A killer ride can mentally and physically push you to the limit — sometimes beyond. But training hard is only part of the performance puzzle. Giving your muscles time to recover, repair, and adapt is when you truly reap the benefits of all your hard work. Skimping on recovery will not only put a dent in performance gains it will also put you at greater risk of burnout and injury.
Sure your body can and will (eventually) recover on its own, but going the extra mile to help your muscles refuel and repair can enhance recovery and even shorten your recovery time.
To help, we’ve rounded up the best science-backed nutrition recovery products for cyclists according to experts, including several sports dietitians and a World Masters Champion.
For an all-in-one protein and carbohydrate replenishment after a tough ride, board-certified sports dietitian Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, CSSD likes Klean Recovery™, a chocolate-flavored drink mix with a 4:1 carbohydrate-to-protein ratio for optimal glycogen replenishment and protein synthesis. The protein in this drink mix is entirely sourced from whey isolate, which is quickly and efficiently absorbed. What we like the best is it’s available in individual pouches (perfect for when you’re training on the go) as well as a large canister.
All Klean Athlete products are science-based (meaning there’s research behind each product’s design) and NSF-certified for safety, and quality. As far as recovery drinks and supplements go, Bonci recommends Klean products saying they’re “good value for the quality.”.
Arbonne FeelFit Pea Protein Shake
Arbonne’s FeelFit Pea Protein Shake is a great plant-based recovery shake, particularly for vegans or those with a dairy intolerance. Each shake offers 20 grams of quality plant protein sourced from peas, cranberries, and rice, as well as 24 different vitamins and minerals. They’re also formulated without artificial colors, flavors, or sweeteners, and contain no high fructose corn syrup, gluten, dairy, or soy.
Elo Community Manager and World Masters Champion cyclist, Anne Valta, like Arbonne’s protein shakes when she can’t get her hands on real food after a long ride. “If I go for a long ride or do a harder workout in the gym and I don't have access to real food right after, I'll prepare a protein drink with coconut water and a plant-based protein powder, like Arbonne,” says Valta. “I like the taste and quality. I can't use whey protein because I'm lactose intolerant [and whey protein contains varying amounts of lactose]”
Arbonne’s FeelFit Pea Protein shakes come in two tasty flavors — chocolate and vanilla — both of which also come in single-serve packets for when you’re on the go.
Tera's Whey Organic Bourbon Vanilla Whey Protein
Post-workout protein provides muscles with essential amino acids, like leucine, that support muscle repair and recovery. To add a boost to post-workout smoothies, dietitian Edwina Clark, MS, RD, APD, recommends Tera's Whey Organic Bourbon Vanilla Whey Protein. “Whey protein is rich in leucine, which appears to stimulate muscle synthesis,” says Clark.
Another thing Clark likes about this product is its impressively short and simple ingredient list. “I like that Tera's whey doesn't contain any funky ingredients,” mentioned Clark. One peek at the ingredient list and well, we agree. The vanilla whey protein contains just four ingredients: organic dairy whey protein concentrate, organic vanilla, organic sunflower lecithin, and organic stevia leaf extract. What’s not to like about that?
One thing to keep in mind: Protein powder is different than a recovery shake, and should be consumed along with a source of carbohydrates after a tough ride. “While protein will kickstart muscle repair and recovery, you'll also want to restock your glycogen stores with carbs,” recommends Chrissy Carroll, RD, and USAT Level I Triathalon Coach at Snacking in Sneakers. Simply add two scoops to your favorite fruit smoothie, blend, and enjoy!
NOW® Sports Creamy Vanilla Plant Protein Complex
If you prefer plant-based protein, Carroll recommends a plant protein blend like NOW® Sports Creamy Vanilla Plant Protein Complex. A complex is a mixture of several different types of plant proteins - in this case, pea, hemp, and quinoa. “Utilizing different types of plant proteins usually helps achieve an amino acid profile that's closer to that of whey — compared to any singular plant protein,” says Carroll.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends that acute protein doses contain at least 700 to 3000 mg of leucine, a key amino acid involved in recovery . “This particular plant protein complex contains about 1800mg of leucine per serving, which falls in those recommendations — and comes relatively close to whey's approximately 2500 mg,” Carroll highlights. (Read more about leucine for post-ride recovery here).
Like whey protein powders, plant-based protein powders should be consumed along with a source of carbohydrates to replenish depleted glycogen stores and maximize muscle recovery.
Clif Bars are a non-perishable favorite among many athletes for pre- and post-workout fuel. Not only do they have great taste and texture but they’re also portable (making them perfect for stashing in the center console of your car) and come in a variety of different flavors and formulations.
With about 250 calories per bar, these bars are substantial enough to fuel you for a longer ride or tide you over till your next meal if you’re on the go. Bonci is a fan of Clif Bars for post-ride recovery because of their nutrient composition. With about 40 grams of carbs and 10 grams of protein per bar, “they provide a great ratio of carb-to-protein post-exercise,” she says.
Another brand of bars Bonci likes is PROBAR. Made from mostly raw nuts and seeds, they’re a nutrient-dense snack that provides both lasting energy and nourishment pre- or post-workout. Flavor-wise, she likes the fruit and nut combinations, which provide a good mix of protein and carbohydrates to promote post-ride recovery. With about 400 calories per bar, they’re more like a mini-meal, but Bonci likes this because athletes can, “eat half or the whole thing depending on their pre- and post-exercise needs.”
Electrolytes and hydration
Rehydration after exercise is an important part of recovery, especially after long rides, or cycling in hot and humid weather which leads to greater fluid losses .
There’s more to rehydrating than chugging water though. To fully rehydrate, you need to replace both the fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat . “Electrolytes are lost through sweat, and replacing them (especially sodium) is important for continued effort and recovery,” says dietitian Edwina Clark, MS, RD, APD. These electrolytes — calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, and chloride — play essential roles in muscle and nerve function as well as fluid balance.
To level up your post-ride rehydration, Clark likes Nuun Hydration Sport. These convenient, quick-dissolving tablets provide those essential electrolytes and minerals and give plain ol’ water a refreshing, effervescent edge. They come in a variety of great-tasting, fruity flavors. “Lemon-lime and strawberry-lemonade are particularly delicious,” says Clark.
Feeling sore for days after a tough ride? Many sports dietitians will tell you to consider adding natural anti-inflammatories to your diet.
Inflammation is part of the body’s natural recovery response after a long ride or tough workout and one of the reasons why you feel sore and stiff after pushing yourself on the bike. It plays an important role in muscle tissue repair, but for athletes who train hard every day, the inflammation may not completely resolve, resulting in achiness, fatigue, and poor performance. An anti-inflammatory diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and certain compounds can boost recovery and help minimize the potential for chronic exercise-induced inflammation.
In addition to eating a variety of fruits and veggies every day, here are a few anti-inflammatory supplements our sports dietitians recommend:
A growing body of evidence suggests turmeric, which contains curcumin (the substance that gives turmeric its bright yellow hue) may aid recovery.
Small studies indicate that 150-1500mg turmeric/day may improve post-exercise recovery and reduce muscle soreness, however, the evidence to date is mixed . Turmeric may also be helpful for reducing knee pain in people with osteoarthritis, a common complaint among older athletes . Combining turmeric with black pepper has been shown to improve absorption of curcumin by up to 2000%(!) and increase its effectiveness .
Wondering just how much turmeric you’ll need to consume? One teaspoon is about 200 mg, which might be enough to provide benefits. If downing a teaspoon or two of cumin each day feels like a lot, turmeric supplements are also available in a convenient capsule form. Some are even formulated with black pepper for enhanced absorption and effectiveness.
Cheribundi Tart Cherry Juice
Tart cherry juice is loaded with antioxidants and polyphenolic compounds, making it increasingly popular among endurance athletes. Some evidence suggests that consuming tart cherry juice prior to endurance activities like cycling may improve performance and reduce muscle soreness, although research is mixed .
Dietitian and sports trainer Jenna Braddock, RD, CPT, is a fan and has seen its benefits. “Tart cherry juice can help aid recovery by reducing muscle soreness and potentially overall inflammation,” says Braddock. “I've ‘prescribed’ this to dozens of athletes with great success in improving recovery. One of my clients calls it the ‘elixir of life’.”
Tart cherry juice can be found in various forms including juice, capsule, and concentrate. Braddock likes the Cheribundi Tart Cherry Juice products and recommends them to her athletes specifically. If you want to experiment with tart cherry juice for cycling performance, look for a product without additives and take it at least 90 minutes before you jump on the bike.
You know they’re good for brain and heart health, but evidence shows omega-3s fight inflammation and may help promote muscle recovery after a tough ride . Sports dietitian Leslie Bonci recommends them to many of her athletes for this exact reason.
Most health benefits of omega-3s come from EPA and DPA (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid) food sources, which are most abundantly found in fatty fish. If you’re not consuming fatty fish at least 2 times a week or have several training sessions stacked with minimal recovery time between, a supplemental dose of omega-3s can be helpful for recovery and overall health .
When it comes to training, recovery is as important as the work you put in on the bike. But not all recovery nutrition aids are created equal and it’s important to do your homework before you invest in pricey, ineffective products. Moreover, nutrition is not a standalone strategy for recovering from a tough ride and should be paired with ample rest and muscle maintenance strategies like foam rolling and stretching, for fast and effective recovery.
Disclaimer: The text, images, videos, and other media on this page are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended to treat, diagnose or replace personalized medical care.