Cycling is addictive. Once you get to enjoy it, you’re hooked. If you’ve experienced the liberating feeling cycling gives you for the first time, and you decide to cycle everyday, the question may arise: is cycling everyday good or bad?
Cycling everyday is good when done with proper intensity level and if your body has sufficient time to recover. Competitive cyclists need recovery days given the intensity of their training and races, while more casual cyclists can cycle without taking days off. If you cycle at high intensity levels, recovery days can include short, leisure rides. If you feel over-exerted take a brake, and when in doubt, consult your doctor.
Intensity and duration
One of the most important factors to decide whether you need to take some days off between cycling days is the intensity and duration of your rides.
Both intensity and duration are particular to each person. What’s intense for me, is not even a proper warm-up for an elite cyclist, and what’s a short ride for me may be a long ride for you.
For most people of average fitness riding 10 miles (16 km) at a comfortable 13-15 mph (21-24 km/h) pace everyday is feasible. It’s neither too intense in terms of speed nor too long in terms of duration so they need recovery days.
My personal experience of commuting 10 miles each way (20 miles daily) is that a recovery day or two are very welcome by the end of the week. If I ride to the office only 3-4 days a week, I’m happy to go out for fun weekend rides too. I’m a person of slightly above average fitness, but definitely far from being a pro cyclist.
Professional cyclists train anywhere between 300 – 500 miles per week, sometimes even more depending on the season. There are days they spend 8 hours in the saddle training. Their bodies are used to high intensity and long distances, and they usually take 1 – 2 days or recovery per week.
When you ride or do any physical activity, you damage your muscle tissues. They need time to heal and recover. After riding your bike you feel that your muscles are fatigued. This works the same with cycling as it does with any other type of training. When muscle tissues heal after sustaining damage from training called hypertrophy (source), the body builds them up bigger and stronger than they were before.
If you train intensely or if you have a long and intense commute, introducing rest days is essential for recovery, but it’s not the only way to help your body re-build muscle tissue. Proper nutrition, proper hydration and sufficient sleep are three other important ways.
Nutrition promotes recovery
Proper nourishment includes important vitamins as well as macronutrients.
Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, peppers, broccoli, just to name a few and helps flush lactic acid from muscles. It also helps repair skin tissue, tendons and blood vessels.
Vitamin D is found in fatty fish, liver oils, milk products and even in sunlight. It helps muscle recovery because it promotes the absorption of calcium to build bones and muscles.
Vitamin E is found in olives, avocados, sunflower seeds and almonds, and it helps the body to rid itself of creatin phosphokinase (aka CPK), a protein that is produced during strenous exercise.
Vitamin B not just one vitamin, but rather a group of 8 vitamins, and they are found in legumes, kale, salmon, pomegranates, dairy, whole grains, and they have a singular importance in boosting muscle repair, cell development and protein and carb breakdown in the body.
Vitamin A is found in organ meats, salmon, dairy, pumpkin, carrots and apricots, and it helps recovery by boosting your immune system and promoting the proper functioning of major organs.
Eating the right amount of protein found in lean meats, poultry, fish and dairy products is important for repairing and re-building your muscles. Proteins actively help building muscle, which is why body builders and gym goers often take it in the form of a protein shake.
Having sufficient carbohydrate intake readily available in potatoes, pasta, sugar and many other sources is also important. During your ride your body uses energy stored in your blood in the form of glycogen. Carbs helps re-stock the depleted glycogen levels and they speed up recovery. Experienced riders fuel their ride with energy bars and drinks, which are sources of carbs.
Drinking water helps flushing toxins from the body and it prevents dehydration that can lead to sore muscles and a whole host of problems. If you lose as much as 2% of your body weight in water and you will experience a severe drop in performance, which will get progressively worse if you fail to re-hydrate. At 10% collapse and death become real possibilities.
If you get cramps on your bike during your ride or after riding, they are good indicators of poor hydration.
When you ride your bike you can lose as much as 500 – 1000 ml of water per hour by perspiration. It may feel impressive to lose so much weight, but in reality this is not body weight lost (fat burned), but rather water weight. If you want to ride your bike for weight loss, you need to play the long-term game, and proper hydration is essential to prevent injury and sickness.
During shorter rides (under 60 minutes), you can hydrate with plain water, but if you go for long rides, you should add electrolytes, which are salts that include sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium.
Pour one of these in your water bottle and increase your performance on long rides. They contain essential minerals you should re-stock your body with.
You can do all the things right: eat right, hydrate properly and take days off when needed, but if you don’t get enough sleep all your efforts are in vain. This is the simplest and most underestimated sources of muscle recovery.
Sleep deprivation leads to loss of muscle mass, it hinders muscle recovery and it increases the possibility of muscle injury, not to mention that it can also lead to loss of concentration and thus increase the chances of an accident (source).
Adults need 7 – 8 hours of sleep each night. While this is the simplest trick up your sleeve when it comes to recovery, it’s also the most difficult because it requires discipline. Getting to know yourself and building evening routines to help you go to bed in time are efforts that will go a long way.
When it is beneficial to ride everyday?
If you ride short distances mostly on flat surfaces, riding your bike daily is not going to cause harm to your body. I know elderly people in small towns in Hungary who have been riding their bikes their entire life, and no day goes by without them getting on it. It’s their way of getting around.
There are plenty of people in Amsterdam, Finland and other parts of the world who don’t own a car and their bike is their only way of transportation.
These commuters don’t even need to think about the science of recovery. They don’t ride their bike to train or for fitness, so they go at comfortable paces and usually less than 10 miles per day.
If you want to ride your bike daily and you fall in this bucket, go ahead! You will have plenty of fun and it will do you a lot of good.
When it’s harmful to ride everyday?
Riding your bike everyday at maximum intensity and for extended periods of time without taking any day of rest will do you more harm than good. You can make it worse by not watching your nutrition, hydration and not getting enough sleep.
If you want to get into competitive cycling, you should approach a cycling coach who will advise you on how to train best in order to imporove your speed and endurance. He will give you advice on nutrtion and recovery. Each step will be part of a big plan.
How much is too much?
If you don’t want to become a pro cyclist, but you enjoy riding, the most important thing is to listen to your body. If you feel muscle soreness and loss of performance, it may be an indicator that you need to think about taking a rest day.
How do you know what’s too intense or too much? If you ride at 20+ mph (32+ km/h) for extended periods you know that you’re riding at a high intensity. Also, if you ride 20+ miles (32+ km) per day, you likely need to introduce a rest day each week into your training regime.
You can also have days of active recovery, where you go out for short, slow rides. At the end of these rides you feel more refreshed than you felt before the ride.
Long distance bike commuting daily
You know yourself better than anyone else, but a 20 mile bike commute both ways can be considered long distance for most people. If you have a long bike commute every day and your body craves a day off, listen to your body to prevent injury. Here are two handy ways to reduce the strain of long distance daily commutes.
Drive one day a week: If you feel too fatigued by the end of the week, take a day off during the week. Wednesday or Thursday are good opportunities to take the car or public transport.
Multi-modal transport: If your commute is too long but you still want to enjoy the experience of riding to work, you can combine cycling with other modes of transport. You can either take your bike in your car half way or up to a certain point and ride from there. Other ways are investing in a folding bike, which you can take on public transport. Ride the first and last part of your commute, and take the bus or train in the middle.
Whether you want to bike commute daily, train for a cycling event or just ride your bike everyday, you need to make sure that your body has the necessary time and resources to recover. This may mean introducing days off and if you’re a serious biker, it also means paying attention to the alternative ways that promote recovery.