GCN recently posted a video of ‘5 Post Ride Mistakes | Cycling Recovery Methods That You Should Avoid‘*, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to share my ideas and what I do. I don’t refer to anything scientific in all of this but I’m sure some of what I’ve picked up along the way has been backed by science, either way it’s about what works for you.
All this depends on the type of ride you are returning from, but the longer and harder the ride and tougher conditions make a good routine more important, for both personal recovery, improvement, looking after yourself and your bike. If you only go out for a ride once a week then you have the whole week to recover, but if you’re doing a more demanding ride each day of the week then focused recovery will be more important. Being left tired and worn out can affect your mood and perhaps dissuade you from pursuing with your effort if you are new to cycling.
Clean the bike
I’m not someone that keeps their bike spotless; I’ll clean it when it needs it, but if I return from a wet ride I’ll often take that opportunity to wash the bike before doing anything else because with everything already wet, myself included, it just makes it easier to do. It’s also nice to just get it out of the way and perhaps address any mechanical niggle that arose during the ride (lest you forget about it and meet it again on the next ride).
Have a shower
Often now I take cold showers and the best time for these is after returning from a warm ride (or run); it’s a great way to cool down and avoids me having to wait for water to heat up (no power shower here). However, if I’ve returned from a cold and wet ride then a hot shower would likely be preferable to warm me up, maybe even a hot bath if I’m feeling the need to treat myself, but this uses a lot more water.
Next up follows food and stretching, or stretching then food… so get into some comfortable clothes.
Food … Stretching
I believe it’s best to stretch after anything over a relaxed ride but I struggle with this routine and often omit it in favour of eating, and once I’ve eaten, and then relaxed, I’m less likely to feel like stretching, so generally stretching comes later in the form of some yoga. If you’re prone to cramping then stretching should be a higher priority I think.
There is also apparently an optimum window for refuelling and consuming that post ride meal. For this reason, by the time one has washed the bike and had a shower, doing some lengthy stretching perhaps takes you out of that window.
Depending on what food you eat following a ride you can consider starting to cook something, like rice for example, as soon as you return so that it is ready or mostly done for when you are ready to eat. Preparing food while you’re in a state of ravenous hunger following a long ride can be a challenge. An alternative would be to buy a meal somewhere on the way and close to home, or maybe you’re fortunate to have someone prepare something for you when you get back. What you eat, as always, is important. I wouldn’t turn to a sugary snack, but perhaps some fruit might be what’s in order. After a long ride I tend to stuff my face but I try and aim to consume a wide variety of things rather than a lot of one thing, so that my body has a variety of vitamins, minerals and nutrients, fats, proteins and some carbohydrates to absorb and put to use. Consuming a lot of one thing could leave you body deficient in areas and therefore still feeling hungry. Beginning with a salad seems to work well since this is quick and easy to prepare and can be consumed while things are cooking; don’t forget the black pepper and sea salt.
Be careful not to fill yourself up on too much of one thing leaving you with no appetite for something you could perhaps benefit from.
Another thing that I incorporated since last year was Iron tablets after I learned (through a previous GCN video) that lengthy exercise can leave iron levels low. Sometimes following a long ride I will take an iron tablet with my meal, or I will consider if anything I’m eating is high in iron; turkey fillets or minced with pumpkin seeds can add a boost. I’ll avoid doing both though since I’ve noticed I get heart palpitations if I take in more iron than I needed to. Beyond this I tend to avoid other supplements, instead trusting my body to find what it needs from the food I eat.
Coffee after the food might then be a good thing and perk you up enough to get on with those stretches. I wouldn’t have coffee before that meal because of how it would likely interrupt the desire to eat and best digestion of food for recovery. I now try and avoid coffee before or during a ride since the stimulation will drop off, although it can be handy to mask any aches or tiredness; I prefer a steady release of proper fuel that is achieved through good eating/nutrition. “Energy” drinks are a no; often (particularly the sweetened variety) contain no actual energy and simply only stimulate/stress the body.
A lot of this is about building a good routine and getting into good habits.
Many would consider washing the bike every time immediately following a ride to be a good habit. Diving for sugary (or sweetened) and processed snacks is not a good thing in my books. I also don’t use things like energy bars or gels that many riders seem to swear by, I prefer my energy to come from proper food, but then I’m not in the sport competitively; I just like to recover well.
In the past I might have aching muscles the next day or still feel particularly tired or low of energy. I experience these things less now, partly through being used to cycling, but I’m sure also through incorporating healthy post ride routines.
Once the stretches are out of the way ideally I’d be feeling a lot more relaxed but often after a long ride and/or busy day it can be hard to wind down so if it’s getting close to bed time I find it best to avoid sitting myself in front of a TV or other screen and instead prefer to sit quietly with a book and read until I’m tired and relaxed enough to sleep. Some people will take a nap following a ride, particularly if there are hours left in the day, but I don’t like napping.
*GCN more recently posted a video about cycling and weight loss that I found to be very insightful and covering a lot of points. I think it would be of interest to anyone trying to better manage their weight.