Cycling Nutrition: Advanced Guide To Recovery
After a hard ride it can be tempting to just open up the fridge and eat everything and anything in sight, but knowing what to eat and when to eat it can help you properly recover from hard activity, helping your body repair itself and replenishing depleted energy stores.
Your Muscles While Riding
During the first hour of a long ride, your muscles deplete their natural energy stores and begin to look elsewhere for fuel. After about two hours, your muscles will begin to burn glucose from your blood, and eventually they will begin to break down muscle proteins for energy, which leads to that feeling of soreness we all know so well. Recovering properly means replenishing these diminished energy stores and giving your muscles the necessary nutrients to quickly rebuild themselves.
Replenishing Glycogen & Repairing Muscle Damage
After the end of a long ride or a shorter, high intensity effort, you need to replenish your muscle’s glycogen stores as quickly as possible. Time is of the essence, since your body is the most receptive to converting carbohydrates to glycogen within the first 30-60 minutes after you stop exercising. Aside from replenishing your body’s fuel stores, you also need to think about repairing muscle damage. "Muscle damage" may make it sound like you’ve pushed things too hard, but muscle breakdown is actually an important and natural part of fitness building. Breaking down muscle during physical activity allows your body to build them back up and make them stronger than before—but to allow your body to do this you need to provide your muscles with plenty of carbs and protein. And, once again, the optimal time to do this is within the first 30-60 minutes after a workout.
Since a full meal may not be ready and waiting for you within this window, it’s generally a good idea to ensure that you always have some recovery drinks and bars on hand. These are a convenient and effective way to the ideal mix of carbs and protein (ideally, it should be a ratio of 3-4 grams of carbohydrates to each gram of protein) that your body needs to jump start the recovery process and help your body begin to rebuild its muscles and energy stores.
If it looks like you won’t be having a normal meal within the following hour of eating the first recovery meal, repeat the 150-250 calorie meal around 60 min after the first and then try to get back into your normal routine. It’s also important to point out that proper recovery isn’t just about nutrition the hour after you ride. In addition to good nutrition, getting plenty of sleep is also vital to allowing your body to adapt. While glycogen replenishment and muscle repair can start 30 min after riding, many more of the base level adaptations occur while you sleep, so always try to get your eight hours if can. As with any diet or exercise plan these are just basic guide lines. Everyone is different and you should always consult with a professional prior to starting a new workout routine or diet.
Important Note: This guide provides a basic overview of cycling related hydration and nutrition, but should not be considered exhaustive. If cycling is a major part of your lifestyle, or if you are dealing with a particular health issue, we highly recommend that you seek out a qualified sports nutritionist. (Our lawyers made us say that, but it's actually good advice)