You’ve been clocking up the miles and honing the race craft and tactics in single day events. You’re about to take on your first stage race of the year, or first stage race ever! So, the question is how do I go this hard day after day and still maintain a decent level of performance to achieve my goals for the race? (Cover credit: CyclingTips Cor Vos)
Firstly, the training should have already been done and you’re now beginning your taper into the event. Ideally, you’ll have trained in and around some low priority races to expose your body to a similar stimulus to what you’re now going to experience. With this dialled we can now focus on implementing a recovery strategy for the daily demands of stage racing to help to eek out that performance day after day.
We’ll base this blog post around a recent piece of review by Richard and Koehle (2018), a link to which can be found here. Briefly, the study looked at optimising a recovery strategy to enhance performance in multi evening cycling performances, for example, a six-day cycling event. While it’s a specific area all the strategies and interventions put forward ring true for your standard road racing stage race too!
Let’s dig into the timeline of your standard road race and talk recovery.
1. The road race itself – the most important thing you’ll be doing here is eating and drinking to ensure the least amount of glycogen (stored carbohydrate) depletion possible along with keeping an electrolyte balance within the body. 60-90 g of carbohydrate per hour along with 500ml of fluid (preferably isotonic) per hour is a good starting point.
2. The 60 minutes post-race finish – almost immediately we want to push in fluids and fuel. If you have access to a weighing scales weigh yourself before and after, consume 1.5 litres of fluid for every kilo of body mass lost preferably with a sodium source. We also want to take on board a 4:1 mix of carbohydrate to protein, generally we’ll look at 80g of carbohydrate and 20-30g of protein here. It’s a good idea to take this on in fluid form to aid with the above hydration point too! There is also evidence to suggest a 10-15 minute very low intensity cool down is also beneficial.
3. Travel to Accommodation – compression garments lend some credibility and will not “hurt” performance. Getting on compression socks or leggings during your travel to accommodation or while relaxing back at the accommodation is a good idea. You should still be sipping fluids here and getting in some solid food. Snacking on calories dense foods during the aftermath is a good idea.
4. Dinner Time – a carbohydrate and protein rich meal that is low in fat seems to be best in this scenario.
5. Dinner to Bed-Time – there is some evidence to support cold water immersion to reduce inflammation but also, interestingly, to improve onset of sleep and sleep quality. 15 Degrees Celsius for 15 minutes is a good starting point, while this isn’t always possible it can be beneficial.
It’s also a great idea to minimize electronic device usage here, these devices have been shown to decrease sleep quality but putting it away also helps you turn off from the day’s racing events. Pick up a book or chat to your teammates about anything other than cycling – Personally I’m not a fan of evening team meetings for this reason.
A pre-sleep beverage is another good strategy. Tart cherry juice has been linked to decreasing inflammation and enhancing recovery, pairing this with a casein protein source of 27-40g of protein is ideal.
Some athletes find benefit in mental relaxation techniques such as mindfulness and meditation along with simply breathing exercise. This should aid in relaxation and set you on your way for a good sleep!
6. Sleep – A dark, quiet and cool environment for sleep is ideal. If this isn’t going to happen we need to be adaptable and have earplugs and an eye mask at the ready!
Wake up and hopefully you’ll be well on your way to another great race day.
Some worthy mentions that have been left out of this list include massage, stretching, pneumatic compression (space boots!) and electrostimulation. Essentially there is lacking evidence that support these methods compared to the above methods in supporting recovery and athletic performance.
But, what we need to keep in mind is that if one of these methods works for you then it is worth keeping it up. We need to remember that recovery is a lot about the psychological side as well as the physical so if getting a massage of wearing compression boots helps you mentally switch off then go for it!!