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Coach's Column: Recovery and Pacing During a Stage Race

Posted by: Shannon Boffeli |April 3, 2013 12:47 PM

Coach’s Column with Andy Applegate – Best Recovery for Best Performance During Mountain Bike Stage Racing


Question: "I am doing my first stage race this year which is 7 days long.  What do I need to do to recover each day to survive the race? And should I let myself put in a really hard effort the first day or two since I'm assuming I will be feeling good or try to pace myself early on?"

Answer: This question dovetails nicely with last month’s question about the differences between training for a hundred miler versus a stage race. The answer is to the first part of the question is: you need to do everything possible to allow yourself the most complete recovery between stages in order to race strong each day. Let’s talk about what some of that "everything” might be.

First, immediately after every stage you need to get off your feet (you might want a short cool down after you cross the finish line, but keep it short and easy, 5-10 minutes is plenty). Resist the urge to walk around for a long time and talk to everyone in sight. Sit, get out of your gear and start your relaxation. At the same time you want to begin taking care of your nutrition. It is imperative that you replenish your glycogen (carbohydrate) stores as quickly and thoroughly as possible after every stage. You have probably heard of the "glycogen window” and it is real. Your body absorbs glycogen faster immediately following exercise so take advantage of this. You could tuck into a solid meal that has plenty of carbohydrate and some protein, or you could go with a recovery drink first, then have a meal shortly after. There is some conflicting information out there concerning the optimum ratio of carb to protein in these sorts of drinks, 4:1 or 7:1 are some examples, but I would suggest not worrying too much about the exact ratio as long as the drink has a good amount of carbs and some protein. Chocolate milk is not a bad choice for this use as long as your body does not have trouble with dairy products (We could do an entire article on recovery nutrition alone). Continue hydrating throughout the rest of the day as well. Another note on nutrition: keep in mind that your nutrition DURING the stage not only helps performance for that stage, but also can set you up for better recovery after, so be diligent about taking in enough calories and fluids while racing.

Next let’s talk about some other tips and tricks that may be helpful between stages. Again, stay off your feet as much as possible. Use cold water to help flush your legs of waste. Often legs will feel "heavy” or "swollen” after racing (and the following day). You can help alleviate this by taking an ice bath (ouch), or a little less painful, running very cold water on them in the shower, or letting them soak in a cool pool or even a nice cold mountain stream if you can find one. 15 minutes of this usually does the trick. Another tip would be to elevate your legs for about 15 minutes later in the day before bed. Laying on the floor with your legs on the bed, or up against a wall works well. As long as your legs are elevated above your heart you will get the benefit.

Compression: I am sure you have seen the compression socks and tights that are so popular with athletes these days. There is a reason for this: it works. While there is not as much conclusive data on using compression garments during exercise, the recovery benefit of them has been well documented. Socks or tights are the most popular. The concept behind the use of compression is to help alleviate peripheral  edema (swelling) that usually occurs during and post exercise. The compression helps push blood back to the heart rather than having it sit in the lower extremities. These garments are not very expensive and well worth investing in if you have not already. As a side note on compression clothing: it works very well during travel when you are seated for long periods of time. Consider using compression socks or tights on travel days.

Sleep: get as much as you can! Our bodies use sleep to do some amazing recovery. Try to maximize your sleep time when possible. Many stage races have very early stage starts, so this means hitting the sack early.

There are some other fancy (and costly) devices that may help recovery such as electro-stimulation for the muscles (think compex) and air compression boots. While these devices may help, they are prohibitively expensive for most athletes. If you follow the advice above you can get similar results while keeping things simple.

As far as the pacing aspect of the question is concerned, pace yourself during the early stages, don’t go out too hard. If you don’t know how your body is going to respond to multiple days of racing, you will be better served by being slightly conservative early which should allow you to recover and ride well in the later stages. I know it can be a difficult task to hold back when you are feeling good, but your patience will pay off. While an experienced stage racer may make the decision to push the early stages, hopefully he or she knows their body’s ability to recover and has made the calculation based on this knowledge. Depending on which courses suit a particular rider better, there may be a tactical decision involved in this pacing question, but for the first time stage racer, you can’t go too wrong by holding back slightly the first couple days and coming on strong later. 

I hope that helps answer some of the recovery and pacing questions!

Andy Applegate is a Pro level coach with Carmichael Training Systems. He has over 20 years of racing experience and has been coaching cyclists full time since 2001. His passion is endurance mountain bike racing. We would like to welcome Andy to our amazing group of elite coaches. You can find out more about Andy and his training programs at

Doris 08/30/2014 10:29 AM
Excellent information.

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