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  Last updated: 10/19/2015

Post Ride Recovery and Your Training Program

Ask a cyclist about their training program and you will hear about mileage, intervals, and nutritional secrets. Only recently has post ride recovery made it onto the list of priorities. Yet successful cyclists know that preparation for their next ride begins even as the current one is being completed.


Lack of attention to the level of personal fatigue after a ride increases the odds of sliding into overtraining with its impact on future performance. A cyclist may experience one of 4 distinct types of fatigue.

  1. The bonk (fatigue resulting from muscle glycogen depletion) usually develops 1 to 2 hours into a ride. It is a particular risk if one starts a ride without a full tank, so to speak, of muscle glycogen. Carbohydrate supplements (goos and gels) used while riding can extend the riding time as they are used in lieu of internal muscle glycogen stores.
  2. Post ride fatigue is the normal response to several hours of vigorous exercise and indicates we are pushing our training limits. It leads to improved performance the next time out.
  3. Over reaching is the fatigue we feel at the end of a particularly hard week of riding. It is really just a more extreme form of post ride fatigue.

    Over reaching is a normal part of the training cycle. It may require several extra (and unplanned) recovery days. But if you find that your performance is not improving with several extra recovery days, it's time to take a break from riding and switch to alternative aerobic activities (at 70% maximum heart rate to maintain your cardiovascular fitness). To push ahead is to risk a level of overtraining which may require a month or two off the bike to recover.

  4. Over training is the debilitating and often long term (lasting weeks to months) fatigue which limits rather than stimulates improvement in performance.
So the FIRST item on your recovery check list is an assessment of your level of post ride fatigue. Walking the fine line separating what we will call normal post exercise fatigue (expected after a hard workout and necessary for improvement) and overtraining (which might hinder future performance). Although it may seem paradoxical, structured rest is a key component of all training programs and may actually be one of the toughest training choices you'll have to make. To minimize the risk of overtraining, you should include at least one and occasionally two rest days per week - the second can be a day of relatively easy spinning.


The SECOND item on your recovery check list is adequate post ride nutrition to replete muscle glycogen and minimize the risks of bonking early on your next ride as well as risking chronic glycogen depletion which can be a part of the fatigue of overreaching.

Carbohydrates (in the form of muscle glycogen) are the primary energy source for all cyclists who push themselves with strenuous workouts and rides. Fats are more important in slower, endurance events and protein is not an energy source although necessary to maintain and repair muscle cells and connective tissue.

The "bonk" occurs when the body's stores of glycogen in the liver and muscles are depleted and the exercising muscle is required to shift to less effective fat metabolism as its primary energy source. Occasionally, after multiple riding days (a week long tour for example) the fatigue of overreaching may result from the failure to adequately replace the muscle glycogen depleted as a result of the daily rides - what might be perceived as a chronic bonk - or in a less severe form, bonking much earlier in a ride than usual. This type of fatigue is a particular risk at the elite athlete level where there may be multiple training sessions (or competitions) per day, and limited time to eat.

It is important to maximize your total body glycogen stores by using dietary carbohydrates to your advantage - before, during, as well as after a ride. Ensuring maximal repletion of glycogen on multi day rides starts even before you get on the bike.