How to Heal: Tips for Illness and Injury Recovery

Mountain Biking is an extreme sport.  And, like any activity so taxing on the mind and body, there are inherent risks involved.  Whether from crashes, or the stress that comes with high levels of physical training, injury is all too common.  If you’re performing or competing at an elite level, chances are it’s already happened to you.  And if not, it will.  It can really suck to have to take time off of training and riding to give your body time to heal and recover.  There are other things that can keep you off the bike as well, such as illness, whether acute or prolonged, or a stressful and busy life.  So how do we deal with it?

The key to coping with illness and injury is understanding the importance of balance.  Rest and recovery are just as critical as training when it comes to performance.  But especially when it comes to healing.   Knowing when and how much time you should take off is a difficult skill to master, but an important one.  If you are injured or sick there may be many questions swirling around in your head: “Should I decrease my training, or stop altogether?” “How long do I wait to start again?” “Should I do cross-training for the uninjured muscles?” “Will my fitness suffer?” “What if I have to race?”  To hep unpack some of the confusion and concern, we’ve reached out to some of our Pivot-Competitive Cyclist team Athletes to see how they’ve dealt with previous injuries and illnesses.  We’ve put together their advice to bring you the best tips on how to bounce back more quickly so you can get back to doing what you love.

Catch those ZZZ’s Sleep is priority number one when it comes to healing.  First, it’s important to remember what your end goal is: recovery.  There are many components which make up a successful recovery, and one of these is rest.  Taking the time to just do nothing in order to allow your body to focus all its energy on healing and repairing.  Remember, when you’re sick, you are literally waging a war against internal invaders, and that takes a LOT of energy.  So give yourself a fighting chance!  “I’ve had a couple of colds this winter,” Brennon Peterson says, “If the cold’s bad I will get complete rest and stay off the bike until it starts to get better.”  While all types of rest are beneficial, sleep is the most important.  It is the deepest form of relaxation, turning off all non-essential bodily functions and focusing your energy where it’s needed most.  Important hormones which strengthen the immune system, are released during sleep, such as melatonin, causing white blood cell production to actually increase during sleep.  This allows you to fight off infection more quickly and effectively, decreasing the time you’ll have to spend off the bike.  Ellen Campbell says “Sleep and zinc!” are her simple keys to overcoming illness.

When it comes to injuries, sleep is important as well.  Deep tissue muscle recovery is at its peak during REM sleep–the stage at which production of glycogen and storage of carbohydrates is at its highest.  Both brain and body are actively repairing themselves during the deepest stages of sleep, so mental acuity and decision-making are also improved.  Make the most of your rest time by using it to sleep properly, and you will likely come out of an injury or illness feeling more refreshed, energized and focused.  You’ll be a better athlete because of it!

Acute Care This is most important in the first few days following an injury.  Your goal is to reduce inflammation and jump-start the healing process as soon as possible.  “I’ve sprained both my ankles a couple times,” says Rachel Anders, “and R.I.C.E. works very well (rest, ice, compression, elevate). For my ankle I did a cold/hot treatment [as well].”

If your injury or illness is serious, make sure you consult a doctor and in some cases, you may want to consider seeing a physical therapist.  Medical professionals can help you greatly and will offer tailored advice and knowledge for your specific scenario.

Fuel properly While it’s easy to think about fueling a workout, it’s harder to remember to fuel our rest and recovery.  But this is the most important time to be making sure our body gets what it needs!  It is literally reconstructing itself, so we have to give it the “bricks and mortar” to be able to build a strong and healthy new interior.  Sports nutrition is a massive and complicated monster that we are not even going to try and tackle here, but there are a few basic principles that can help you in recovery.  First key is hydration.  Especially if you are sick.  “Plenty of sleep and water” are crucial for Jacob Sacket in his recovery.  Keeping micronutrients in mind is also important.  We are finely tuned machines, and we need more than just carbs and proteins to repair after an injury.  Rachel and Ellen recommend vitamins and minerals like zinc to help bolster the body’s immune system.  Other beneficial vitamins and minerals include vitamin C, which boosts immune function as well as increasing collagen formation and reducing inflammation to help with injury recovery; B vitamins, which are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, and copper, which works with vitamin C to strengthen connective tissue formation and reduce inflammation.  Eat enough calories, which might seem counterintuitive since you are exercising less, and make sure you are fueling with nutrient dense foods like fruits, vegetables, and nuts to get the essential amino acids and omega-3 fats that your body needs to use these nutrients!  In short, if you treat your body right, it should be back to peak performance in no time!

Don’t be short-sighted It can be difficult to fight the urge to get back on the bike the moment we start feeling just a little bit better.  Don’t do it! “If you’re feeling bad and you know you’re sick, pushing through to do that extra workout is going to cost you a lot more than you’ll gain from it,” Jacob reminds us.  For both injury and illness, Rachel finds that “rest and patience is the most important thing – even when you feel like you’re good to go, give it an extra day just to be sure. Better to be completely healthy than to risk going backwards again.”  Give yourself the extra time you need to make a complete recovery, and even though it feels like your fitness might suffer from taking the extra time off, it is actually the opposite.  More likely, you will come back stronger and refreshed after a short rest.

Rylan Schadegg focuses on the importance of not giving your body “deadlines” or trying to force it to recover faster.  It will all happen in its own time.  “Don’t try and make it better by your next race or some date,” he says, “take the time off right away to make it better.  Find the root cause, and fix it.”  Healing and recovering from injury can be short, but it can also sometimes be a long and frustrating process.  Remember to keep an eye on the bigger picture and focus on the whole process, not just how you are feeling in the present moment.  You want to be healthy, not just functional!

The takeaway?  Just listen to your body!  “No one will know how your body is feeling better than you.” Jacob reminds us.  “There’s a time you can usually tell when it is to the point that you should take a break,” he adds.  Trust your intuition.  Remember, there is a difference between respecting your body’s signals, and just plain laziness.  There is a time and a place to push through a hard training session, and get your lazy butt up off the couch, but it isn’t when you’re trying to recover.  Don’t feel bad for missing workouts if you are genuinely tired or hurting.  “The key is to listen to your body,” says Brennon. “If you are super tired and don’t feel like riding, don’t. You will only delay training even more if you do.”  Pay attention to what it’s trying to tell you, then give it what it needs and get out of its way so it can do its job.  Your body is a fantastic machine and knows how to heal itself, and as long as you take care of it and are kind to it, you can be back on the bike in no time!

So whether or not you are currently suffering from an injury, or merely anticipating flu season, keeping these tips in mind will help you on a road to speedy recovery.

Have you had any experiences with recovery and rest?  What has worked for you?  Let us know down below!

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