By Kevin Kolodziejski
What to Do to Do Well on That Second Hard Ride
Maybe I’m mediocre at what I do, or maybe the cliche is true. But words just can’t express the intense sense of joy and satisfaction you get from riding far better than expected, especially after an event that scared the absolute bejesus out of you.
Likewise, words just can’t express the unsettling feeling that comes later once you realize you’ve forever raised your personal performance bar. Worse, that unsettling feeling becomes downright daunting if the new bar height needs to be cleared again quickly, say in about 15 hours. And if it isn’t, today’s euphoria becomes tomorrow’s melancholia.
That, my friend, is your most likely mental state sometime after an oh-so successful first-day ride on a weekend when you’ve decided to take it to the max in a two-day tour, a-two-day stage race, or consecutive training rides.
There’s No Time for the Standard ‘Stress and Recover’
Yes, you’ve read a similar subtitle in Part I of this series two weeks ago, as well as the reason for the quotation marks. Our own Dr. Mirkin uses that phrase to explain why an alternating hard day/easy day pattern is usually best for you. But you’ve decided upon the unusual: to go full guns on back to back days. So omit the quotation marks, add an ellipsis, and turn the reworked phrase into your mantra for the weekend: There’s no time for stress . . . and recover.
You’ve already read in Part I the first two steps to accomplishing that. Within 30 minutes of finishing the first-day ride, eat at least 1 to 2 grams of carbohydrate for every 4 pounds of bodyweight and then elevate your legs for 20 to 30 minutes soon afterwards, preferably while wearing compression sleeves or socks. But what else you do before bedtime is equally important.
Keep Carbing Up
I’ve ridden far better than expected after a night when my sleep got shortchanged for whatever reason, like aching legs or an overactive mind. A number of my buddies have done so as well. Maybe it’s the extra cortisol your body secretes when sleep deprived. Who knows?
What I do know is that no amount of any internally secreted adrenal hormone does me much good two-thirds into an all-out ride if I start it low on carbs. And that fully refueling muscles with glycogen, the type of energy stored in your muscle tissue that carbs become, is at least a 20-hour process. Fortunately, there’s a second glycogen window, another time when your muscle cells accept more than the normal amount of fuel.
While initially ingesting a 4-to-1 ratio of carbohydrates and protein within 30 minutes is essential for a successful second-day ride, a 2004 Journal of Sports Science Medicine found “a relatively rapid rate of glycogen storage can be maintained for up to 8 hours post exercise.” Take advantage of that. Eat meals or snacks with that same carb-to-protein ratio every two hours or so until bedtime. While some riders claim to carb up successfully using the simple carbs in cookies, cakes and the like, there are studies that suggest that’s far from optimal. To play it safe, carb up on complex ones: brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, sweet potatoes, baked potatoes, squash, oatmeal, and cereals high in whole grains.
And keep the ingestion of saturated fats to a minimum.
The saturated fats in processed meat, fried foods, baked goods like cookies, and margarine — as well as the added sugars in packaged convenience foods — are “inflamers.” Any bodily inflammation — be it from that first hard ride or the meals afterward — makes riding well on consecutively days less likely.
Massage Your Legs Using a Foam Roller
Elevating your legs according to the instructions provided in Part I soon after you eat that first carb-dominated meal helps reduce muscle inflammation. In fact, you’ll feel the “drain,” the gravitational flow of extracellular fluid moving from your ankles toward your hips, soon after you prop your legs against the wall. But to squeeze every last bit out of your legs on a second-day ride, there’s something else to do, usually just before or after supper: Massage your legs.
Scheduling a weekend session with a masseuse, though, may be difficult and/or impractical. And while you can do it yourself with some rudimentary knowledge and thumb-and-finger strength, that takes effort — and you want to save all your strength for tomorrow’s ride. That’s why it makes more sense to massage your legs (and possibly lower back) using a foam roller, and generally a harder one at that to better reach deep-muscle tissue.
According to Healthline.com, any foam rolling can help relieve muscle tightness, soreness, and inflammation, increase your joint range of motion, and be an effective tool to add to your warm-up or cooldown, but that the benefits may vary from person to person. While I don’t use one for either of those two purposes, I roll later in the day after a really hard ride. Maybe it’s especially important for me because it breaks up the adhesions that keep forming from the rods and screws in my legs needed to heal fractured femurs. But because of the repetitive nature of cycling — which leads to overuse and underuse of certain muscles — it also benefits legs that aren’t a mixture of muscle and metal.
Roll slowly to start and be on the alert for any pain or even tenderness. When you encounter either, take extra time rolling that area and be gentle. You’re trying to eliminate discomfort and promote recovery. Roll too aggressively and you may do the opposite.
Roll most muscles for 30 to 60 seconds, but take as long as you need with trouble spots, which are most likely muscle knots. Keeping well hydrated — something that’s so important and fundamental that you do so, I’m sure, after any sort of ride — will make your rolling as well as your overall recovery more effective.
What about Shut-Eye?
As previously mentioned, the lack of it after a hard ride hasn’t deterred me or my buddies from having another good one the next day. The lack of sleep makes us feel as if somebody whacked us with a 2-by-4 Monday morning, however — but that’s a subject for another day. What we’ve come to realize is that the most important sleep night before tough back-to-back weekend rides is Thursday night. So if the event means enough to you and you have an understanding boss or some comp time, sleep in Friday morning.
Kevin Kolodziejski began his writing career in earnest in 1989. Since then he’s written a weekly health and fitness column and his articles have appeared in magazines such as “MuscleMag,” “Ironman,” “Vegetarian Times,” and “Bicycle Guide.” He has Bachelor and Masters degrees in English from DeSales and Kutztown Universities.
A competitive cyclist for more than 30 years, Kevin won two Pennsylvania State Time Trial championships in his 30’s, the aptly named Pain Mountain Time Trial 4 out of 5 times in his 40s, two more state TT’s in his 50’s, and the season-long Pennsylvania 40+ BAR championship at 43.