What we eat before cycling classes is very important, but what we eat afterward is even more important.  The main value of eating right after a class is that we recover well and can train well the next day.  ACSM guidelines are clear that, while three days a week of exercise can postpone the inevitable age-related fitness decline, more frequent workouts are necessary for fitness improvement.  So refueling is key.

If your students are anything like mine, though, the refueling meal — and “meal” is a generous term — might range from a banana to nothing but a latte.  Neither of these offers the best post-workout fuel.  Below are a few points on post-cycling consumption to encourage your students to eat the right stuff.

According to Maughan”™s Nutrition in Sport and other research, the best post-workout fuel is a combination of starch and protein, in a ratio of about 3:1.  The original study by Zawadki et al. used a 2:1 ratio, and I've seen 4:1 used in others, but the generally recognized guideline these days is 3:1.

It”™s best to eat within 30 minutes after the class ends.  For many students, that will mean eating in the locker room, so convenience is a factor, but we”™ll get to that in a moment.  First let”™s look at three reasons that this 30-minute refueling window is critical:

  1. Glycogen replacement (repletion) is most effective within 30 minutes because the enzyme (glycogen synthetase) that facilitates it is in its most active form.
  2. Missing the 30-minute window can trigger transient insulin resistance that may persist for hours.  If that occurs, later meals won”™t replace glycogen as effectively as if refueling starts within 30 minutes.
  3. The carb/protein mix stops the cortisol response, which otherwise tears down muscle tissue.

Actually, the above three reasons have refueling windows of slightly different durations, but it makes the most sense to eat within the smallest window to cover all bases.

For convenience, I recommend a slice or two (maybe three after a tough class) of a bread that”™s easy to find and store in a locker. It's Alvarado St. Essential Flaxseed bread.  Here are a few points that make the bread a good choice:

  • Alvarado flaxseed bread is whole grain (a good thing, of course) but has fairly large air spaces, raising its glycemic index.  Carbs with a high GI provide faster glycogen repletion.
  • The flaxseeds in it are whole, thus used by the body as fiber, rather than as fat.  It's better to avoid fat in the refueling window because fat slows absorption of carbs.  Fast absorption is key following a class.
  • It's lower in calories than most bread -- 50 calories per slice vs. 80-100 in other breads.

Other foods can substitute for Alvarado flaxseed bread, but the combination of starch and protein is preferable to sugary recovery drinks, fruit (the wrong post-workout fuel altogether), or the recently touted chocolate milk, which contains mostly sugars.

Getting your students to eat starch and protein 30 minutes or less after class may help many of them recover faster and perform better in the next class.



Joan Kent

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