How To Recover Like A Cycling Pro

Muscle pains and soreness, sometimes accompanied by a fever in rare cases, is the reason many newbies give up on cycling. At the other extreme are the masochists of the sports world who love the pain. For these people, a session is not good if it’s not followed by pain. 

It is possible to exercise with minimal pain and inflammation, but expect to advance in fitness and endurance or lose weight at a slower rate. This is much better than no progress at all! However, if you are able to manage your recovery, you’ll be able to push yourself harder during each training session and experience less pain. Win win!

What Causes Muscle Aches After Cycling?

Delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS is the pain you feel the day after a hard cycling session. It may last overnight, a day or a few days depending on your fitness level. DOMS is caused by lactic acid which builds in the muscles during exercise. Lactic acid build-up causes tiny muscle tears, which the body wants to repair as quickly as possible. The muscles are flooded with white blood cells, fluids and nutrients to repair micro muscle damage. This stimulates the creation of new muscles, which makes you stronger. 

DOMS is different from actual damage to the body, like torn ligaments, pulled muscles, and pain in the joints. DOMS are micro tears that are naturally healed in a short amount of time. For a serious injury, you will need to consult a doctor or physiotherapist.

A quick and easy remedy for reducing DOMS pain is an over-the- counter painkiller and anti-inflammatory, like ibuprofen. Alternatively, you may already have a tube of liniment by the bedside to rub out those muscle aches. These remedies are fine for minor aches. However, there are a few strategies many pro athletes and their trainers use to reduce recovery time, while gaining the most benefits from a workout which you can follow yourself.  

Sore Shoulder

Build Strength And Endurance Slowly

This is counter intuitive to the “no pain, no gain” slogan. But, the best thing a beginner can do for themselves is to aim for consistency rather than intensity. The worst DOMS and injuries happen to beginners who rush out and ride 50 miles when they haven’t even tried a 10 mile ride.

The best way to avoid the worst injuries, some of which can be permanent, is to learn to be patient and to listen to your body. For instance, if your knees are sore whilst riding, don’t push through the pain. Instead, reassess your bike setup or work on some knee strengthening exercises on recovery days. You will eventually reach your goals with patience and persistence, but not if you are unable to recover properly.

Deciding on whether you should be using a cycling recovery ride vs rest day? Just remember, even the most advanced athletes have one or two days off!

Design And Schedule Workouts For Balance

Proper cycling training plans are strategic with intensity and recoveries. There’s plenty of free training programs online that are catered to various fitness levels.  Here’s a great beginners one from Team Redbull that can get you from couch to 30 miles. The plan lasts for eight weeks, running from Monday through to Sunday and includes both riding days and rest days. Each week is also broken down into useful hints, tips and suggestions to help you get the most out of every session.

Following an exercise program that incorporates rest days will save you from a lot of pain, and help you advance much faster. A good program will avoid overtraining, with lots of recoveries, catered specifically for your fitness level.

Do Not Disturb Pillow

Eat To Recover Like A Cycling Pro!

Proper nutrition is the cornerstone of weight loss, muscle gains, endurance and recovery. Some people count calories, others count macros, and there are those who swear by supplements. The entire point to doing all of this is to feed your body food to match your activity. The body needs the right food for exercise and recovery. If you are missing a key ingredient in your nutrition, you won’t perform well or have the reserves to recover well.

There are different food recommendations for faster recovery. The one thing fitness experts agree on is getting enough protein to sustain muscle recovery and growth. The body needs protein to build new muscle and recover from DOMS. 

If you find yourself unable to recover fully from a hard session, you may have depleted your protein reserves and need to add more to your diet. Ideally, you want to get your protein from whole foods, rather protein drinks and supplements. The amount of protein depends on your body type and activity. We’ve got a guide on flexible nutrition for cyclists here. Alternatively, if you’re training for something a bit longer, check out our nutrition trips for a Gran Fondo.

The simplest recommendation would be to have enough protein to consist of one third of your daily calories. It is also important to eat a balanced amount of complex carbohydrates, fat and fibre to help protein digest and get absorbed properly into the body.

You can find some additional nutrition tips from Dr. Rick Kattouf, a Sports Nutrtion Specialist, here.

Bowl of blueberries and raspeberries

Hydration For Recovery

This tip is generic, but often overlooked. The reason you are always exhausted and always hungry is maybe because you are not drinking enough water. Even a slight dehydration of 5% can make you feel fatigued for no reason. Drinking enough water also helps you recover after a workout. The body needs fluids to carry toxins out of the muscles and heal torn muscle fibres. Keep drinking water throughout your ride and make sure you have enough water within half an hour after a workout to help jumpstart your recovery.

The recommended amount of water for people who exercise regularly is 2-3 litres a day.  However, there are several factors that can change this standard, such as hot weather, your activity, your weight, and some people just retain more water than others. A better indicator for hydration is to monitor your urine. Aim to urinate 3 to 5 times a day, producing clear to light yellow urine.

Pro tipadd a wedge of lemon juice for some additional refreshing nutrients to your water and you’ll guzzle it down in no time.

Related article – How To Prevent Dehydration While Cycling

Lime Mint Water

Stretch It Out

Everyone knows that it’s important to stretch after cycling, but not everyone does it!  After a long ride it is a good idea to spend a few minutes stretching.  You’ve just spent a decent amount of time sitting in the same position and repeating the same movements.  Stretching them out will help release the tension in your muscles and return them to a relaxed state so they can start recovering. You can check out our guide here on the best stretches for cyclists to help recover faster.

Besides improving your flexibility, stretching out your muscles will help increase blood flow and circulation which will help reduce DOMS.  Failing to stretch will cause your muscles to shorten and become stiff which can hinder the performance of your next ride and potentially lead to injuries further down the line.

Also, just because you have a rest day, it doesn’t mean do nothing!  Here’s a great full body stretching routine you can follow on your rest days.

If you’re looking for an extra boost with your recovery, check out some of the best massage tools for cyclists!

Compression Clothing

The jury is still out on the benefits of compression clothing with no definitive research pointing in either direction.  The majority of compression clothing are being advertised as offering three key benefits to improve performance and recovery.

  • The prevention of muscle strain;
  • The reduction of muscle fatigue;
  • The ability to wick perspiration away from skin, with a mind to minimizing the risk of chafing or skin irritation.

Some compression leggings are known as gradient compression leggings and they offer an additional advantage. They boost blood flow by delivering a precise quantity of pressure which is stronger at the ankle area. This level of pressure decreases from the ankle up and then reaches its weakest point at the uppermost section of the legging.

Reading user feedback, you’ll find a lot of cyclists who have reported increased performance, support, and recovery while wearing compression socks and leggings.  Some have even accepted that it might be a placebo effect. If you have the spare cash and if it gives you that extra edge, why not!

The pros are using it, so it must be good right!?


Cycling is a great way to stay active and healthy.  For those of us who like to push the fitness boundaries, it can be quite taxing on the body. It takes time for the body to rest and repair, however, with the tips listed out in this article, it should help you recover faster.  You’ll be back on the bike (and pain free) in no time!

Hi, I'm Harry, the owner of this site! A 30-something MAMIL - a middle-aged man in lycra. An avid cyclist who is looking to maintain a baseline level of fitness to be able to enjoy the great outdoors on weekend rides with his mates!

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