Recovery is a key component to elite sport. While training is obviously a key element to success in any field, allowing your body and mind adequate recovery is key to improve physiologically and mentally as an athlete and person. Personally if I don’t get enough adequate recovery I am not always happy so without adequate recovery I am genuinely not as good physically on the bike or at life stuff in general.
When I was younger in my career, I used to think recovery days were opportunities to go shopping and have adventures with my friends or days to get all the other things done. I have learnt that this is not the best for me. My recovery day is usually spent not doing a lot at all and trying to get a solid afternoon nap in as well. I also love to hang out at the cafe or call a friend to tune out from bikes and the cycling bubble. While I know some athletes who respond really well to having very full ‘recovery’ days, it is just something that doesn’t work for me.
Photo: Laura Fletcher
I think the most important aspect of recovery to consider is sleep. Sleep is the only state wear the body can fully recover and prepare for the next day. You can do every recovery technique in the world but if you have poor sleep quality it is hard to measure up. According to Matthew Walker’s ‘why we sleep’, sleeping less than six hours a night actually makes it as dangerous driving a car as drink driving. Think about that for a moment. You body and brain need sleep to rebuild and rewire every day to create new memories and remove waste. Not only does increasing your sleep hygiene improve longevity, its my number one tip to help you recover better from training and races. If you want to improve you recovery then improve your sleeping habits.
Some other proven recovery tips I love:
Cold water immersion; There are a lot of studies to do with cold water therapy and it is a technique I love. I believe in full body emersion for 10-15min. I know this helps recovery; It actives the parasympathetic nervous system, ‘rest and digest’ system and helps you sleep better and the pressure of the water on your muscles helps them to flush the waste products away. This is also perfect in summer after a long day on the bike!
Massage/physio treatments; I have regular massages, in training blocks I usually try to have a massage every week in order to flush the muscles and also to pick up on any tightness I might have missed before it can lead to injuries. I work with some key people depending on where I am as they know my body and where the tension usually sits. On tour we have a massage daily to aid recovery and flush the race out of our legs.
Food; Nutrition is a key part of success. I am not a nutritionist but I have a love for learning in this field and I am forever trialling different techniques. I believe that everyone is different and has different demands for their body for the optimum recovery, however adequate protein is always key for muscles and cells to rebuild and grow. If you have a second session within 24 hrs, nutrition can play a more major role, if you aren’t training again for at least 1 day then I believe it is less important as you can refuel your body adequately if you are eating a balanced diet that is inline with what works for you. For women, your cycle plays a major role on your ability to access carbs, if you feel tired and struggle to recover in the week before your period, you may need to add some extra good quality carbs to fuel you body.
Stretching/foam roller; Something I think everyone should do every day regardless if they are an athlete or not. I usually spend 5-10 minutes each morning doing some basic yoga stretches and foam roller my back, legs and butt. I think adding this to your routine can really benefit your recovery and set up your day well by getting everything moving.
Meditation; I know it’s a popular thing right now, but I have really enjoyed getting on board. I start my ride each day with a 20’ meditation and I finish my day with a 10’ meditation to wind my mind down and to listen to my body. For me this has been a game changer and I look forward to seeing how this will help me when we get back to the races.
Recovery is a key component to elite sport, but I will argue that it is a key component to life and something everyone should be focusing on to ensure optimum performance, at work, at home or on the bike. I would love to know your recovery plan or what you focus on.