Cycling can be a demanding sport, leaving you hurting for days after a ride. If your training schedule, or simply the need to get to work requires you to be on the bike day after day, specialised recovery nutrition may be for you.
One of the most important predictors of prolonged athletic performance is the availability of carbohydrates to skeletal muscle. This means that if you need to be on the bike regularly, the best way to recover is to rapidly increase your body’s store of sugar (1). This information is nothing new, as sports companies have long been producing effective recovery drinks. Whilst these are great at what they do, if you don’t want to outlay for a specialist recovery drink every time you go out for a ride, here’s a few ways to do it on a shoestring budget.
Making your own energy drinks is like your beat up 20-year-old ute; it ain’t pretty, but it’ll do the job.
After carbohydrate replenishment, fluid resuscitation is the most important factor affecting recovery. After intense exercise, you need to consume 150% of the fluid you lost through sweat (2). This means that after intense exercise, you need lots of two things: sugar and water. Luckily, energy drinks are essentially just sugar and water. So why not have a go at making them yourself?
For maximal glycogen replenishment, commencing immediately after a bout of exercise you should consume 1.2 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight per hour, for two to six hours, increasing with the intensity of exercise. The best carbohydrate to use is table sugar, known chemically as sucrose. Sucrose is a combination of two simpler sugars, glucose and fructose. These sugars are metabolized by two different mechanisms in your body, meaning that compared to consuming solely glucose, you can process sucrose at a higher rate (1).
Whilst 1.2 grams is the ideal sugar content to promote maximal recovery, what is fastest and what is best for you are often two different things. 1.2 grams of sugar per kilogram of body weight is the absolute maximal rate at which one can metabolize glucose, anything more and you’ll over saturate your enzymes, meaning you won’t have a good time. To minimize any chances of gastric distress, decrease the quantity to 1 gm/kg bm/hr. Your body will thank you, and the difference will only be noticeable if you plan on racing a grand tour.
Sounds to good to be true, right? Well, maybe. But at the moment there is a considerable body of evidence which indicates that drinking chocolate milk directly after exercise may be as effective at promoting skeletal muscle recovery as a standard sports drink (3, 4). There are two main reasons for this. The first of which is that chocolate milk tastes nice. As previously mentioned, one of the most important factors in post exercise recovery is fluid resuscitation (2). After a long period of intense exercise, such as a long ride, the amount of fluid you need to drink to promote optimal recovery is far more than you would normally drink ad libitum (voluntarily). The amount you do drink voluntarily can be drastically increased by resuscitating with a fluid that actually tastes nice.
The second reason chocolate milk is so good at augmenting recovery is that milk consists of an ideal carbohydrate to protein ratio, of 4:1. In and of itself, protein doesn’t really aid recovery. What it does is increase the rate at which you absorb carbohydrates, especially shortly after exercise.
To promote maximal recovery, again, aim for 1gm/kg bm/hr. For a 70 kilogram male, this will mean drinking about 750 mL of chocolate milk post exercise (3).
So if you’d rather indulge your guilty pleasure instead of stomaching a sports drink, give it a go. Use low-fat milk for a lean version.
Of course, specialized recovery drinks will do a better job, but if you want to mix up your routine or just need an excuse to drink some delicious chocolate milk, either of these methods can be good alternatives to help get you back on the bike faster.
1- Gonzalez, J. T., Fuchs, C. J., Betts, J. A., & van Loon, L. J. (2017). Glucose Plus Fructose Ingestion for Post-Exercise Recovery—Greater than the Sum of Its Parts? Nutrients, 9(4), 344.
2 – Burke, L. M. (1997). Nutrition for post-exercise recovery. Australian journal of science and medicine in sport, 29(1), 3-10.
3 – Karp, J. R., Johnston, J. D., Tecklenburg, S., Mickleborough, T. D., Fly, A. D., & Stager, J. M. (2006). Chocolate milk as a post-exercise recovery aid. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 16(1), 78-91.
4 – Lunn, W. R., Pasiakos, S. M., Colletto, M. R., Karfonta, K. E., Carbone, J. W., Anderson, J. M., & Rodriguez, N. R. (2012). Chocolate milk and endurance exercise recovery: protein balance, glycogen, and performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 44(4), 682-91.