A solid recovery routine is essential for helping your body get the most out of every cycling session, as research continues to find that what you do after a ride can make or break your gains.
In this guide, we’ll dive deeper into the best science-backed ways to recover after a tough ride —from why it’s so important to the most effective ways you can help your body recoup.
First, let’s look at what happens when you push yourself on a ride that makes cycling recovery so important.
Proper recovery is the cornerstone of cycling performance, as research has found that recovery is essential for both your physical and mental health.
The physical demands of a tough ride deplete your muscles’ glycogen (energy) stores, and you lose fluid and electrolytes through sweat [ 1 2 3 4 1 5
2]. It also increases inflammation and dampens your immune system, putting you at greater risk for soreness, injury, and illness [
4]. The longer, harder, and more frequently you ride, the more susceptible you become to these effects [
Cycling can also be mentally challenging, particularly if you’re trying to hit specific performance goals or overcome an injury. A good recovery routine can help you stick with a new exercise program, reduce training-related fatigue, improve mental toughness, cope with the pressures of competition, and even overcome injuries — all of which may correlate with better cycling performance and recovery [ 6 7
Skimping on recovery can put you at greater risk for
overtraining, injury, and illness.
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Now that you know why recovery is important, you may be wondering what you should include in your routine to make the most gains on and off the bike. Research shows us the best way to recover from a tough ride is to use a combination of recovery tactics 23
combination of recovery tactics, so here are some of the most effective strategies for enhancing your recovery after a ride [
The moment you get off your bike, your body enters into recovery mode. For a short time, your body is primed to replenish depleted electrolytes and energy stores, and repair and build new muscle tissue.
To recover effectively, your body needs three main things shortly after exercise: fluids, carbohydrates, and protein. Fluids are vital for maintaining normal body function, delivering key nutrients to tired muscles, minimizing soreness, and removing metabolic byproducts and toxins from the body [ 5 8 5
8]. Carbohydrates replenish depleted muscle and liver glycogen stores, and dietary protein jumpstarts muscle protein synthesis (MPS) [
While you may not feel hungry or thirsty right away, research shows the optimal time to replenish fuel and fluid is 15-60 minutes after exercising [ 5
5]. Here are some recommendations to help you optimize your fluid, carb, and protein intake after a ride.
Drink 24 ounces (3 cups) of water for every pound of lost body weight [ 9 8
9]. If you’re not near a scale, drink enough fluids to make your urine pale yellow or lighter. You may also want to consider an electrolyte-enhanced sports drink if you work out for longer than 45 minutes, exercise in a hot and humid environment, or happen to be a salty sweater [
Consume 45-90 g of easy-to-digest carbohydrates after moderate- to high-intensity rides lasting >45 minutes. For intense, high-volume training (3-6 hours/day, 5-6 days/week), experts recommend getting 1.2 g/kg/hr for the 4-6 hours into recovery [ 5 9
Pair your carbs with 20-40 g of high-quality protein. By pairing your carbs with protein, you’ll replenish glycogen and enhance protein synthesis [ 5 Elo Smart Protein 10
5]. Good food sources of protein include eggs, lean meat, milk, yogurt, and soybeans tofu. If you’re on the go or don’t have time for a meal, evidence shows recovery supplements (like
Elo Smart Protein) can also boost performance and recovery [
Many athletes incorporate massage into their post-ride routine, and the rationale behind it is pretty sound. Evidence shows that massage can alleviate delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and produce notable enhancements in flexibility [ 11
For those who cannot indulge in a regular sports massage due to cost or convenience, foam rolling is a more practical and budget-friendly alternative. Studies indicate that incorporating daily foam rolling into your routine (as little as two one-minute sessions per muscle group) can yield positive results in reducing soreness and improving range of motion [ 12
Key areas for cyclists to hit include the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, IT band, piriformis, and upper and lower back.
Getting enough rest (which includes sleep and time off between workouts) is another vital component of cyclist recovery.
Sleep is a crucial (yet often overlooked) component of the recovery process for both physical and mental restoration. While you sleep, your body produces specialized proteins and human growth hormones stimulating muscle growth and repair [ 13 14
13]. Memory consolidation and emotional regulation also depend on sufficient sleep, which can significantly impact your mental state on and off the bike [
So how much sleep do you need to cycle your best? Experts recommend 7-9 hours per night for optimal performance and recovery. If you’re an elite athlete, you’ll want to get at least nine hours of sleep every night [ 18
If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, some
safe sleep supplementsmay help.
In addition to sleep, scheduling adequate rest days is another crucial part of recovery that allows your muscles time to heal, get stronger, and help prevent injury. A rest day can be a day of complete relaxation or a lightly active day that incorporates gentle movement such as an easy recovery ride, walking, gentle stretching, or yoga.
Typically experts recommend at least 48-72 hours of rest between training sessions that work the same muscle group [ 19 20
19]. However, if you’re suffering from persistent muscle soreness, find it difficult to complete workouts, are feeling sluggish, or irritable, or are experiencing reduced muscle gain or weight loss, you may benefit from taking more rest days [
Cold water immersion and compression are two popular recovery strategies among athletes that have been shown to help with recovery after strenuous exercise.
Studies show plunging your body into a brisk 46–59°F (8-15°C) bath for 5-20 minutes may help reduce muscle soreness, perception of fatigue, markers of inflammation, and muscle damage after strenuous exercise [ 21 18
21]. It might also improve your sleep quality, another key factor in workout recovery [
If plunging into a pool of cold water sounds unappealing, you may find compression socks more comfortable. A review of studies shows wearing compression socks, both during and just after exercise, can aid recovery by reducing post-exercise muscle fatigue and soreness, particularly if you have short recovery windows between races or training sessions [ 22 23
Of course, combining the two can also be beneficial. One small study showed putting on compression garments after cold water immersion may lessen the increase of muscle damage markers in the blood following intense exercise [ 33
Beyond refueling, massage, rest, cold water, and compression, you may want to consider supplementation to enhance recovery after cycling. Here are some beneficial supplements for cyclists you might want to include in your recovery regimen.
Fish oil 24 24 25
Fish oil: this supplement contains beneficial omega-3 fatty acids (including DHA and EPA) which provides anti-inflammatory benefits that may reduce soreness, enhance recovery and repair from muscle-damaging exercise, and help with injury prevention [
24]. Studies in healthy adults show that 2 g/day of omega-3s is safe and effective for reducing inflammation while taking 3 g/day of combined EPA and DHA can reduce muscle soreness after exercise [
Turmeric 26 27 28
Turmeric: this supplement has an array of anti-inflammatory benefits that may also be beneficial to recovery. Studies indicate that 150-1,500 mg of turmeric per day may help attenuate acute inflammation, improve post-exercise recovery, and reduce muscle soreness [
Creatine 24 29 24
Creatine: this is a dietary amino acid found in muscles, and may enhance recovery by increasing glycogen resynthesis and muscle protein synthesis while reducing muscle damage, inflammation, and post-ride muscle soreness [
29]. To supplement, experts recommend beginning with a loading dose of 20 g/day of creatine monohydrate for 5 days, and reducing your daily intake to 3-5 g/day thereafter [
Tart cherry juice: this supplement is rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties that may help improve performance, reduce pain, soreness, and inflammation, and accelerate strength recovery after both strength and endurance exercises [ 30 31 31
31]. Experts recommend taking 8-12 ounces (1 ounce if in concentrate form) twice a day, 4-5 days leading up to an event or strenuous exercise, and 2-3 days after to promote recovery [
Glutamine: this is another naturally occurring amino acid naturally found in muscles. Research shows supplementation with glutamine can reduce strength loss, accelerate strength recovery, and reduce muscle soreness more quickly than a placebo [ 32 32
32]. Science suggests dosages ranging from 0.21 - 0.42 g/kg/day are safe and effective for enhancing recovery in athletes [
If you want to learn more about supplements for cycling performance, check out our guide on the best supplements for cyclists
the best supplements for cyclists.
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Here are some other recovery and cycling-related articles we think you’ll enjoy.
What you do (or don’t do) after a ride can profoundly affect your cycling recovery and future performance. Post-ride refueling and rehydration, massage, rest, cold water immersion, compression, and supplementation are some of the most effective recovery strategies for cyclists. Using a variety of these tactics will help you reap the most benefits. Learn more about how Elo Health personalized protein smart supplements
Elo Healthcan help you optimize your cycling recovery routine with
smart supplements, and 1:1 dietitian support.
Disclaimer: The text, images, videos, and other media on this page are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended to treat, diagnose or replace personalized medical care.
After a workout, aim to get 20-40 g of protein, 45-90 g of carbs, and 3 cups of fluid per pound of body weight lost within 60 minutes of finishing your ride.
Other strategies shown to have recovery benefits include massage, rest, cold water immersion, compression, and supplementation.
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