Just give me some food
Some of us have been there, (I know I have) just finished with a long ride, raiding the pantry, refrigerator, anything to satisfy that deep hunger caused from an extended stretch in the saddle. While it is no doubt important to refuel our bodies after a long ride, some foods are better than others at making sure we get what our bodies really need. Another important point to remember for recovery is timing. Certain foods eaten at certain times post ride is important to help us recover quickly, and more completely. I personally have in the past planned my rides to end at a restaurant or pub to get food as soon as I was done riding. This is better than having nothing at all, but I know now from the research I have done on this article, that there are healthier ways to recover my body after a ride.
Replenishment is important
So, what happens in our bodies during and after a long ride? Exercising requires energy. This energy comes from the stores we have built up between rides. These energy stores come directly from the food we eat. Glycogen is the number one energy source we use for exercise. In our body, more specifically our liver, and blood stream, we have a standing store of glycogen. Once this store is depleted our body begins to metabolize the glycogen we have stored in our muscles. This is fine, and a natural process, but if we do not replenish these stores when we’re finished, our body will search for places to replenish them on its own, the most readily available source being the muscles themselves. So many complex reactions are happening in our bodies when we call on it for strenuous exercise. Have no fear, because we can stop this self-cannibalization with properly timed intake of specific nutrients before during and after exercise.
Recovery. Not just for after the ride
In the past, I personally have kept my post ride recovery foods for just that, post ride. In researching for this article I have learned that proper recovery begins with prevention, and pre-fueling our bodies with the right ratio of nutrients. This is about gradually adding more carbohydrates to the meals we eat leading up to our big cycling event. It is a good thing to eat complex carbohydrates that are digested slowly in these meals, but rapid absorbable carbohydrates just before a ride. I don’t know about you, but I have bonked on a ride, and this isn’t fun at all. (Bonk- a condition caused by the depletion of glycogen stores in the liver and muscles, which manifests itself by sudden fatigue and loss of energy). More severe examples of the dreaded bonk, or hitting the wall, have been known to render an athlete unable to stand on their own, episodes of dizziness, or even having hallucinations. Getting to the point of hitting the wall, can be avoided by proper muscle nutrition. Proper muscle nutrition comes from a balance between foods eaten, and when. Knowing this it also makes sense to have some fuel with us on our ride, this is best served as a mixture of carbohydrates and proteins, and many energy bars and supplements have this corner of the market. I personally enjoy having real foods when I can, and raisins hold their own for me against most of these premade bars, and gels. Whatever your fuel of choice, It’s just important to have something to prevent the tank from becoming empty.
In my research for this article, I was astonished to discover that timing of foods ingested for recovery is just as important as the food eaten. Our bodies crave different nutrients at different times, and as such it is important that we know a little about what our body is doing during each of these times. Before our ride, most of us know that it is important to have enough carbohydrates to sustain our energy level throughout. As I have said complex carbs with high protein in the meals leading up to the event, and rapid absorbing carbohydrates immediately before. During our ride, our body is using the glycogen as fast as we can fuel it. In this case we have to modify the carb to protein ratio so that the amino acids from the protein can speed up the absorption of carbohydrates, and can synthesize usable protein for energy.
What exactly is going on?
A very comprehensive study is published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. This study goes into great detail about the specific nutrients needed before during, and after exercise. Feel free to click and enjoy the wealth of info, but what it boils down to are two basic facts. First, the energy we need for any type of activity comes from glucose. The most readily available source of glucose in our bodies comes from the stored glycogen. We store the glycogen from carbohydrates consumed. Secondly, protein needs to be consumed in proper proportions for energy production, and recovery (protein synthesis). The study outlines specific timing details for pre, during, and post exercise consumption. The purpose of this article however is to give an outline of the foods that fall into the post exercise refuel ratio.
Ratio? What ratio?
Simply put a combination of carbohydrates and protein in a 3 or 4:1 ratio has been proven to restore, and build the glycogen stores and amino acids used most completely before, during, and after exercise(in our case cycling). This ratio is almost like a magic number, there are a few foods that align with this ratio extremely well, and here are a few popular favorites.
Other things to consider (It’s a matter of taste)
The ratio of carbohydrates to protein is not the only thing we have to think about here. Taste is first and foremost, if you won’t eat it, then what good is it? There are a number of beneficial ingredients we can add to our recovery foods that will not only help it to taste better, but lend a hand in the recovery process. Spices, we all know add flavor to a dish. They also can have restorative, and healing properties. Berries added to a smoothie, or yogurt add anti-oxidants and their beneficial properties. Honey can have anti-bacterial properties, and is easily digested for a hit of beneficial carbohydrates. Recovery food sometimes feels like a reward, and as such it should taste rewarding.
- Chocolate Milk
Recently chocolate milk has been garnering a fair amount of limelight in the post workout recovery lineup. This popularity is not undeserved. Not only does it have a carbohydrate to protein ratio of almost exactly 4:1, chocolate mild provides us with the simple sugars our body craves immediately post work out. Some of us may choose to make our own chocolate milk with low fat milk, natural cocoa powder, and a sweetener of our choice. This gives the milk mixologist freedom to make their chocolate beverage suit their tastes exactly.
I noticed something while preparing black beans for chili the other day. These tasty bundles of protein and carbohydrates themselves come naturally with the 4:1 ratio, and can be mixed with rice, and a lean protein for a sustaining recovery meal. While not so effective immediately post ride, 30-45 minutes after this meal is what our body needs to begin the rebuilding process.
Granted smoothies are not one specific type of food, but they shouldn’t go unmentioned. A smoothie can be tailored for most any individual purpose, and to anyone’s taste. A smoothie can be made to contain the proper ratio of carbs, and proteins, and depending what it is made with can be helpful in cooling down the body immediately post workout. A smoothie can be a great way to get those rapid release carbs pre-ride as well. Any number of things can be thrown into a smoothie; bananas, fresh berries (high in antioxidants), and yogurt just to name a few.
- Turmeric, and Ginger
The anti-inflammatory properties in these roots have long been touted in their pain relieving and sustaining properties. The natural way that the active component in these roots (Curcumin) does not alter the natural way our body uses inflammation in the healing process, but helps it to be relieved more quickly, and effectively.
- Lean Protein
This is a matter of personal preference, and is no doubt hotly debated. However in our recovery repertoire it is imperative that we have a high quality lean protein to replenish the expended energy from strenuous exercise. Whether you prefer chicken, turkey, or tofu, high quality protein is a must! Protein, and the amino acids it provides are the building blocks of life, and in order to maintain a high level of energy we must include it in our meals. Not only post exercise, but before and during as well.
Bringing it all together
Nutrition is what keeps us athletes fueled for the various paths we walk, roads we run, and trails we ride. By keeping in mind the proper ratio of carbohydrates to protein we can be sure to maintain high energy levels throughout any of the activities that we find ourselves passionate about. The specific foods we eat are highly personal, and can widely vary from person to person especially when we encounter hurdles such as allergies, and specific dietary requirements. Even when we take these potential pitfalls into consideration, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find foods that taste good, and fuel us properly with the nutritive requirements that our body needs to recover properly after strenuous exercise.