Feeding your body the right things at the right time is vital, especially after a vigorous cycling session. Protein, for one, is crucial to your post ride recovery because of the large number of applications it has for your health and wellness.
The Importance of Protein
One of protein’s main functions is building and repairing muscle. Every time you exercise, whether it’s a tough cycling session or a Sunday stroll, microscopic tears are created in your muscle fibers (hence the soreness) and protein is necessary for repairing these tears and building new, stronger muscle.
Furthermore, during a cycling session (and other endurance type exercises), our bodies don’t use carbs alone as fuel. Carbs are definitely the primary fuel. However, over the course of the ride, the body may start to tap into fat and muscle (protein) for energy, so the extra strain on your body during a long ride can take a toll if you don’t consume enough protein to replace what was used.
It’s true that our bodies already have and create protein, but that’s not the whole story. Proteins are composed of substances called amino acids, and while the human body can produce 11 of the 20 amino acids it needs to function optimally, that leaves 9 that must be sourced externally (i.e., through our diet).
Food sources that provide all 9 of these amino acids are called complete proteins, and include fish, chicken, beef and soy.
Now, depending on the frequency and intensity of your cycling, your ideal consumption will vary. For example, the average (low activity) person only requires about 0.8 grams of protein per kg of body weight daily. If you’re a regular cyclist, however, somewhere between 1.2 and 1.6 g per kg is ideal.
This may be hard to achieve without loading up on calories, in which case a protein shake is recommended.
How Protein Helps You Post-Ride
Muscle Repair and Maintenance
The amino acids in protein provide fuel for muscle repair, growth, and maintenance of tissues. On a typical day, stored proteins are broken down and replaced at a predictable, balanced rate. However, after a strenuous ride or unusual exertion, your body will need more protein to make up for the extra expenditure.
Without proper protein post-ride, you may experience extreme muscle fatigue, soreness, cramps, and loss of motivation to get back on the bike.
Protein (and carb) consumption is also recommended immediately (1 to 2 hours) after a long ride to make the most of the muscle repair and strengthening process.
Protein is vital to producing healthy neurotransmitters, which are essentially the chemical messengers of the brain. They play a key role in mood, energy levels, and alertness; and their sustained impairment can have negative effect on your day to day life and efficiency.
Enzymes are a type of protein that contributes to biochemical reactions within your cells. There are also enzymes that function outside of cells, such as the digestive enzymes lactase and sucrose. You need these special proteins for digestion, production of energy, and blood clotting during your post-ride recovery period.
Without adequate protein intake, you may not be able to efficiently absorb enough nutrients to handle your next ride.
Effects of Protein Deficiency
Without proper protein intake, you could experience the following symptoms:
- Muscle weakening, atrophy, and loss because your body lacks the correct building blocks to repair and maintain itself
- Muscle cramps and soreness as your body uses protein from your own tissues as fuel
- Impaired wound healing
- Infections are more common and become difficult to control due to poor wound healing and a compromised immune system
- Depression, mood swings, and lack of motivation
- Lengthy recovery times
Protein is a nutrient that’s typically associated with gym rats and those wanted to build muscle, but it’s just as important for cyclists to increase their consumption as well.
This importance lies in the fact that it is necessary for repairing and strengthening muscle tissue, replacing what was borrowed for fuel (in the case of an intense/long ride) and preserving mental health.
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