Whether you are riding long and slow or are hammering out some intervals, you need to be recovered to be able to do it all over again the next training day. There are many components to recovery including removing metabolic waste products (lactic acid,oxidative free radicals), bringing in new amino acids for rebuilding, storing carbohydrates as glycogen, and decreasing muscle soreness. Recently some high-tech methods that were previously available only to big-budget professionals have come down in price. Since they have been around for a while, there’s plenty of research into their benefits.
Recovery is the ability to repeat a hard effort again within a short period of time. When looking at recovery, it is important to ask if the way it makes you feel also goes hand in hand with the ability to exercise again.
Since eating is something with which most endurance athletes are familiar, this should be a good place to start.
Recovery from exercise, especially from intense exercise, should start with replacing what you’ve lost during exercise. While many athletes are concerned about staying lean, muscle glycogen should be the focus after exercise, not limiting calories. A good dose of carbohydrate is 1g per kilogram (1g per 2.2 lbs of body weight). The insulin that is released to place this carbohydrate into the muscle will also drive protein building blocks into the muscle. The carbohydrate should be accompanied by 1/3 g per kilogram of body weight. For the 150lb athlete this translates to:
150lb / 2.2 = 68 g of carbohydrate
68 x 0.3 = 22.67g of protein
While these numbers don’t have to be exact, they are good guidelines as long as you continue to eat between your workouts. In the face of glycogen depleting workouts, this amount of carbohydrate and protein should be consumed immediately and one hour following exercise.
How can you tell if your exercise was glycogen depleting? You shouldn’t be able to replicate your intervals once your glycogen has been depleted.
Another important nutritional concern is maintaining hydration. After a workout, you shouldn’t be losing a lot of weight. Any weight loss is from dehydration if you didn’t eat. You can get a good estimate of sweat loss by weighing yourself before and after a 30-minute exercise session. The difference in dry/naked weight is your sweat loss (1lb equals 16oz) over 30 minutes.
It is likely that replacing that much fluid will be very difficult to drink during exercise, so be sure to replace it afterward.
Although nutrition concerns are important for the ability to go hard at the next workout, eating provides fuel, but doesn’t provide relief from soreness. For that we need to look to some other modalities.
Contrast Temperature Water Immersion
Contrast temperature water immersion involves alternating between soaking in cold (50 degree F/10 degree Celsius) and warm (110 degree Fahrenheit/42degrees Celsius) water baths. The cold baths were 1 minute and the warm baths were for 2 minutes. This was repeated for 6-10minutes.
Lactic acid was cleared faster with CTW than with rest, but 4 hours after exercise, there was no difference. CTW did relieve muscle soreness more than a recovery run (done at 40%).
You may have seen infomercials for electrical muscle stimulation. Usually they are worn by a large, well-muscled, lean man who is watching TV and getting six-pack abs. Stim units are also used for recovery. The theory behind them is that the muscle contractions that occur from the stimulation will act like a pump to move out metabolic waste products and facilitate recovery.
One doesn’t have to look far to see how quickly compression garments have taken off. They are nearly ubiquitous in marathons and distance running, and calf compression sleeves are seen on many triathletes. While their benefits during exercise are important to discuss, improved recovery is also one of the claims. Although there was decreased muscle soreness, muscles couldn’t be made to work any harder nor could they be electrically stimulated to work harder.
The effects of compression on performance and decrease in metabolic waste products is largely due to the improvements in the way the muscles feel, however there is some ability to speed lactate clearance.
Graded pneumatic compression boots “space boots” burst onto the endurance scene with their use by several high-profile professional cycling teams. Before their use in the peloton, the boots were used to help with lymphatic drainage in patients with leg swelling. There aren’t any studies that look at athletes, but the results for increase blood flow from non-athletic populations are encouraging. Anyone who has put them on will tell you that they feel great once they have been removed.
Considering the cost range for the listed modalities ranges from free to $5,000, with the same decrease in muscle soreness, it seems like trying Contrast Temperature Water Immersion is a good place to start. Other modalities, such as foam rolling, high-cadence spins can also be tried to achieve the same mechanism for decreased muscle soreness.
Eur J Appl Physiol. 2011 Oct;111(10):2501-7. Epub 2011 Aug 17.
Does electrical stimulation enhance post-exercise performance recovery?
J Sci Med Sport. 2004 Mar;7(1):1-10.
Effect of recovery modality on 4-hour repeated treadmill running performance and changes in physiological variables.
J Sci Med Sport. 2010 Jan;13(1):136-40. Epub 2009 Jan 7.
The effects of compression garments on recovery of muscle performance following high-intensity sprint and plyometric exercise.
Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2008 Dec;3(4):454-68.
The effects of compression garments on intermittent exercise performance and recovery on consecutive days.
Br J Sports Med. 2007 Jul;41(7):409-14; discussion 414. Epub 2007 Mar 6.
Comparison of three types of full-body compression garments on throwing and repeat-sprint performance in cricket players.
PLoS One. 2011;6(12):e27749. Epub 2011 Dec 7.
Effects of Whole-Body Cryotherapy vs. Far-Infrared vs. Passive Modalities on Recovery fromExercise-Induced Muscle Damage in Highly-Trained Runners.
Eur J Vasc Endovasc Surg. 2005 Aug;30(2):164-75.
Improvement of the walking ability in intermittent claudication due to superficial femoral artery occlusion with supervised exercise and pneumatic foot and calf compression: a randomised controlled trial.
J Sports Sci. 2005 Jun;23(6):619-27.
The use of recovery methods post-exercise.
Eur J Appl Physiol. 2010 Sep;110(2):425-33. Epub 2010 May 30.
Effects of compression stockings during exercise and recovery on blood lactate kinetics.
Eur J Appl Physiol. 2011 Jun 28. [Epub ahead of print]
The effect of post-exercise hydrotherapy on subsequent exercise performance and heart rate variability.
Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2011 Dec 12. [Epub ahead of print]
Effect of Contrast Water Therapy Duration on Recovery of Running Performance.