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Recovering Hard By Chad Hartley

If an athlete hires a coach, it is safe to assume it is because they wish to improve their fitness.  Among all of the details and necessary steps that go into making a cyclist stronger and faster, hands down the most neglected of those is the aspect of recovery.
Allow me to make one thing crystal clear. Training, by itself, does not make you better, ( hold on, let me finish) proper recovery from those training efforts does. Training is a stress that breaks the body down. It digs the metaphorical hole. Recovery is the rebound that pushes you past where you were before and is commonly know as "super compensation". It shapes all that dirt you dug up from the hole into a nice high mound.  It is the delicate balance between training and recovery that allows you to gain the highest levels of fitness. In other words, the harder you train, the harder you have to recover.  
There are several key areas of recovery that need to be addressed. The major areas include hydration, nutrition, muscle function, sleep, and coping with illness. 
Water (with correct electrolyte concentration) is of extreme importance. Water is the most vital nutrient to the body, and is second only to oxygen. For athletes and their performance, one of the most important functions is flushing out cells and removing metabolic waste from the body. Another important function is in helping to clear the digestive tract, which ultimately helps with the absorption of nutrients.  Your body needs minerals and electrolytes in its water for a number of reasons. The process of osmosis requires electrolytes to help water cross the cell membrane. If the electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium, struggle to do this, so do you in effectively recovering.  Additionally, water aids in improving the strength of the electrical impulses from your brain to your muscles.  The stronger signal is capable of firing, the more muscle fibers can be recruited. Simply put, water and electrolytes help your body function at an optimal level.  A good rule of thumb is to always carry - minimum of 500mL - bottle of water and to sip slowly on it throughout the day. If your urine isn't clear, you are dehydrated and need to drink more water. 
Nutrition and Nutrients
No matter which brand it is, whether it’s Hammer Nutrition or Powerbar, is ever correct when they market their supplements as an alternative that is of equal effectiveness as real food. Real food is the equivalent of 95 octane to processed food's ethanol 85. But, what is “processed”? There are many ways to process food but the most common method used to manufacture the most popular brands is heating or cooking. Heat, to some degree, has the capability to destroy many nutrients. Let’s look at an orange (the fruit) vs. organic, not from concentrate, orange juice: 
One small orange (96g) has 45 calories and 85% of your DVA of vitamin C. 240ml (240g) of OJ has 110 calories, but just 120% DVA of vitamin C (the 96g equivalent of OJ is 44 calories and 48% vitamin C). Through the process of pasteurization (heating to kill bacteria) the orange juice lost about 37% of its vitamin C. 
I’m not making the suggestion that you need to drop the cooked foods and begin a raw vegan diet, but opting for the real, most unprocessed form of whole foods goes a long way in helping one to achieve their physical goals. It often just comes down to a simple decision in the moment.
While real food is always the better alternative, sometimes supplements are unavoidable. It becomes An even greater challenge as weight conscious athletes whom sometimes limit our intake. While a multi-vitamin might be a good way to cover your bases, pills have horrible absorption rates (below 20% usually) and lack thousands of vital compounds and enzymes found in food.  While some is better than none, keep that in mind as you look at the bigger picture. 
Rule of thumb - eat a well balanced diet. Avoid fads and craze diets, as well as processed foods when possible. For endurance athletes carbohydrates are king. As much as 75-80% of your intake should be carbohydrates (that doesn’t mean just sugar!).  Know yourself and your needs. For example, if you’re a heavy coffee drinker like me, try adding more calcium and B vitamins to your diet, as coffee easily strips those away. 
Muscle Function
Essentially, do everything you possibly can to keep your muscles in proper working order. By this I mean receive massage, physical therapy, and stretching. If you cannot afford a periodical massage, there are several more cost effective alternatives. Massage sticks, percussion massagers, foam rollers, tennis balls, or just simple self massage are all methods of equal or similar benefit. Most of these things are cheaper than $60 per hour for someone to rub you legs. The downside is that it takes much more effort on your part, but either way it needs to be done. Compression tights are great to help flush metabolic waste out of your legs, and pneumatic compression is even better (i.e. Podium Legs, Normatec, etc.)
Some advanced techniques that you might need some help with if you’re battling chronic problems or scar tissue are Rolfing, ASTYM, or Graston Technique. For more info on those, Google some videos.
Rule of thumb - establish a daily dynamic stretching routine before you ride. Work on your muscles every few days with massage as it is easier to stay on top of potential problems.  Limit heavy work to rest weeks or the off season.  The more you work on your muscles, the less negative effect it has immediately after the work is done. If this facet of recovery is neglected, you will always be playing catch up. While soreness and a sensation of lethargy is common the day after heavy massage work is utilized, it is equally typical to find yourself absolutely flying the day after that.

Above all else, your body need rest, and sleep is the best kind. Sleep cycles regulate everything in your body. Try your hardest to get 8 hours per night minimum, and more if at all possible. Life gets in the way all the time, I know, but if quality rest is foregone, then all of your hard work is for not.  When you do sleep, try to make it as peaceful as possible. Dark rooms, cool temperatures, and even use of earplugs are all effective in achieving this. Avoid becoming dependent on sleeping pills or alcohol to fall asleep. It compounds your difficulty falling asleep over time if you don’t have those and the sleep quality is diminished.  
Coping with Illness
Know that this a controversial subject and as coaches we will always err on the side of caution. When in doubt, just rest. Continuing to push and stress your body when your immune system is compromised will only increase the necessary time you need to recover from that self-inflicted damage.
Rule of thumb - don’t ever ride with a fever. If you have nasal congestion, or sinus problems it’s very easy to pull that down into your lungs and have it become an upper repertory infection (requiring more time off). Cut out intensity and keep rides easy and short. Wait until you’re feeling better, and then wait one more day to be sure. Think about how long it takes to build fitness; it doesn’t just go away in a week either. Take your time to avoid losing more. 

You pay good money for us to kick your butt with excruciating and effective training. Don’t let it all go to waste by not maximizing the gains.  Recovery is what really makes you better.
Be safe out there,

Weather is changing are you dressed proper?

As the weather turns to colder temps, cyclists, and athletes in general, must understand that it is imperative to dress properly when training.  By dressing properly before, during and after our rides, we can go a long way in preventing sickness or injury.  Between the additional riding volume we do during the week, added to the stress of work and life, we sometimes push our bodies to the limit; and, when you add the cold weather to it, we can get sick much easier.

Dressing right for the colder weather can also help prevent injury.  For example, I wear knee warmers when it is less than 60 degrees.  Why?  Because the patella is only 3mm under your skin.  Your skin does not offer much protection at all - thus the knee warmers!

So, here are a few tips for proper dressing in the winter months to help avoid sickness or injury:

55-60 degrees 

At these temperatures, the heat you generate from riding will help keep your feet and toes warm, at least for the first hour or so. You can usually get away with minimal enhancements to your normal cycling clothing but you do want to protect your hands and feet as much as possible.
Hands: Windproof, water-resistant gloves that fit over your everyday cycling gloves

50 to 55 degrees

Hands: Dedicated mid-weight winter riding gloves with built-in insulation / windstopper.
Feet: Mid-weight wool socks plus cotton shoe covers Below 55 degrees or so, you must take action to avoid painfully cold hands and feet . 

Below 50 degrees

Hands: heavyweight riding gloves are an option as well.Feet: Midweight wool socks, cover your head and Ears: noeprene shoe covers Insulated Pull out all the stops here, and the best you may do is delay the inevitable onset of numbing cold. 
Cyclists young and old must protect their knees from cold. Young cyclists with still-developing joints are especially vulnerable to knee injury and should wear knee or leg warmers in temperatures below 60 degrees. Older cyclists with healthy knees should cover up at 55 degrees or lower. Once the mercury heads south of 50 degrees, full length leg warmers are called for.