Recovery Tips For Cyclists
How will you recover after your next ride?
Recovery needs for cyclists post exercise.
As a cyclist (or any form of endurance athlete), performing a large volume of training puts immense stress on our energy system. Cyclists main energy sources are fat and carbohydrate and whilst the human body has plentiful fat stores- it’s our carbohydrate supply which has the most correlation with our capacity for exercise and resisting fatigue. Carbohydrate is stored in the form of glycogen within the body and when it runs out an athlete is known to ‘hit the wall’ or bonk.
An endurance athlete must therefore be thinking about the fuel for their next workout from the minute they finish their previous workout.
Factors that affect how long it will take you to refuel your glycogen levels post exercise
- Existing level of your glycogen stores
The more depleted your glycogen levels, the longer it will take you to refuel adequately. Just like it takes longer to fill up your car from empty, the same can be said regarding your glycogen levels.
You burn more of your glycogen stores dependant on the intensity and time you exercise for. High intensity training burns your glycogen away fastest when compared to lower intensity activities. However your length of workout is also a factor and longer workouts therefore require more time to be allowed for refuelling a cyclists' glycogen stores.
- Degree of muscle damage resultant from your previous workout/s.
Muscle damage can delay the rate of glycogen storage. The body prioritises muscle repair and subsequently delays the rate of glycogen storage.
- When and how much carbohydrate you eat after your training session.
The more carbohydrate you eat- the faster your body can replenish your glycogen supplies. Glycogen storage is also optimised through a high carbohydrate diet.
The body also replenishes glycogen at it's fastest during the first two hours post exercise and the rate then gradually slows over the next few hours to a normal rate. This is due to increases in blood insulin levels post workout and an improvement in cell membrane permeability.
- Your previous training experience and fitness level.
As with your fitness improving over time your ability to refuel post-exercise improves over time too. Beginners take much longer to replenish their glycogen stores than an experienced cyclist. Glycogen storage capacity also increases over time which can be very advantageous to endurance sports performance allowing you to work at the same carbohydrate needs for longer.
What should you eat after a cycling workout?
Once you finish your workout your aim should be to get carbohydrate into your bloodstream quickly and effectively. Consider foods with a moderate to high Glycaemic Index (GI) which contain carbohydrate that will be absorbed into the bloodstream quickly.
It is also a good idea to choose post exercise meal options which feature protein as well as carbohydrate which helps with the muscle's recovery from exercise.
Aim to eat at least relatively high GI snack post workout if it is not possible to have access to a meal. Examples of snacks you could choose are featured below.
Examples of great post- workout high GI snacks
A bowl of cereal with milk
A fruit smoothie
Jacket potatoe with beans
A sandwich with a lean protein source
Meal replacement (recovery shake)
Looking for more sports nutritional knowledge
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