You just did a long, hard ride. You walk in the door, park your bike, and, in a mild daze, shuffle into the kitchen. But in your fatigue, making a smart nutritional choice feels as complicated as cooking in the dark.
It doesn’t have to be so hard. In my new book, Fuel Your Ride, I write about conversations with some of the top nutrition experts in exercise science, like Nanci Guest, the lead dietician for the PanAm Games; Stacy Sims, the creator of Osmo Nutrition; and a slew of professional cyclists who’ve been honing their diet plans for years. Here are a few of their top tips for optimal post-ride eating.
Not All Rides Require the Same Recovery Food
Let’s be honest: That hour-long recovery spin doesn’t really merit a post-ride meal. Sure, have a snack if you’re starving, or eat lunch if it’s lunchtime, but be realistic about how much you actually need to eat. Check out our handy online calorie-burn calculator to get a rough idea of how much you energy you used while riding (or look at your power meterfor a more accurate reading).
Don’t Return on an Empty Stomach
If you’re eating properly during your ride, you shouldn’t walk in the door feeling ravenous. Make sure you’re fueling and hydrating as you pedal—you probably won’t be able to eat as much as you’re burning, but you should be able to stave off an end-of-ride bonk. The same goes for drinking: We often mistake thirst for hunger, and dehydration is hard to recover from quickly—chugging right after your ride isn’t the same as drinking regularly while you’re spinning. If you end most rides feeling moody (or ‘hangry’) and completely drained, you might need to eat more while exercising.
Start with Protein
Your window for recovery is actually wider than you might think, says Guest—unless you have another workout later in the day. In that case, starting the recovery-meal process as soon as you walk in the door is the key to being ready for your next adventure. But whether you’re recovering for tonight’s workout or tomorrow’s ride, aim for around 20 grams of protein to help your muscles recover. That doesn’t necessarily mean reaching for the protein powder (though that certainly is an option). Think whole-food protein sources like chicken, eggs, or lentils if you have time for a sit-down meal.
But Beer Doesn’t Count
The idea of post-ride beer sounds super tempting, especially after a long, hot ride, and good news: A recovery beer won’t ruin your hydration. But make no mistake, booze also won’t hydrate you. So limit your booze consumption post-ride, and make sure to chase anything along the hops spectrum with a swig of water.