Q: Ive talked to several fellow racers about good eating and drinking ideas before a race. Time after time Ive found that a general consensus is to drink a cup of coffee a few hours before the race to help eliminate the body of all waste and toxins from the night before, resulting in a more efficient body for racing. I know that coffee is also a diuretic, speeding up the bodys elimination process, so the question is, does coffee have a positive or negative effect on the body or no substantial effect when youre hammering toward the finish or dragging your sorry ass?
A: This differs from person to person. I ride better if I have no caffeine for four hours before a ride. My heart rate stays lower early in the ride, and I think that I stay hydrated better if I drink water pre-ride. I think that theory about wastes and toxins is, er, all wet, because your kidneys have already filtered your blood of impurities hours before your caffeine intake. The nasties are simply sitting in your bladder for discharge, and you will have to go if you drink lots of plain ol water anyway. In his book Bicycling Medicine, cycling doc, coach and time-trial champ Arnie Baker suggests using caffeine sparingly, if at all, because it can cause cramps and diarrhea. If drinking coffee works for you, go for it, but I think you might be better off with water.
Whats the best way to recover after a hard ride?
There are two parts to a post-ride routine. The first is the cool-down, where you want to decrease the intensity and ride easily for about 15 minutes after you finish a race or a hard ride. This helps the muscles clean out all the lactic acid and waste you produced during the ride.
The second part happens when you get home. This consists of three things: hydration, stretching and eating. Hydrate. How much depends on the ride conditions: was it hot or dry? You should drink at least a liter of water in the two hours after you ride.
Its impossible to drink too much; you may feel bloated of uncomfortable, but it cannot hurt you. I tell the athletes I train to drink a sports drink, which has a good composition and is no problem for digestion. The glucose helps the stomach absorb water faster than drinking just plain water, and it makes it easier for the body to digest the fluid.
Stretch. Dont push hard; its not a workout. You just want to move the muscles with a light intensity and help flush out lactic acid. A little massage can help, too, especially with rollers or hand tools. Dont stretch aggressively hold each stretch for about 10 seconds and dont bounce. You should feel relaxed and have no pain in the muscle.
Eat. Wait 30 minutes so you can get your heart rate down and keep the blood flowing to the muscles to clean them out rather than going to your stomach to digest food. But you shouldnt worry too much about when you eat. Eat easier-to-digest foods like pasta, so your body can turn them into muscle glycogen faster.