A long ride can be tremendously satisfying, not least because you often get to see some wonderful things, but also because you know that your efforts will have taken you a step further along your path to a stronger, fitter version of you.
However, your body needs to recover in order for you to experience the benefit of all that effort. How long it’ll take to recover depends on you.
A long ride will take it out of you. By “it” we mean any scrap of protein you had spare, a few days worth of calories and a few pints of water. So, in order to get the recovery under way you need to start replacing those things straight away.
Chances are you won’t feel like a huge meal straight after a long ride, but that’s ok. Your first priority should be protein to start repairing the muscles you’ll have damaged on your ride.
Some form of animal protein would be best, whether that be in the form of eggs, meat, milk or a protein shake. How much protein you need will depend on your weight, but aim for around 20g and upwards. If you are vegetarian or vegan, you’ll find nuts and pulses a good alternative. You can also get protein powder derived from pea, soy, and hemp from places like Holland and Barrett.
Next we need to look at getting some carbohydrate into your system to start replenishing your glycogen stores. A banana or two would be good here as it isn’t going to spike your insulin levels too high and contains a great deal of nutrition, as well as the energy you need.
Finally, drink water! Refill your bidon of water and start working your way through it over the next few hours.
Eating whilst riding
Of course, you need to eat regularly whilst out riding, otherwise you will deplete your glycogen stores and ultimately, bonk. However, whilst things like gels are marketed at us cyclists, there is often no real need to resort to them if you pick your food wisely.
On a long ride such as an Audax your world is often your oyster –you can find all sorts of wonders at petrol stations and cafes, but the general rule is, you don’t have to wait until you get home to eat protein and start the recovery process, so pick foods that have protein and carbohydrates in them. If you are doing a closed road sportive like the Velothon your options may be more limited, but you can get quite a lot of food in your jersey pockets.
Flapjacks & granola bars are ideal. They are cheap to buy, or even make at home and provide protein and energy. A few supermarkets sell tray bakes for about £1.50 that should last you much of the day, portioned up, wrapped and stuffed in your jersey pockets.
Wine gums, believe it or not, also contain a surprising amount of protein. Of course, there are also nuts, scotch eggs and meaty snacks to be found at petrol stations…
Your body needs sleep, but especially so after a long ride. Sleep is when your body repairs damaged tissue and much of this happens during REM sleep. Unfortunately, the 8-10 hours you need to sleep are effectively fasted and your body needs protein to provide the stomach with amino acids, so it breaks down muscle –the muscles you are trying to repair. So, get some protein into your system before bed –we’ve found that a mug of hot chocolate is a very pleasant way to do this.
A recovery spin?
The following day, if you feel up to it and your long ride didn’t result in saddle sores or any other injuries, you could take a gentle spin somewhere. However, if your pulse is still elevated from that big ride, it’s probably worth keeping your feet for a while instead.
If you do go for a spin, keep it short, keep your heart rate low and keep drinking water.
How “long” is a long ride?
We’re not going to draw a line and say anything over a certain distance is a long ride. When we first got back in the saddle after a long break 10km was a long ride, but we know people who can knock out 200km and 400km rides week in, week out.
If a ride is challenging for you, it should be considered a long ride and your body will go through the same recovery process whether you are riding to work for the first time or doing the Brian Chapman Memorial. The only difference is the amount of recovery required.
If you find yourself feeling the effects of over-training, take a few more days rest. You can have too much of a good thing.