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The standard recipe for injury recovery is usually six to eight weeks of rest, ice and Advil. But there are steps you can take to minimize lost saddle time and bounce back to become better than before. Here are the key ones.
Easy on the Vitamin I: For most of us, the reflex response to pain is to reach for a bottle of ibuprofen to reduce swelling. Killing pain is fine, says Andrew Pruitt, director of Boulder Center for Sports Medicine in Colorado and author of Andy Pruitt's Medical Guide for Cyclists, but deflating inflammation during the initial stages of an injury may actually delay healing. Anti-inflammatories inhibit enzymes called prostaglandins, which promote circulation to the injured area and increase tissue permeability, so your body's repair-crew cells can come in and clear out the wreckage. For the first 48 hours, use Tylenol, which is purely a pain reliever, says Pruitt, "so you don't suppress the healing process." After that, anti-inflammatories are fine.
Move it: Resting doesn't mean immobilizing yourself in front of the TV for a Surreal Life marathon. Take it easy on the injured body part, but stay in motion to keep blood flowing, which will help you heal faster and maintain fitness. Try swimming, resistance training, rowing, or even riding the trainer.
Eat to heal: You may not be riding, but your body still burns about 10 percent more calories than usual when it's trying to repair an injury. "It's important that you feed your body what it needs to mend," says Liz Applegate, author of Nutrition Basics for Better Performance. She recommends boosting your intake of protein, which builds muscle and soft tissues, to 100 to 120 grams a day. Other essential recovery nutrients: iron, which builds blood, and zinc, to speed wound healing; both are found in lean meat, whole grains and fortified cereals. Vitamins A and C help make new skin and collagen, so stock up to help heal road rash. Finally, if you broke a bone, your body needs extra calcium to bridge the gap. Bump your intake to 1,500mg a day.
Use the one-to-two rule: For each week you couldn't train, spend one to two weeks rebuilding your base before returning to hard riding. So if you were off for three weeks, it could take as many as six before you can tear up the local crit again.
Start en masse, finish solo: During those first weeks back in the saddle, limit group rides, where you'll be tempted to push your pace. If you long for camaraderie, roll out with the group for the first few miles, then spin off to do your own thing when it turns up the heat.
Watch the warning signs: It's natural to feel little niggling twinges when you saddle up for the first few times. But that discomfort should dim as you warm up. Let pain be your guide: If it flares or stubbornly persists, back off. The single most common cause of reinjury is doing too much too soon, Pruitt says. Likewise, as you come back your body may be particularly vulnerable to overtraining. Now is the time to respect rest and easy days.
Root out the cause: If your injury is one of overuse, such as tendonitis, "don't jump right back on the bike without figuring out what went wrong," says Pruitt. Have a professional fitting to ensure your bike is set up to work with your anatomical alignment. Optimum body-to-bike harmony not only prevents chronic aches and pains, but also improves bike handling and performance, which may prevent the more acute injuries that come with hitting the pavement.