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Recovery Tips For Cyclists

Updated on July 1, 2012

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

Fresh yoghurt
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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    • CyclingFitness profile image

      Liam Hallam 5 years ago from Nottingham UK

      Thanks Capon. I've not read the 'comic' for a long time. I used to get rather frustrated with their un-realistic reviews on products but their scientific stuff is usually pretty to the point./. Thanks for your comment

    • capon profile image

      Tony Capon 5 years ago from Upminster, Essex, United Kingdom

      According to Cycling Weekly (UK publication) over the last several weeks, milk is:-

      1. a very good recovery drink; and

      2. counter-intuitively, full fat milk helps regulate one's weight.

    • CyclingFitness profile image

      Liam Hallam 5 years ago from Nottingham UK

      thanks swb64 for your feedback.

      I've just been through every sports nutrition book (Including The Complete Guide To Sports Nutrition by Anita Bean which helped get me through a Sports Science Degree) or endurance sports coaching manual I have at home and I'm afraid none of them state that the cyclists body needs post workout are huge proteins and water post event especially if the cyclist has another days racing the following day.

      When you see riders straight after a Tour De France stage they often are drinking soft drinks like coca cola which offers a high sugar (high GI) drink to get carbohydrate into their systems. Maybe if they followed the post workout diet you suggest they'd be drinking skimmed milk or or bottle of water.

    • swb64 profile image

      swb64 5 years ago from Addingham, UK.

      I have met folks who ride the Tour, asking them what they drink and eat, we have sat at dinners with these chats...

    • CyclingFitness profile image

      Liam Hallam 5 years ago from Nottingham UK

      However as a result of your comments I have adjusted the hub title as maybe you read thinking more on the recovery line.

    • CyclingFitness profile image

      Liam Hallam 5 years ago from Nottingham UK

      Thanks for your comment swb64 however this hub targets post exercise refuelling. Not a generalised fuelling strategy for cyclists. Firstly a tour de france rider will not simply take in huge amounts of protein and water post event. That would lead to a severe state of hypoglycaemia characterised initially by severe headaches.

      As a cyclist the main priority post exercise is carbohydrate needs. There is still a need for protein however in moderate quantities.

      Thank you for your comment however I also beleive your information is wrong

    • swb64 profile image

      swb64 5 years ago from Addingham, UK.

      Its usually carbohydrate intake before and while riding/exercising, within half hour of a long lets say Tour de France stage its proteins that are needed, followed by massage/stretching etc. the carb intake is usually in the mornings, while riding, and in the evenings, huge proteins and water asap after the event. Sorry to sound negative but your info is wrong...