Best Ways to Refuel After a Hard Cycling Workout

banana toast

You're drenched in sweat, your legs are heavy and you have an epic farmer's tan. You are finally done with your ride and can pack in your bike and call it a day. Or can you? Your body just performed off-the-charts, and now it's time to show it some love. Sadly, a muffin and latte are not going to do it. It is time to refuel.

The reason you have those hard rides is to become a better cyclist. For that same reason you need to refuel properly. You gain fitness during the recovery period as your body adapts to the new levels of stress. Becoming a faster, stronger cyclist means training hard and recovering right. 

There are four factors you should take into consideration for your post-workout meal:

  1. What was the duration and the intensity? Using a heart rate monitor can help you understand how hard your body was working. This will help guide you on how many calories you need to replenish your body. If you did interval training for 30 minutes, you don't need to fuel like you did a 3-hour ride.
  2. What can you stomach? Some cyclists can inhale three tacos before unclipping from their bike. Personally, I need something liquid and light after a hard workout. Make sure you can stomach your post workout meal.
  3. What is accessible? If you know you won't be going back to your own kitchen, make something that is easily transportable. This can be a protein bar, fruit or toast that can go in a plastic bag ready for you to consume post workout.
  4. What do you have planned for tomorrow? The quest for fitness never ends and neither does your training schedule. Your post-workout meal helps you recover for your next ride. This is where the  nutritional composition and timing of the meal is going to be crucial.

Once you take into account those four factors, you should keep these guidelines in mind when refueling. 

What is the best carb to protein ratio?

Be sure you have a 3:1 or 4:1 carb to protein ratio, which simple means, you consume three (or four) parts carbs to one part protein. After a hard ride, you need to replenish your glycogen stores and rebuild muscle. A study conducted in 2014 found that ingestion of protein post workout stimulates muscle protein synthesis and inhibits protein breakdown. So before you decide to indulge in a pastry, get in some quality carbs like rice or sweet potato with a happy helping of protein, like chicken or whey powder.

How much should I eat?

study published in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine recommends a carbohydrate intake of 1.2 to 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight. If you plan on eating a meal with carbohydrates and protein, the same study recommended that 0.8 grams per kilogram for carbs and 0.2 grams per kilogram for protein of body weight.

When should I eat?

All research agrees that the sooner you refuel the better, but the general consensus appears to be within 30 minutes of activity. If getting food within 30 minutes is a challenge, aim to consume something within the first hour. Remember, your body just gave you everything, you can at least give something back, especially if you want to improve your performance over time. 

What should I eat?

Obviously not pastries, candy and a six-pack of beer. However, treating yourself every once and awhile to a post-ride treat is good for the soul. 

A 145-pound/65.7-kilogram woman would need to eat around 52 grams of carbs and around 15 grams of protein, a 3.5:1 ratio based on 0.8g of carbs per kg of body weight. For example:

  • 2 pieces of whole wheat toast (26 grams of carbs) smothered in banana (26 grams of carbs)
  • 5 ounces of no added sugar Greek Yogurt (15 grams of protein)

If that same woman is in a rush or it was a shorter workout, here is a sample to-go meal:

  • 1 cup of overnight oatmeal (27 grams of carbs) in sugar-free cashew milk 
  • Mixed with a 1/2 scoop of whey protein powder (10 grams of protein)
  • Add in 1/2 cup of blueberries (10 grams of carbs)

A 180-pound/81.6-kilogram man would need to eat around 66 grams of carbs and around 21 grams of protein, a 3:1 ratio based on 0.8 grams of crabs per kilogram of body weight could eat the following:

  • 1 1/2 cup of sweet potato (40 grams of carbs), 3 egg whites (11 grams of protein) and 2 slices of turkey bacon (12 grams of protein) in a bowl 
  • 2 pieces of whole wheat toast (26 grams of carbs) smothered in avocado 

If that same man is in a rush or it was a shorter workout, here is a sample to-go meal:

  • 1 whey protein shake in water (20 grams of protein) 
  • 1 bagel (48 grams of carbs) with a 1 tablespoon peanut butter

Remember, when your workout ends, recovery begins, and recovery includes eating to refuel and resting to remain resilient.

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