My client, Ben, is 69 and rides about 3,000 miles a year. He’s training to do a 12-hour race in June 2019. He also rides his age on his birthday. Later this month his goal is to ride 70 miles (113 km) in less than 4:30 hours (15.6 mph / 9 km/h).
I divided his training into three phases:
- Base Training phase to build his endurance to ride 70 miles. In mid-June he rode 43 miles in 3:20. Older riders like Ben build endurance best if they do progressively longer rides every other week. Since June he has ramped up to an 82-mile (132 km) ride in six hours (13.7 mph / 22 km/h) in August.After a week’s recovery break we tested his fitness by repeating his 20-minute time trial. From mid-June he had increased his speed from 18.5 mph (29.8 km/h) to 19.3 mph (31.1 km/h) and his anaerobic threshold had gone up from 143 bpm to 148 bpm.
- Peaking and Intensity phase to boost his cruising speed to 15.6 mph. He now does one intensity ride a week. Every other week he does a progressively longer tempo ride at race pace (15.6 mph) starting with a 20-mile (32 km) ride. The alternate weeks he does progressively longer and faster endurance rides starting with a 50-mile (80-km) ride at 14.5 mph (23.3 km/h). He will finish the peaking next week.
- Tapering phase for 10 days during which he’ll do just a few easy rides.
He recently asked me, “How do you handle recovery drinks/meals? It seems chocolate milk is a favorite but there must be other food and drink and I’m curious as to what triggers the need for recovery products. I’m guessing a recovery ride would not, since it’s a light exercise compared to the intensity training rides?”
Best Recovery Food and Drink
During a ride, you’re burning fuel just like driving a car. You’re using macronutrients: water, glycogen (from carbs) and fat (body fat or from your diet). The longer and/or harder the ride the more glycogen you deplete. By consuming water and carbs during the ride you don’t deplete as much — it’s like refilling your gas tank. You can start your recovery by drinking and eating everything you have on your bike toward the end of the ride.
Drink what you like. Regular and chocolate milk both provide lots of calories. Fruit juices are also a great source of carbs as well as potassium; however, they are also acidic, which could irritate the stomach. Vegetable juices such as V-8 provide carbs and plenty of sodium. You could make a smoothie by combining milk and some fruit in a blender. Soft drinks provide fluid and calories; however, they don’t provide vitamins or minerals like the previous drinks. If you drink plain water, then eat a carbohydrate-rich snack and something salty.
Beer is not a good recovery drink, although it does contain some carbohydrate. Primarily you are substituting empty calories from alcohol for useful calories from carbohydrate.
You should start eating as soon as you can digest food after getting off the bike. The most rapid glycogen synthesis takes place 60-90 minutes after getting off the bike. Eating in this window is critical for riders working out twice a day or doing very long rides (for example, a multi-day tour) when there is limited time after a ride to recover for the next ride. For riders with 24-hours recovery time between rides, it’s less important to consume carbohydrate immediately after getting off the bike as long as you eat enough carbohydrate for the rest of the day.
Nancy Clark and Jenny Hegmann in The Cyclist’s Food Guide, 2nd ed. recommend eating 0.5 gm of carbohydrate / lb. of body weight (1 gm / kg) each hour after getting off bike until you can eat a regular meal. For example, if you weight 150 lbs., you should consume 75 gm of carbohydrate, which equals 300 calories, per hour. (A 75 kg rider would also eat about 75 gm of carbohydrate.) Note that you should eat this many calories per hour of carbohydrate, not just this many calories of anything. For example, I like pretzels; however, a serving totaling 300 calories has only 240 calories of carbohydrate; many energy bars are similar.
Consuming protein does not increase the rate of glycogen synthesis. You do need some protein for muscle repair; however, most riders get enough protein in their in daily diets.
Sodium is the main electrolyte in sweat. How much sodium you lose in sweat varies depending on your genetics, diet, fitness, heat acclimatization, gender and other factors.
Processed foods at the store as well as restaurant meals are generally high in sodium. Unless you shop carefully you are probably getting enough sodium or maybe even too much in your daily diet. If you normally watch your sodium intake very carefully, then eat a salty snack after a sweaty ride. You don’t need supplements; which are no better than salty food.
Although sports nutrition companies make and advertise special drinks for recovery, they aren’t more effective than chocolate milk or a smoothie. Similarly, special recovery foods aren’t more effective than fruit, pretzels, crackers, etc. Commercial products are significantly more expensive than regular food and often don’t taste as good!
My bundle of eArticles The Best of Coach Hughes includes six directly relevant eArticles:
- How to Become a Better Cyclist: The Six Success Factors – A new eArticle totaling 36 pages.
- Your Best Season Ever, Part 1: A 32-page eArticle on how to plan your own training phases and get the most out of your training. Published in 2015.
- Intensity Training 2016: A 41-page eArticle with the latest information on how to use perceived exertion, a heart rate monitor and a power meter to maximize training effectiveness.
- Optimal Recovery for Improved Performance: A 16-page eArticle with 10 different recovery techniques illustrated with 14 photos. Published in 2011.
- Eat & Drink Like the Pros: A 15-page eArticle of nutritional insights from pro cycling teams including what they eat and drink to recover. It contains a dozen recipes for you to make your own food and sports drinks. Published in 2011.
The 140-page bundle The Best of Coach Hughes is available at the discounted price of $15.96 (this is a special 5-for-the-price-of-4 discount) and only $13.57 for premium members.
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written over 40 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John’s full bio.