What to Do to Do Well on That Second Hard Ride: Part I
By Kevin Kolodziejski
You know what a supper of solely baked beans means the next morning. What you read next might strike you as more of the same.
That there’s a real commonality among all sorts of cycling and cyclists. That if you understand and explore it, your cycling can only improve.
Now those words can certainly seem like a breakfast of Fiber One and prunes if you only think in terms of training. After all, the sorts of rides the middle-aged guy who wants to finish a two-day bike tour with a smile on his face needs to do share little in common with the ones done by the middle-aged guy who wants to finish a two-day stage race with a trip to the podium. Allegations of this literary Ex Lax only strengthen when you consider the pedaling speeds achieved in these events. The only time they might match is when both guys are bombing the descents.
What a two-day tour and two-day race clearly do share in common, however, is a supreme effort on back-to-back days.
No Time for ‘Stress and Recover’
While block-training advocates can be found (I’m one, by the way), it’s safe to say most cyclists follow an alternating hard/easy riding schedule. Our own Dr. Mirkin calls it “stress and recover,” and doing so most of the time makes sense. Whether you ride a steady pace for mega miles and a worthwhile cause or sprint and slow tactically throughout a race, you damage your muscles. An easy day afterwards not only allows for their recovery but also their regeneration, which is how you get stronger and faster. So when you omit the easy day and go full guns again, you should be a few bullets shy of a full firing chamber. Therein lies the game in the time between challenging consecutive rides: to reload as best you can.
Here’s how to play it well.
Eat Immediately Afterwards
While it’s possible that some Third-World cyclist without internet access hasn’t heard, you’re well aware of what’s called the glycogen window, I’m sure, so the subtitle above must strike you as common sense. What’s still up for debate, though, is the type of carbohydrate to use to refuel in the 30 minutes or so after prolonged or intense exercise.
In 2018, a panel report published by Nutrition Today stood by a study done back in 1985 that found the restocking of carbs in your muscles “is not affected so much by carbohydrate type but more so by the total amount of carbohydrate ingested.” So you could take that to mean in this specific instance all carbs are equal and use it as an opportunity to indulge in sugar-sweetened sodas, store-bought cookies, and those godforsaken gummy bears once you unsnap your helmet strap. But a study published in the 1991 March issue of The International Journal of Sport Nutrition found eating simple carbs even like white rice and traditional pasta immediately after exercise for the purpose of refueling to be 15 percent less effective than chowing down on complex carbs — stuff like brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, sweet potatoes, baked potatoes, squash, oatmeal, and cereals high in whole grains.
With such a lack of consensus, it only makes sense for you to experiment in the weeks leading up to your targeted event to learn what works best for you. Just make sure all experiments use at least 1 gram of carbohydrate for every 4 pounds of bodyweight and that you experiment within 30 minutes of rides. For what it’s worth, I get noticeably better second-day results if my first feeding after a hard ride consists of complex carbs rather than simple ones — I’m partial to sweet potatoes, acorn squash and especially delicata squash — at a ratio of 1 gram per every 2 pounds of bodyweight, and I consume 20 grams of high-quality protein at that time as well.
I also experience better second-day results if I do something immediately after eating and showering that might seem old school: elevate my legs. Though new schoolers argue there’s no strong scientific proof to support the practice, I urge you to try it and decide for yourself.
Elevate Your Legs
Close your bedroom door, sit on the floor, and scoot your butt to where the floor and the door meet. Raise your legs against the door so that your body takes the shape of an L. Shut your eyes, relax, and soon — if you’ve truly traumatized your pedaling muscles — you’ll feel the “drain”: the gravitational flow of extracellular fluid moving from your ankles toward your hips. (To aid the drain, wear compression sleeves or full compression socks.) While Jiri Kaloc in an article for WeLoveCycling.com claims the drain doesn’t produce “any magical recovery effects,” he does admit to the position being relaxing. In fact, it’s so relaxing that you may fall asleep in minutes. I do.
According to Chris Carmichael, CEO and brainchild behind CTS, Carmichael Training Systems, getting athletes to do less and relax more during post-workout recovery — whether their feet are elevated or not — is a “win” and getting them to nap is even better. For me, the leg elevation/nap combination is so restorative that I usually feel as refreshed afterwards as after a full night’s rest. But just like any good thing, it can be overdone. Do so for more than 40 minutes, and don’t be surprised if you wake up groggy or have trouble falling asleep that night.
There’s Still More To Do Between Rides
Read Part II in two weeks’ time, for the hows and whys.
Kevin Kolodziejski began his writing career in earnest in 1989. Since then he’s written a weekly health and fitness column and his articles have appeared in magazines such as “MuscleMag,” “Ironman,” “Vegetarian Times,” and “Bicycle Guide.” He has Bachelor and Masters degrees in English from DeSales and Kutztown Universities.
A competitive cyclist for more than 30 years, Kevin won two Pennsylvania State Time Trial championships in his 30’s, the aptly named Pain Mountain Time Trial 4 out of 5 times in his 40s, two more state TT’s in his 50’s, and the season-long Pennsylvania 40+ BAR championship at 43.