More on the Aging Athlete from RBR, John Hughes


Importance of Recovery in your 50s, 60s and Beyond: 9 Tips on Cycling Recovery

By Coach John Hughes

In my recent column I’m 70! Yikes!!! Lessons from my Journey Through Life one of the key lessons I’ve learned is to ride less and recover more.  The results are that the riding I do 1) is more enjoyable because I’m not tired at the start of the ride and 2) produces more improvement because I can do a more challenging ride that’s longer and / or harder than I’m used to doing. 

This summer has been crazy.  March through June I got our big home north of Boulder, CO ready to sell and in July it sold. We then moved into a much smaller condo in N. Boulder. We started looking seriously for a new home in the mountains, in August found our dream home and now I’m getting it ready to move in.  Starting in March I rode very little.  I promised myself that once we moved to the condo I’d ride most days including three challenging rides a week.  That hasn’t worked out so well for a couple of reasons. 

First as we get older one of the most significant changes is the need for more recovery.  In my 30s I could do four or five tough rides a week.  By my 50s I could handle two and sometimes three hard rides a week. Now that I’m 70 (sigh) I can do a challenging ride and feel proud of myself.  I recently climbed Flagstaff, which was the finish of one of the stages of the Colorado Classic stage race. When riders passed me I thought, “I’m 70 and I’m doing it!” But after the ride I was so tired I took a two-hour nap. I then needed three days of easy riding before I could do a moderate endurance ride.

The other reason I need more recovery is because effects of all types of stress are cumulative. The stresses of riding, moving and transitioning to semi-retirement are compounding both physically and mentally. I’m not able (yet) to ride as much or as hard as I want to ride because of these other stressors.

I specialize in coaching riders’ age 50 and older and most are also going through significant changes such as becoming an empty nester, moving to a smaller home, caring for an aging parent or retiring. I plan their key events and training around these events so that the cumulative stress load isn’t overwhelming.

Improving Your Recovery

What can you do to hasten your recovery?

1. Ride less

A new client is always surprised that in the workouts I send the client include less time on the bike. However each of the rides as a specific purpose. As a result of riding fewer miles she needs less recovery.

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2. Vary the Intensity

Most of my new clients are already doing a mix of what they think are intensity, endurance and recovery rides; however, they aren’t really varying the intensity enough.  The intensity rides usually aren’t the correct ones to meet the rider’s goals. The recovery rides aren’t easy enough to provide any recovery.

3. Sleep

Many of us try to combine athletic performance with busy personal and professional lives and as a result are short on sleep. The body only produces human growth hormone (HGH) while you’re asleep. HGH is necessary to rebuild your muscles. Sleep is also the time when your unconscious mind processes all the stresses in your life. Try to get to bed a little earlier and then don’t watch TV, surf the net or read, so that you relax immediately and drift off to sleep.

4. Cool-down

The lymph system is the body’s sewage system, moving waste products from the muscles to the lymph nodes. Lymphatic fluid doesn’t have a pump like the heart to circulate it; rather it depends on the action of the muscles to move the fluid from the muscles to the lymph nodes. Start the process by spinning easily for the last 10-15 minutes of a ride.

5. Recovery Nutrition

You burn a combination of glycogen from carbohydrate and fat for fuel when you ride and the harder you ride the more of your energy comes from glycogen. You only have enough glycogen for several hours of hard riding. You may deplete your glycogen stores on a fast or long ride.

As you come to the end of a ride finish any food you are carrying with you. When you get off the bike eat two calories of carbohydrate / lb. (4 cal. / kg) of body weight every hour until you can sit down for a regular meal. For example, if you weigh 150 lbs you should eat 300 calories of carbohydrate every hour.

Pick foods that you like — sports bars are no better than crackers or pretzels for example — and read the label to be sure you are getting enough calories from carbohydrate. Many foods contain a mix of carbohydrate, protein and fat — you’re after calories from carbohydrate. A lot of protein after a ride doesn’t help you recover faster. You need a little protein to rebuild muscles; however, you can get that in your regular meals.

6. Recovery Hydration

Develop the habit of weighing yourself after a hard or long ride. You should drink to satisfy your thirst and keep drinking until you’ve replaced all the body weight you’ve lost, i.e., drink 16 fl. oz. for every pound lost (1 liter / kg).

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Water is a good start.  Here are some other choices: Fruit juices provide calories and potassium. Vegetable juices such as V-8 provide carbohydrate and plenty of sodium. Low-fat or non-fat regular and chocolate milk both provide lots of calories. You can also make a smoothie mixing non-fat milk or yogurt, fruit and some sugar or honey in a blender.

Sports drinks and recovery drinks are no better than real food and cost more. Although a beer may taste good, you’re substituting empty calories from alcohol for quality calories from carbohydrate.

7. Recovery Electrolytes

How much sodium you lose in sweat and the sodium concentration of your sweat depends on your genetics, diet, fitness, heat acclimatization, gender, how hard you are riding and the heat and humidity. On a three-hour ride you could lose roughly 1,200-4,800 mg of sodium, which equals 2 to 6% of your sodium stores. You could also lose 300-1,200 mg of potassium, which is only 0.001 to 0.007% of your potassium stores. Sodium is the only electrolyte you need to replace after a sweaty ride.

Processed foods you buy at the store and restaurant meals are generally high in sodium. Unless you eat a moderate sodium diet following the recommendation of not more than 1500 mg / day for seniors, you probably don’t need to worry about sodium losses. If you normally control your sodium intake, eat salty carbohydrate-rich snacks after a hot ride.

8. Active Recovery

The keep the lymph system flushing waste products from your body do something active the day after a hard ride. Go for an easy spin, walk the dog, play catch with the kids or go for a swim in the local pool.

9. Massage

If we were paid to race we’d get frequent professional massages to help remove waste products and also to reduce Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, sore stiff muscles the day after a hard ride. I got a weekly massage when I was training for the Race Across America.

If professional massage isn’t an option, work on your legs regularly.  My website describes how to do Self-Massage. If you massage your legs an hour or two after a hard ride be gentle. If you do it the day after a hard ride, go deeper.

 When you are riding hard you are breaking down your muscles, not getting stronger. You only get fitter when you allow time for your body to recover. By using these tips you’ll improve the quality of your recovery so that you can ride even better!

More Information

My eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process incorporates the latest research and most of it is new material not published in my previous eArticles on cycling past 50, 60 and beyond. The book’s chapter on recovery covers how to gauge your total stress load from life, how to balance training and recovery, how to improve your recovery and how to avoid overtraining.

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