The 7 Worst Post-Workout Habits for Cyclists, Runners, and Triathletes

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Your choices in the hours after your workout will either enhance the effect of that workout or detract from it. It’s up to you. Many athletes put great emphasis on completing high-quality workouts only to shortchange their progress by making silly mistakes after. Here are 7 of the worst post-workout choices you can make.

Failing to rehydrate

We can debate whether you need to prioritize eating after a workout (depends on the duration and intensity of the workout and how soon you’ll be training again), but there’s no debate about the need to rehydrate after training. Even if you drink diligently during training, virtually no one completes a workout fully hydrated. And even if you did, there’s no downside to consuming water after training anyway. You don’t need to guzzle huge volumes of liquid, but you do want to replenish 150% of any weight you lost during training within the four hours after training.

Pounding Protein

I’ve written previously about the “Top 3 Myths About Post-Workout Protein and Recovery” and “The Pros and Cons of Protein Powder for Endurance Athletes“. The quick summary is that endurance athletes don’t need massive amounts of protein to recover or maintain muscle mass. Most endurance athletes get all they need by consuming 1.2-1.7 grams per kilogram per day from real food. Older athletes (50+) may benefit from slightly higher protein intake, up to 1.7-2.0 g/kg/day. It’s also best for protein intake to be spread throughout the day, rather than concentrated in one meal or directly after training.

Endurance athletes rarely need a protein-focused post-workout recovery drink. If you reach for a post-workout shake or recovery drink, choose one that delivers more carbohydrate than protein. The exact carb:protein ratio is less important than the concept replenishing carbohydrate is the priority and adding protein to the drink may accelerate glycogen replenishment.

It is also important to realize recovery drinks are best saved for your longer and more strenuous training days. For cyclists I like to see an athlete accumulate 1500 kilojoules of work before considering a recovery shake, particularly if there’s another training session or competition the following day.

Hanging around in wet gear

Training is hard on the skin, and staying in your sweaty gear only makes matters worse. During cool weather, staying in sweaty gear will also make you cold quickly. Get out of your gear, towel off and/or use a waterless body wash, and put on dry clothing. If this means changing in or around your car, one tip I still use from racing days is to place a back seat floor mat on the ground next to the car so I have something clean and soft to stand on.

Eating a Huge meal

There are two reasons you shouldn’t consume a massive meal in response to a hard or long workout. Number one, it establishes a bad expectation that big efforts will be rewarded by big meals. Our expectations for a meal play a large role in determining how much we eat. Think about Thanksgiving dinner. You expect to eat a lot, therefore you do. When you spend the final hour of a long endurance workout dreaming about a burrito the size of your head, guess what you’re going to eat? And don’t expect to stop eating when you feel full. We have been trained since childhood to finish what’s on our plates. When you couple the power of expectation with the social and financial pressure to finish what’s on the plate, you are very likely to eat everything in front of you.

The second reason it’s a bad idea to gorge yourself with a big meal immediately after training is that a normal-sized meal will meet all the goals for post-workout nutrition. It would be one thing if a huge post-workout meal reduced caloric consumption later in the day, but it doesn’t. You’re not likely to reduce the size of subsequent meals based on the fact you ate a large post-workout meal, which means you end the day with greater overall caloric consumption than necessary.

Sitting still for too long

Whether it’s collapsing on the couch to watch sports for the rest of the afternoon, jumping into a car for the long drive home, or sitting on an airplane for hours, a long stretch of sitting is a recipe for feeling stiff and sluggish. You don’t need to be constantly moving, but it’s a good idea to get up and walk around every 30 minutes or so rather than sitting still for hours. If you have a long drive home after a weekend event, stopping for walking breaks once an hour will help you feel a lot better when you get home.

Doing strenuous chores

While sitting around doing nothing isn’t a great option, neither is a huge landscaping project. Light activity is good for recovery, but strenuous activity in the hours after training hinders sport-specific recovery. If you go out for a hard ride or run in the morning, keep your afternoon activities light. If your spouse has a problem with that, just tell her/him I told you it was the best thing to do for your fitness.

Drinking alcohol

A post-ride beer is a great tradition, and we’ll have plenty of beer from Figueroa Mountain Brewing at the finish of the CTS Figueroa Mountain Gran Fondo in November. But it’s one thing to have a celebratory post-even beer and another to consume alcohol following a purposeful training session. Alcohol does not aid in post-workout recovery and it doesn’t help you rehydrate. If you want to benefit from the training session you just completed, stick with water and non-alcoholic drinks.

When you make the commitment to spend your time and energy training to improve performance, don’t shortchange your progress by making silly mistakes once the workout is over.

Take care of yourself,
Chris Carmichael
CEO/Head Coach of CTS


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Comments 19

  1. Beers?yeah right,I leave that part for professional cycling, I am amateur cyclist,you have to live life too and have a good time after a long ride or race with friends .

  2. Hi coach!

    You should not suggest to take regular water to hidrate your body if it is well known that water does the opposite. Regular water does not have any minerals and no salt. Your body needs electrolytes that the water does not have. In fact, regular water takes away your body minerals by osmosis.

    Keep the good work coach. You still the number one!

    1. Water does not dehydrate you. It hydrates you. There is nothing more basic in human physiology than this simple fact.

  3. I don’t agree regarding protein intake. Chris states in his book and in other articles, that nearly everyone gets enough protein from whole foods in their diet even if they are vegetarians. But, that isn’t true unless you eat significant quantities of animal protein with every meal, at least 4 times per day. I eat mostly vegan but with small amounts of animal protein 4-6 times per week.

    I wasn’t recovering for 3-4 days after hard training rides until I started adding in a vegan protein powder supplement, which dramatically helped my recovery. I was eating plenty of calories from whole foods, but not getting nearly enough protein.

    To find out why, I added up my protein intake with a macronutrient tracking tool. I was only getting about 50 grams per day. Let’s do some math:

    I weigh 144 pounds (65.4 kg). I’m 50 so accordingly I need at least 111 grams of protein per day (1.7 grams/kg and that’s at the low end). That’s 28 grams per meal split into four meals per day. Here are some examples of what I would have to eat per meal to get that from vegan whole food sources:

    * Pinto beans (one of my favorites), 15 grams per cup so 1.8 cups, a whopping 440 calories
    * Tofu, 10 grams per 1/2 cup so 1.4 cups, 263 calories
    * Quinoa, 8.1 grams per cup so 3.5 cups, OMG 766 calories!
    * Oatmeal (another favorite), 14 grams per cup so 2 cups cooked and 320 calories

    So let’s make it a “meat day” and add in some fried eggs:
    * Eggs, 6.3 grams each, large so 4.4 eggs and 400 calories!

    As you can see the serving sizes are ridiculously large for someone my size. Chris I invite you to eat like the above for your body weight for a couple weeks and tell me how it goes…good luck!

    Bottom line: in my experience it’s not realistic to get enough protein from only whole foods unless you eat a lot of animal protein with every meal. If you don’t eat much (or any) animal protein then you should consider adding a vegan protein supplement. Doing so greatly improved my ability to recover from hard rides.

  4. Not really Brian, shakes were also invented for the hard gainers to get muscles. No matter how much they lift, they can’t grow! But real food is always the best option.

  5. No way, no Sudsss? I gotta have a few Sudsss after a strenuous race or workout!
    I take excellent care of my body and give it the best nutrition and hydration. I have to or I will not be able to run, bike or hike aggressively like I do.
    Chris’ article is very helpful even if some of us do not agree with all of the Post-Workout Tips.
    Thanks Chris for all your helpful sport’s articles!

  6. Many riders I’ve know over the many years of riding would agree that telling your wife you are too tired to do other things requiring effort after a ride simply doesn’t go over very well:)

  7. My personal experience on post workout recovery suggests evidence very contrary to what you have said here. I am a 46 year old woman and if I don’t take in protein post workout (as well as strength train 2 days a week), over time, my body composition suffers and I become “skinny-fat” I have tried it both ways and I retain more muscle mass my way.

    As for not doing chores — really? A six hour bike ride on the weekend and then not doing chores? Is this the recipe for household harmony? Sure, if you are wealthy enough to have groundkeepers, chefs, etc, or are a professional athlete then great, sleep away post workout but for the rest of us, we must come home and pull our weight at home.

  8. Well, 5 out of 7 I guess is not bad. I get caught up in the after ride social group. We sit around for about an hour which is an easy fix. In order to keep the peace at home and justify a 4+ ride, the misses appreciates her landscape man efforts in the yard. She is my SAG on 100+ rides so that’s a tough one. Nice article.

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  10. Interesting pointers on protein recovery shakes. When you say that these may be a negative for endurance athletes, I wonder in what circumstances they are a positive?

    1. Protein recovery shakes are a thing that was invented to get fat people to workout. Just ask any fat dude jogging on a treadmill in a gym. They’re there for the shake.

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