What to eat after cycling?3 April 2023
Just back from a cycling race or a leisurely ride? Whatever kind of ride you prefer, it’s important to stay well-nourished and support your body with the right nutrients after a trip out on your bike. However, it’s not always easy to know what is the right food and drink to have. Plus, you probably don’t have the energy right after your ride to be thinking about cooking complicated meals - you want something quick, simple and highly nutritious.
Below, we take you through the ins and outs of post ride nutrition, including food and drink ideas to take the hassle out of refuelling your body.
Why is it important to refuel after a ride?
Whether it’s a casual ride along a local track or an intense, high-powered race on road or trail, cycling burns more energy than you’d typically use in a period of non-intense activity. Fuelling your body during your bike ride can help you to go further and ride longer, but it doesn’t mean you won’t need to refuel afterwards. When you get off your bike, you’ll find your energy stores feel depleted - this can make your limbs feel heavy and sluggish. To rectify this, you need to consume more energy.
As well as giving you the boost you need to tackle the rest of your tasks for the day, refuelling helps your body to complete its own to-do list. As you cycle, your muscles are put under a lot of stress which can cause minor tears and aches. Refuelling gives your body the energy it needs to make those repairs. But it’s not just about restoring your energy levels - it’s also about supplying your body with the right nutrients, including protein and fats, to make the repairs and help you grow stronger and faster. Getting it just right can lead to better cycling performance in the long run. On top of that, there’s the other aspect of nutrition to consider: hydration. Chances are you’ve sweated a lot during your ride, and now is the time to drink up to avoid dehydration.
If this all sounds complicated, don’t worry. Lighter, leisurely rides often don’t require specific plans for post-ride recovery eating, so you’re usually fine to eat what you feel like so long as you make sure to stay hydrated. However, for longer, more intense rides, especially races, you could find yourself flagging if you fail to properly refuel. Fortunately, we’re here to help you decide what to eat for the best results.
What should I eat after cycling?
Within half an hour or so of finishing your ride, you should begin your post-ride recovery nutrition with a light meal or snack. Ideally, this should contain carbohydrates and protein - the former to give you energy and the latter to start muscle repair and growth. Simple meals to try could be beans on toast, or a bowl of cereal with a protein bar on the side.
Then, within around two hours of your ride ending, you should have something more substantial. Some riders prefer to have a ‘proper’ meal at this point, whereas others prefer eating little and often. Either way, it should add up to a regular-sized meal. If you’re having it all in one, consider something protein-rich like chicken or eggs paired with a high-carb food like pasta or rice, plus a bit of fat. If you’re eating in stops and starts, you can either split a larger meal up into smaller portions, or carry on with smaller meals.
What to drink after cycling?
As we’ve mentioned, hydration is key, and in many cases you can’t go far wrong with water. As a general rule, you’ll want to drink half a litre of water for every half kilo of weight you’ve lost in sweat throughout the ride. To find this number, weigh yourself before and after the race to find the difference.
Additionally, you may want to drink something with added nutrients, such as an electrolyte-rich sports drink. These replenish the electrolytes you’ve lost in your sweat, such as sodium, potassium and calcium, which play vital roles in your body. These can also be restored via the foods you eat, but an electrolyte drink can be a great way to quickly up your nutrients while quenching your post-ride thirst.
Should I drink a protein shake after cycling?
It’s generally accepted that recovery begins in the first half an hour after exercise, which means you should make post-ride nutrition a priority. However, some cyclists find that it can be hard to stomach a full meal or snack so soon after their ride, which can sometimes lead to skipping nutrition until later in the post-ride window. Although some thoughtful nutrition is better than none, missing out on that first energy boost can hamstring your recovery - but what’s the solution?
Well, if something solid is too much to handle, opt for a liquid meal instead. Protein shakes, soups or electrolyte drinks can be a great way to kickstart your recovery in the first half an hour after you come off the saddle. As well as being nutritionally beneficial, they’re also easier to consume - no cutlery required. You can have your bottle mounted in a water bottle cage on your bike for ease of access in the aftermath of the ride, and you might also find a cool drink such as a protein shake or electrolyte mixture to be quite refreshing, particularly in the hot summer months.