When does science work?
So what help can one enlist to improve the process of recovery? Of all the recent innovations, compression clothing is one method that has taken off. Although the practice dates back to the 1970s, the recent commercialisation of compression clothing has been wildly successful, particularly in triathlons. Head of marketing for 2XU Mike Martin admits that the cycling market has been harder to penetrate than the triathlon market.
Many top cyclists use the kit for recovery but very few train while wearing it, which the marketing often encourages. Holohan explains: “I can tell the difference in my recovery when I use them and when I don’t, but I never put them on during a session, always afterwards.”
Meanwhile, former world champion and Olympic silver medallist track rider Wendy Houvenaghel completely steers clear of the garments. “I find that it’s quite uncomfortable; I’ve tried it maybe once and didn’t discover any particular benefit from using that.” Matheson is also sceptical. “I don’t think that compression apparel necessarily works that well and if it does I have no idea how.”
But where does the science on compression kit stand? A study by the Australian Institute for Sport in 2010 showed astounding results for the clothing, suggesting that it lowered heart-rate during exercise, decreased swelling during recovery, reduced soreness and improved performance while being worn and during subsequent sessions — so much so that the UCI has banned its use as race clothing.
An area which has also been shown to have significant effect, but which conveniently hasn’t been banned, is nutrition. A well known study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise showed that endurance cyclists were able to cycle 40 per cent longer on a second session with a four-to-one ratio of carbohydrates to protein. Protein and carbohydrate mixtures are a must-have among top cyclists, Wendy Houvenaghel explains: “The protein and carbohydrate drinks that we have soon after racing are definitely beneficial, along with a balanced healthy diet.”