You’ve done several stage races, what have you found to work best for recovery methods to get through the stage race and how long will it take post-stage race before one can realistically expect to race in good form again?
While many athletes put a large focus on training, fitness, and nutrition, I find many tend to neglect and put off recovery especially when they don’t have the time. Making time for recovery is crucial to great performance on the bike and when it comes down to stage racing I really put an emphasis on how I recover. The last four years I’ve been lucky enough to get to the Transylvania Epic Stage race along with many others. Here are the three main recovery methods I have found work great for me and other athletes I coach.
Step 1: To finish a stage race strong, I have to make nutrition a top priority.
Good nutrition during stage racing takes a lot of discipline and organization to nail it down. My main goal is to minimize going through my glycogen, or carbohydrate, stores and then maximize getting them filled back up for energy the following day. Doing this gives me the strength and energy I need to survive both mentally and physically for multiple days in a row. Come race day I make sure to take in plenty of calories while racing and immediately after each stage. The number I shoot for is pretty close to 2x my body weight in pounds per hour. At 150 lbs, that is 300 calories per hour that I shoot for. I find most athletes work well with that number although sometimes I find myself taking more in especially on slower parts of some stages. So for a longer 4 hour stage, I will aim for around 1200 or more calories just while riding. I tend to like to mix these calories up between 70-80% liquid calories and the remainder coming from solids when possible.
Next, I make a huge priority to take advantage of the “window of opportunity”.
This window occurs within the first 20 minutes immediately after you cross the finish line. At that point, I aim to get in about 90 grams of high glycemic, fast absorbing carbs. One of my favorites is yogurt with fresh strawberries, bananas, honey, and granola. Research has shown that during this window your body can absorb carbohydrates at about 4 times the normal rate. That’s optimal for recovery for every day that follows in the stage race. I make a huge habit out of scarfing down this post-race meal or recovery drink right when I get done.
Finally, I continue to take in small meals every 1-2 hours after this.
I’ll stick with lean meats, low glycemic carbs, and good fats, such as salads, potatoes, chicken, steak, yogurt, fish, almonds, and my favorite fruit. But most important is that I never cut myself short. I eat and I eat a lot!
Step 2: I sleep a lot!
During sleep your body makes a ton of repairs by releasing growth hormone and testosterone. In addition to this, it will help you mentally rejuvenate to be ready for another tough day in the saddle. I try to get a 1-2 hour nap in about an hour after the stage and before dinner. Then I head to bed as early as possible to get 8-12 hours of sleep.
Step 3: Additional recovery aids.
Some of these I live by while others are tough to say whether they work or not. My best recommendation is to find what you like by trying them after a hard day in the saddle and see what you like.
The additional recovery aids I like are as follows:
- 5 Grams of Glutamine prior to bed: aid in rebuilding muscle and recovery.
- 5 Grams of Hammer BCAA’s immediately after race day: also aid in muscular recovery.
- Elevated Legs or Podium Legs: these help push blood, and other accumulated lactate and it’s counterparts back to the heart to recirculate. Plus they feel really good. Feels like a massage while laying down! Check out 92Fifty.com for more info on these.
- Get off your feet! If you don’t have Elevated Legs, then get your legs above your heart and let gravity pull those fluids back to the heart.
- Ice bath: if I have access to a river or stream, or an ice bath I try to hop in for 10-15 minutes. Not always easy to find, but depends on the stage race.
- Stretch: I find this works better for some people than others, but I am strong believer in it. It relieves soreness and tightness in my muscles/joints, and helps prevent overuse injuries. I stretch 2-3 times a day during stage racing: 1 time 2 hours before race time, 1 time after, and 1 time before bed with each session lasting about 15-20 minutes each. Yoga is also excellent if you are into that.
I’ve found that these three steps work great. The closer I follow them, the better I perform as the stage race goes on.
Going into the second part of the question: how long does it take to recover from a stage race?
It can vary from 2 to 6 weeks depending on the athlete(genetics), your fitness coming into the race, and how deep you dug during the race. That along with how well you follow the above mentioned recovery methods. For a race like TSE, most of the time I will bounce back within 2-3 weeks, but the average athlete is most likely closer to 4-6 weeks.
With that being said, this can vary a lot even in the same person from year to year in the same race.
Perfect example is In 2012 when I bounced back from the Transylvania Epic Stage race in two weeks and did the Lumberjack 100 with phenomenal fitness. Then in 2013, the complete opposite; I came into TSE a little overcooked, pushed super hard through it, and felt like it took a month or two to get back into my normal shape. It really depends on your form coming into the race, how well you manage your recovery, and how deep you have to dig!
Just like with any training routine, recovery from races is very unique to each individual.
Taking advantage of the recovery techniques I mentioned above will not only help in stage racing, but will also help after hard days in the saddle. Learn what works for you, and pay attention to how fast you are recovering.
If you nail down your recovery, you will be that much closer to meeting and exceeding your goals in 2014!