What to eat and drink to recover from hard rides

Feed your body the right thing at the right time

male cyclist standing on stone looking over countryside

It’s not just what you eat and drink after a tough ride but when you consume it that affects your subsequent performance.

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And don’t believe that the ‘no pain, no gain’ mantra of gym junkies is the only way to get fitter and faster – minimise aches and pains and enhance your results by refuelling your muscles correctly and stimulating repair, recovery and fitness adaptations.

15 minutes: hydration

With endurance cycling, it’s critical to kickstart recovery as soon as your ride is over. Your first priority is to replace lost fluid. The rule of thumb is to drink a couple of glasses of water for every pound of weight lost.

In addition, a sports recovery drink is an effective way to start replenishing muscle glycogen. Look for one with carbs and protein to promote muscle growth and reduce breakdown.

30 minutes: carbs and proteins

After rehydration, you need to start replenishing energy stores. Studies show that muscles are most receptive to rebuilding glycogen reserves within the first 30 minutes after exercise. If you’ve driven to an event, leave a snack in the car for after your ride – that way you won’t be tempted by the ‘Golden Arches’ on the way home.

Don’t just focus on carbs either, choose snacks containing roughly 1g of protein for every 4g of carbs. Many sports drinks are designed specifically for recovery and include additional nutrients such as glutamine and branched chain amino acids as well. Power or health bars containing nuts, seeds and dried fruit are another option.

While training hard may improve your sense of wellbeing, it can deplete you of important nutrients

Alternatively, have a smoothie with a scoop of whey protein, peanut butter covered bagel and a banana, a bowl of cereal with a scoop of protein powder and raisins, or a pot of cottage cheese and some fruit. If you can’t stomach solid food after a ride, opt for chocolate milk: it’s a good source of protein, carbs and B vitamins.

120 minutes: square meal

Once you’ve showered and dressed, eat something more substantial. This should include some lean protein such as chicken, tuna or tofu in order to repair damaged muscle tissues, along with some complex carbs such as wholegrain pasta, rice, or sweet potato to restore glycogen levels.

Thai-style shredded chicken salad
Make this delicious Thai-style shredded chicken salad using the recipe in the link below
Immediate Media

Ensure your plate is full of fruit and vegetables, too, for restocking on antioxidants such as vitamins A, C, E, zinc, selenium and omega 3s. These will help protect your cells against free radical damage.

Also note that while training hard may improve your sense of wellbeing, it can deplete you of important nutrients (glutamine, electrolytes, antioxidants, essential fats and so on), which lowers your immune function.

Drink berry-rich juices, too: CherryActive is a popular sports recovery drink and contains high levels of flavonoids, specifically anthocyanins, which work to reduce the body’s inflammatory response to intense exercise. Another option is green tea – cold or hot, it’s rich in antioxidants and contains catechins thought to aid fat loss.

Recovery supplements

If you’re still feeling sore or sluggish after fuelling well, try a high quality multivitamin and mineral formula with antioxidants and these key nutrients:

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  • Glutamine – the most abundant amino acid in the blood and skeletal muscles. Depletion leaves the body susceptible to infections and fatigue. Take as a powder mixed with water or juice.
  • Magnesium – an electrolyte and an essential component of more than 300 enzyme reactions in the body. Low levels can contribute to muscle fatigue and soreness. Available as a powder or capsule.
  • Omega 3 fats – these generate anti-inflammatories, so try taking a daily teaspoon of a high quality fish oil.