This is the third and final article in a three part series reviewing how to properly eat before, during, and after a race, or training ride, for the best possible results. Art’s Cyclery sat down with Cherie Moore, a local nutritionist and avid cyclist, to help us in this endeavor. Cherie Moore has her Bachelors in Exercise Physiology & Nutrition, her Masters in Wellness and Nutrition, and she is also a past record holder of the Race Across America.
(Ride Nutrition: Part 3 of 3)
By now you have probably heard of the magic nutrition recovery window. That special 30 minute block of time right after a workout where you feel all tingly from what you’ve just accomplished. In addition to clicking your heels in delight, if you can still lift your legs that is, you should be utilizing this time to eat and drink the right types of nutrition for optimal recovery. But did you know there are actually two recovery windows? In addition to the 30 minute window immediately following a workout, you should also be ingesting a substantial meal between one and two hours after, targeting specific essential nutrients. In this article I will outline what you should eat and drink during each of these recovery windows and how doing so will help your body recover efficiently and get back to riding as soon as possible.
Why do I need to eat after a ride?
While you exercise your body engages in catabolism. Catabolism is defined as the “breaking down in living organisms of more complex substance into simpler ones, with the release of energy” (Merriam-Webster, Medical). Basically your body begins to eat itself, using up glycogen stores and breaking down muscle proteins to give you the energy to push yourself up that climb or sprint for the finish line. If you think of your body as a pantry, your body is like a hungry teenager that burns through all of your precious Cheetos faster than you can grab a new bag.
After you exercise, your body switches more towards anabolism. Anabolism is defined as “the constructive part of metabolism concerned especially with macromolecular synthesis” (Merriam-Webster, Medical). A macromolecule is a large complex molecule, such as proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids that assist your body in replacing damaged weaker muscle fibers with newer, stronger fibers. Basically our bodies need proper nutrition after working out to ensure that our muscles are rebuilt and repaired as efficiently as possible and that our glycogen stores, depleted from catabolism, are replenished. It is your duty to restock the shelves of your body’s “pantry” with glycogen as fast as possible before it starts breaking down muscle to feed itself.
Luckily for us, our bodies are fairly smart. When you give your body the right nutrition after a ride, it will automatically switch from these catabolic processes to anabolism. This is why it is so important to time nutrition properly, you have to flip the switch as fast as possible.
Ok I’m Sold. What do I need to eat and when?
Within 30 Minutes After Your Ride
The half an hour right after exercise is when your body can utilize carbohydrates the best and the optimal time to replenish glycogen stores. You have two options at this point with similar results. You can either consume 1.2 to 1.5 grams of carbohydrate per kg of bodyweight or, if you have issues consuming this much right after exercise, you can ingest slightly less carbohydrates but supplement with protein in a 4:1 ratio. You will want to consume approximately 0.2-0.4g/kg of protein and around 0.8g/kg of carbohydrates. If this sounds a little confusing, don’t worry, we have some examples of perfect things to eat and/or drink right after a ride.
What to Drink
- A specially formulated recovery drink – Look at the carbohydrate and protein content of these drinks and aim for that ideal 4:1, carbohydrate to protein ratio. A recovery drink has the added bonus of rehydrating you and many include electrolytes to help you retain this water.
- Fluid Recovery Drink – Fluid Recovery has very close to this perfect ratio with 25g of carbs and 7g of protein. I recommend the chocolate wave flavor.
- A real food smoothie – A smoothie is a great way to ingest the carbohydrates and protein you need. Almond milk, some type of nut butter, and chia and flax seeds are always a great base for any smoothie for the added omega-3 and fiber. On top of this you can add fruit, berries, vegetables and a scoop of Hammer Whey Protein for a nutritious recovery drink with that perfect ratio.
What to Eat
- A peanut butter/jam sandwich – This simple dish has the perfect ratio for a post-race choice (non-hydrogenated nut butter, fruit-sweetened jam, on whole wheat bread is most healthful).
- A bagel with almond butter and sliced banana – Another dish with the high-complex carb/moderate protein ratio that should hold you over until a more substantial meal can be eaten. Muscle glycogen stores will be replaced more fully by eating a small meal like this immediately after riding.
Between 30 minutes and One Hour After Your Ride*
*This is the space in between your two recovery windows, your window frame if you will. It is not so much about nutrition as it is about taking care of your body and helping it to digest what you’ve already given it.
Things to do:
- Hydrate more! – Grab an electrolyte drink to replenish some of that water and salt that your body expended during exercise. The electrolytes help your body rehydrate much better than pure water alone. Try Fluid Performance for the subtle yet delicious flavor and 200mg of sodium.
- Stretch – Take this time to give your muscles some TLC and stretch them out.
- Ice – Ice those sore muscles! Proper nutrition reduces inflammation but ice does wonders as well.
- Shower – Taking a shower with alternating warm and cold water can do wonders to promote blood flow and flush out lactic acid and other metabolic build up.
Between One and Two Hours After Your Ride (And Beyond!)
Now you get to eat again! Anabolic process can continue to occur up to 24 hours after you workout and your body will continue to need proper refueling to rebuild those damaged muscles. Try to eat a substantial meal between one and two hours after your race and shoot for 8 to 10 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram within the 24 hours following your event.
What to Eat
- Meal #1 – Baked Tofu and Sliced Avocado on Wheat Bread
- Meal #2 – Black Bean, Sweet Potato Burritos with Kale Salad
If you need some more ideas, the Skratch Labs Feed Zone Cookbook has 150 lunch, dinner, breakfast, and portable food recipes, including 104 gluten-free and vegetarian alternatives.