Post ride recovery for endurance riders is not usually a topic that most of us think about. Usually after the ride is over, you just want to sit down and relax. But if you make wise use of the post ride recovery period, you will be well rewarded.
Recent studies have showed that an endurance athlete can significantly reduce the time required for post ride recovery by paying close attention to nutritional intake after a ride. What you do leading up to and during a ride is also important and I’ll go over more of that later.
The main source of energy used while riding long distances on a horse are carbohydrates that are stored as glycogen in both the liver and muscles. Our bodies can only store a limited amount of carbohydrates as glycogen, forcing us to eat during our rides to avoid glycogen depletion. At the end of a long or hard ride there is a fair chance your muscle glycogen levels will be very low.
It has been shown that a glycogen repletion window exists for up to 4 hours immediately after exercise. During this period the body is able to process and replace glycogen at a much faster rate than usual (up to 3 times as quick). For the endurance rider this means that by eating the right types of food as soon as you finish riding you can significantly increase the time required by your body to fully recover. This can have a major impact on performance over a multi day event or in post ride recovery after a 100 mile ride.
It is often recommended that around 3 grams of carbohydrate to 2.2 pounds of body weight should be consumed during this repletion window. So if you weigh 150 pounds you’d need roughly 205 grams of carbs.
List of High Carbohydrate Foods
- A list of high carbohydrate foods includes some beans, which contain a higher percentage of complex carbohydrates and more nutrients. The beans such as chickpeas, white beans, black eye peas, refried beans, garbanzo beans and navy beans are rich in complex carbohydrates. Some of the root vegetables such as potato, sweet potato, carrot and corn contain a high quantity of carbohydrates.
- Dairy products are known for rich fat and protein contents. However, some of the dairy products such as nonfat milk, low fat, plain yogurt, chocolate milk and skimmed milk are included in the list of high carbohydrate foods. All types of chocolates, candies, cookies, pastries also contain high amounts of carbohydrates.
- Foods containing simple carbohydrates include table sugar, candy, cake, corn syrup, fruit juice, bread and pasta made from white flour and most packaged cereals.
- Foods containing the high amounts of complex carbohydrates are bran, oatmeal, maize, barley, buckwheat, cornmeal, pasta, macaroni, spaghetti, potato, brown rice, shredded wheat, bagel, wholegrain cereals, corn, peas, muesli, yam, beans and lentils.
Carbohydrate Charts can be found here: http://www.stress-free-weight-loss.com/carbohydrates-chart.htm and http://www.atkins-diet-advisor.com/carbohydrate-chart.html
In addition a small amount of protein consumed at the post ride stage can also give your body a head start on repairing the muscles that have been damaged during the exercise period. There are now a large number of specific recovery drinks on the market with differing levels of carbohydrates, protein and electrolytes. A simpler, cheaper and often tastier method is to consume chocolate milk straight after a ride. Chocolate milk has been found to contain the right amount of carbohydrates and protein and has the benefit of being available at many grocery stores and is very cheap.
Post Ride Glycogen Repletion
Assuming you’ve taken advantage of the glycogen repletion window as soon as you’ve stopped riding it won’t be long before you are ready for some more serious food. Fatty foods should be avoided and a similar proportion of carbohydrates to protein should be consumed, along with fruit and vegetables to replace any vitamins and minerals lost via sweat. A great meal would be something like chicken breast served with steamed vegetables and brown rice.
Try to make sure your carbohydrates are ‘complex carbs’ such as brown rice or whole meal bread as opposed to sugary carbs that tend to give a shorter energy spike and are harder for the body to turn into glycogen.
Beware of Over Eating and not Drinking Enough Fluids
One common mistake is to over eat after a ride. Often you will finish your ride feeling starved and eat and eat as you feel pretty depleted after completing your endurance ride. Keep in mind that you may have loaded with carbohydrates before your ride and may have been topping up with very high carb energy bars or drink while you were riding.
Water is a huge part of recovery and is at least as important as the food you eat. Water replenishes lost fluids, without which your muscles cramp – and will continue to cramp until you top off. Perhaps the single biggest mistake many riders make is the failure to replace the fluid losses associated with exercise. Rapid skin evaporation decreases the sense of perspiring and gives a false sense of minimal fluid loss (even though sweat production and insensible loss through the lungs can easily exceed 2 quarts per hour). For a successful ride, it is essential that you start off adequately hydrated and that fluid replacement begin early and is continued on a regular basis. Start drinking before your ride then drink at least one 16 ounce bottle per hour during the ride, and drink after training to avoid dehydration.
Eating and drinking every hour of the ride is important to avoid energy loss, and keeps recovery to a minimum. Keep your body fueled at all times or risk running out of gas – when you bonk hard it takes a long time to get back to normal, as much as two weeks. Keep up during the ride with whatever food you like — energy bars or drinks, fruit or bagels. I like Gu, fruit (bananas, oranges), nuts, potato chips (for the salt cravings), jerky and licorice. For meals during the ride I like things like tuna or egg salad sandwiches, peanut butter or boiled potatoes and chicken breast – depends how long I am actually out there.
Make sure you get plenty of sleep and rest. The body does most of its muscle repair when you’re sleeping.
I find that if I try to put more energy into taking care of myself…the rider – that I can then in turn stay more focused and attentive to my horse during a ride. If I can’t take care of myself then I won’t do a very good job of the same where the horse is concerned.
What I Really Ate and Drank
On the 100 I just did at 20 Mule Time, this is what I ate:
Chocolate breakfast drink
Snacks and drinks on trail:
GU (several throughout the day)
Chocolate almond candybar
Vet check, first hour hold, 36 miles:
Vet check, second hour hold, 65 miles:
Ham and Cheese
Various vet checks:
Additional snacks: potato chips, candy, whatever might have been offered
I also took Redmond Re-Lyte electrolyte capsules consistently throughout the day and they helped me keep my electrolytes up – I felt great!