If you’ve successfully completed at least a few long bike rides (or read our recent post on nutrition for cycling), you already know that eating during the ride is not really optional. If you’ve been riding a long time, you almost certainly know what happens if you don’t eat.
Fueling your body immediately after the ride ends is also critical. According to our friend Steve Born at Hammer Nutrition, if you’re looking to maximize your performance – particularly on a multi-day ride like Cycle Oregon – fueling your body at the end of the ride is one of the most important things you can do.
The goal is to replace the glycogen stores in your muscles. There’s a 30-60-minute window at the end of the ride when your body is most receptive to nutrient uptake. This is a tremendous opportunity that should not be frittered away. Before showering, looking for bags or anything else, the wise cyclist tops off the tanks.
During the ride, the fuel of choice is mostly carbs with some protein. After the ride, protein becomes much more important. How much protein? After a ride, a 3 to 1 ratio of carbs to protein (30-60 grams of carbs + 10-20 grams of protein) is ideal. Throughout the entire day, 1.2 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, is what you should aim for. One of the easiest things to do is to eat or drink something designed specifically for recovery. There are many to choose from, Recoverite from Hammer being one example.
If you prefer regular food, go for complex carbs and protein. Pasta, bagels, fruit, eggs, peanut butter (the real kind, not the kind full of corn syrup), chicken or fish are all good choices. Fiber, while a very good thing in general, is not as useful here, as it is not digested quickly or efficiently.
Avoid refined foods, sugar or saturated fats (sadly, there aren’t a lot of times when these are good food choices; just keep thinking “garbage in, garbage out”).
And beer? While beer and wine do play an important role in the enjoyment of the cycling experience, they aren’t the best choice in terms of fuel. If maximizing performance is your goal, it’s best to hold off on drinking until the event is over. Even if you do choose to imbibe, do yourself a favor and consider something else for your recovery fuel.
If you consistently fuel your recovery, your muscles get efficient at restoring glycogen reserves, so you get better and better results over time. This (and only this) is how you can effectively “carbo load.” Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts. Just as you can’t cram for a test at the last minute and expect great results, you can’t increase your glycogen stores in a day. Stuffing yourself full of pasta the night before a ride at the pre-event pasta feed might be fun, but it isn’t going to do you a lick of good from a performance perspective.
Feel like getting (way) deeper into fuel, nutrition and performance? Hammer has an “article” – which is more of a book than anything else – that you can check out online. You can even download it as a PDF and enjoy it on a smartphone or tablet.