Looking after yourself
I think one of the biggest ironies of getting fit and healthy through biking is that there comes a point when you can actually do too much and it becomes in some ways harmful to your health. I’m not going to delve in to anything scientific here about heart conditions or anything like that just flag a few things to be aware of as you go on your journey towards your goal.
About three years ago I started upping my training volume and taking things a bit more seriously. This coincided with moving down to the Bristol area and getting a job in Swindon. As I’m quite anti car when it comes to commuting, combined with being tight I decided to cycle Bristol to Swindon as much as possible for my commute. I didn’t do it every day but it marked a significant increase in riding volume. Things were going fine for about 5 weeks but then just before I had planned to have an easier week, half way home one day my legs turned to lead. I had literally had nothing in them, it was bonking whilst not even really putting in any effort. I had to bail out to get myself to the nearest train station to get home, fortunately there was a chippy next to the station so I ordered a massive fish and chips portion and sat on the platform eating it feeling rather wiped out. My legs were then sore to touch for the next week or so. I subsequently learned that this was over training, it was not nice.
After going to a physio I learned a couple of things. I should have taken a rest at about week 4 and although I was eating mountains of food I wasn’t eating enough protein to help my muscles recover. So I had exercised myself in to issues, who’d have thought too much exercise could be bad!
Below are a few pointers if you are starting to increase the volume of exercise whether that’s from already doing 8 hours a week or starting from zero hours, the same principles apply I think (this is based on my experience and a bit of reading around, everyone is different so take with a pinch of salt etc).
You want to gradually increase volume and pay attention to how you feel when doing so. You can easily over-do it if you jump in to massive hours each week. Those logging 20 hour a week plus on strava didn’t start off with that amount of riding, they built up. Don’t copy them from a standing start, learn what works for you, we are all different! Make yourself (or get someone to do it for you) a training plan which builds in rest weeks where you drop volume down to let your body soak it up and recover.
Eating well is always important but particularly when your body gets depleted from increasing the amount of exercise you do. I hear quite a lot of people say they haven’t lost any weight when they have started to exercise loads. I think that might be because they up their volume of food but in the wrong way like I did when commuting to Swindon. I would eat massive bowl fulls of cereal and big sandwiches at lunch but this was too carb heavy and not enough protein so wasn’t giving me what I needed to help recover. Protein is pretty important to help muscles repair themselves under heavy exercise. There are quite a few things on google you can look at as a guide to how much protein you should be taking depending on what hours you put in but you’ll be quite hard pushed (or out of pocket) to eat enough protein ‘naturally’ if you are doing a load of exercise. Have a look at protein shakes as an alternative or there are lots of nice recipes for homemade protein bars online. Try and make your snacks protein based as well in the office. I was getting through a load of cereal bars but still feeling hungry as they were just full of sugar and not enough good stuff like protein that also helps fill you up. Nuts and seeds are a winner on this front. Apart from protein make sure you get enough greens inside you as they contain lots of science that is good for recovery and like antioxidants and all that. Basically fill your plate with greenery.
I personally take vitamins, not of the Lance Armstrong nature... I eat well but I just think there isn’t much harm in making sure I’m topped up.
Although it reads like a long list daily I take:
- Multi vitamin (just in case I’m missing anything in diet)
- Magnesium (to aid muscle recovery)
- Gingko bilboa (to help my bad circulation)
- Glucosamine (to help keep the joints lubed)
- Echinacea (helps keep away the colds)
I expect I probably excrete most of the above out without absorbing it but I buy vitamins from poundland or online in bulk from ebay so it doesn’t really cost much, better safe than sorry I think (apparently there isn’t any different between cheap and expensive vitamins). I’ve not had a cold in 18 months so must be doing something right. Particularly if your diet isn’t great it might be worth considering taking some vitamins. Echinacea has been great in keeping the colds away as when you start doing more, particularly around the rest of your busy life, your immune system takes a fair kicking. That’s why you hear a lot of athletes getting colds regularly.
I don’t really know much about this side of things so I won’t pretend to. What I do know is that training for 24 hour racing can be pretty lonely and you need to be pretty happy about training to get up at 5am for a turbo session in the pain cave. So in short do things that make you happy and then you’re less likely to come to resent the training. Keep in touch with mates who just ride bikes for fun and don’t race. Ride with other people where possible, as humans we mostly like being around other people, it’s good for our wellbeing.
Pay attention to what happens when you become fatigued from training. I personally become irritable and really have to concentrate on not taking it out of others. When you are relying them to stand in a pit area for 24 hours at a time you don’t want to piss them off by highlighting how they haven’t got your dinner ready in perfect timing for your return from all dayer ride swanning around the countryside whilst they do the house work….
You will need to stretch if you are doing lots of exercise, nobody likes doing it but it’s really important to stop your limbs becoming inflexible and tight from exercise. Try and get this in to a routine so it’s just something you do rather than you have to make an effort to remember to do. So when I come in from a long ride, I grab a protein shake, cup of tea then roll around for a bit on the lounge floor stretching whilst I catch up with my wife before having a shower. You really want to be stretching after every training session if possible. Using standing around time in daily life to stretch, calves whilst brushing your teeth, hamstrings on the training, glutes whilst sat down in meetings (you soon get over the weird looks)! It’s good to get along to a yoga/pilates class once a week if you can as this will give you a much better stretching routine than you can be arsed to do at home. Get a foam roller and use it. It’s never going to be as good as a proper massage but I find it does help a bit. Get a proper sports massage if you can, particularly if you have increased volume substantially your body needs all the help it can get to adapt. Your recovery will be quick as tensions are released. For me personally I don’t take too well to lots of complicated stretches that physio’s sometimes prescribe as I usually forget how to do them properly, so if you’re like me try to keep things simple, remove any barriers to you doing stretching as it’s a really easy thing to skip.
Sleep helps you recover, feel better, so do more of it. Take a nap if you can to top up on sleep or if you miss some sleep try and get a couple of extra hours somewhere else in the week. Reduce your pre bed screen time and read a book instead to help wind down and relax, your thousands of followers can wait for those instabangers until the next day. I wear recovery leg sleeves to help keep the blood circulating overnight if I’ve had a big day in the saddle, I think it helps recovery but either way doesn’t harm. Take a rest week after 3 or 4 weeks to give your body chance to recover and adapt.
There is quite a lot to absorb above so get in touch with E3 Coach who can help advise and probably give far some scientific advise than I can. Training Peaks is good for tracking your training volume and the impact it’s having on your fitness, fatigue etc, they have a free version or the paid version is good value for the data you get back.