What To Eat After Cycling a Century or Double Century
Cycling a century or double century is a crowning achievement for any cyclist. Completing one means you’ve been training for weeks, if not months. Plus, you just pedaled hard for a good eight hours or more. That feat is worth taking a deep breath and celebrating.
Amid the celebration, though, remember that your work isn’t quite done when you finally hop off the bike. You may be finished pedaling, but you’ve still got something important to tend to: your body.
Knowing what to eat and drink after cycling is a critical part of your physical recovery. And that process starts right away. Our friend and longtime cycling coach, Darryl MacKenzie, offers a few key guidelines to help you refuel after you finish your big ride. Read on to learn more.
The State of Your Body After a Century
Whatever else is going through your mind after enduring century or double century cycling, one thing is certain: You’ll feel it in your body. You might just want to get somewhere quiet and relax. But first, pay attention to what your body needs.
After such a long ride, your body will be significantly depleted in a few key ways:
- You’ll be dehydrated. It's difficult to keep up with how much fluid your body needs when you’re riding non-stop for eight hours or more.
- Your carbohydrate reserves will be low. Like fluids in general, your body will burn through carbs at an alarming rate when pedaling hard.
- Your muscles (especially in your legs) will be stiff and sore. Pedaling works your leg muscles steadily, and they will be loaded with small tears that need time (and the right food) to heal.
All of this means one thing: your body needs some immediate care. Many cyclists know they need to give some attention to their bike after a long ride. It’s due for a good clean-up and routine maintenance to get ready for the next outing. But, in reality, your body’s needs are even more urgent.
“Your bicycle can wait a few days,” says Coach Darryl. “Your body can’t.”
Restore Your Body in That Order
So, before you turn to tuning up your bike or crashing for a long nap, what should you do? Tend to your body in the exact order we discussed above: rehydrating, restoring carbs and repairing muscles.
The first and easiest thing to address is dehydration. And this may be significant—Darryl has lost 6 pounds of mostly water weight while riding a double century. You’ll have a lot of fluids to restore, so drink up!
Curious about what to drink after cycling a century? Water is, of course, essential. But it’s also a good idea to mix in sports drinks at this point, as you would have during the ride. Plus, some studies have shown that carbonated drinks that are high in sodium and other minerals may even help you rehydrate more quickly.
After you rode for about 90 minutes, your body began to run out of carbohydrates to burn for energy. Of course, to keep going for several more hours, you needed to continuously consume sports drinks and solid foods that would provide ongoing carbohydrates. But that need didn’t stop when the ride ended.
Now, you can kill two birds with one stone. Rehydrate and refuel your carb supplies with a steady intake of sugary, carb-filled drinks (along with other carb-filled snacks) after the ride. Don’t think too hard about it — choose the flavors you like best and guzzle away.
“Even if you’re one of those people who doesn’t drink a lot of sugar during and after a ride, you should change your mind,” says Darryl. That sugary intake is essential for restoring your carb supplies quickly.
After cycling a century, your muscles have been “trashed,” as Darryl puts it. To repair them, you’ll need two things. The first is rest. You need at least a day off from riding, if not more, to properly rest your muscles. But here, we’re focused on what to put in your body. And to help your muscles along, you need to consume a lot of protein.
This is a shift in focus. During those last few days leading up to a ride, you needed to avoid protein and focus on carbs. But in those few days after a ride, it’s time to load up on meat, beans, spinach or other protein-rich foods. These foods give your body the essential tools needed to repair those muscle fibers and make them even stronger for future pedaling.
A Good Rule of Thumb: Listen to Your Body
Not sure what to eat after cycling? Besides the above basics, your body will have depleted its stores of several valuable vitamins and minerals, such as sodium, calcium, magnesium and potassium. Although you can’t easily tell which of these is low, Darryl emphasizes that your body knows what it needs. That’s why, after a big workout like century or double century cycling, the most important thing you can do is to pay attention to what your body is telling you.
“If your body has an urge to eat food that you don’t normally eat, listen to your body,” he says, “Eat whatever you want in whatever quantities you want, unless you have a predisposition with regard to abusing food.”
Consider those 24 hours after a century as your chance to treat yourself. Darryl always loads up on his favorite frozen yogurt, complete with a heavy dose of toppings. He craves it, so his body must need something in there. The only caveat he adds is to be careful about alcohol. When you have an empty stomach and a metabolism that’s kicked into overdrive by a long ride, a little alcohol can go a long way.
Once you’ve experienced the joys of that post-century splurge, you might even have the urge to gear up and do another one. And that’s not a bad way to stay motivated.
We’ve looked at what to do right after a century, but what about getting ready for one? Check out our guide on how to prepare for a century to learn more.
Look for more insights from Coach Darryl over at his website.
Photo by Luisa Brimble on Unsplash