist in realigning overworked joint movement patterns, such as
the repetitive motion of pedaling for hours in a bent-forward position. Even self-massage
can be a restorative practice. Lie on the floor with your legs elevated (feet against a wall
or on a chair), use massage strokes that are not too deep, yet flush the muscles with fresh
blood. The healing effects of massage are apparent to those who take advantage of this
recovery tool.
Elements of Optimal Recovery
• Replenish glycogen stores within 30-60 minutes following a workout or race.
Take in one gram per kilogram of body weight of high-glycemic carbohydrates.
• Consume 16-20 oz of fluid per pound of weight lost during exercise.
• Consume adequate protein (1.0-1.6 gm/kg/day), especially during intense period
of training or racing.
• Sufficient sleep is important for optimal growth hormone production and
rebuilding and repairing damage. “Power naps” of 20-30 minutes also help do the
• Minimize the stress response off the bike to maximize restoration. Practice
calming the mind and recovery will improve.
• Stretch or practice alignment-based forms of Yoga to restore muscle/connective
tissue and joint alignment.
• Massage is a long-time recovery tool of the cyclist. Take advantage of its
restorative effects.

Dario Fredrick, M.A. is an exercise physiologist and the head coach/director of the
Whole Athlete Performance Center. He can be reached via www.wholeathlete.com

1 comment:

mintcake said...

how long should you leave your body to recover after a race befopre starting training again? - completed kona 4hr solo on singlespeed legs a bit ripped !