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Coach's Column with Alison Dunlap

Posted by: Shannon Boffeli |January 19, 2011 9:42 AM

Alison Dunlap is a certified Level II USAC Coach and has been working with athletes for five years. She runs a coaching business called Alison Dunlap Coaching, and has mountain bike camps in Moab, UT through the Alison Dunlap Adventure Camps. Alison is also a two-time Olympian, MTB World Champion, and 13-time National Champion. 

Question: I do a lot of races that require me to drive long distances after I race. What is the best way to maximize my recovery when I have to get in the car and drive 4-6 hours after my race?

Answer: Racing is hard enough, but to sit in a car or get on a plane immediately after your event can put a wrench in your recovery plans and wreak havoc on your legs. Fortunately there are a few simple things you can do to improve your bodyís ability to recover before jumping in a car for the long drive home.

As soon as you cross the finish line you should head straight for your car. The temptation to stop and talk with friends, family, and your fellow racers is strong, but youíve got some muscles to take care off. At your car you should immediately change clothes and put on a dry jog bra, undershirt, and cycling shorts. Even on a warm day, hanging out in wet sweaty race clothes can create an uncomfortable chill. 

After you are warm and dry your next task is to have a recovery drink. A recovery drink is a high carbohydrate/protein drink mix that will help get needed carbohydrates to your fatigued muscles. Most of the good recovery drinks have a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. Protein has been shown to increase the absorption of carbohydrates. The recovery drink needs to be consumed within 30 minutes of finishing your race. This is SUPER important. When you race, your body releases an enzyme that facilitates the uptake of glucose from the blood into your muscles where it is used for muscle contraction. This enzyme is extremely active during your race and then starts to dissipate about 30 minutes post exercise. If you can get a large amount of carbohydrates into your body while this enzyme is still "hotĒ, you will get more carbohydrates to your muscles faster. The more carbohydrates your muscles get, the faster they will recover. Research shows that having a recovery drink as soon as you finish your race is more effective than waiting two hours and then having a large meal.

Once you have changed into dry clothes and youíve got your recovery drink in hand, head back out on the bike for a cool down. I know this is the last thing you want to do after a race, but this can be one of the best things you do for your legs. A light spin will increase blood flow to your muscles which helps flush out the byproducts of metabolism, lactate being one of them. 20-30min is the minimum for a good cool down. 

The last thing youíll want to do before getting in the car is a 10-minute stretch. After your cool down, the muscles are nice and warm and supple which is the perfect time to stretch. Focus on the major muscle groups; quads, hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors, IT bands, and calves. If your stomach isnít too upset you could also eat some kind of solid food; bagel, energy bar, fruit etc.

Now youíre ready to stuff yourself into your car for the long drive home. Youíve done the best you can to jump start your recovery, but I guarantee you will still feel pretty lousy when you get out of the car in a few hours. Thatís just what happens after a hard race. It takes about 24-36hrs for your muscle glycogen stores to be fully replenished. Keep eating and drinking on the drive home! By morning youíll still be tired, but your legs will feel a heck of a lot better. 

Good luck and happy trails!




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