beer and a beef pot pie

About that post-ride beer…

If your trying to build strength on the bike — delay the suds

[content_box type=”with-header” title=”StartConfident Summary” text_color=”dark” color=”default” animation=”fade-in”]
  • Alcohol post-exercise gets in the way of the muscle-rebuilding process
  • Alcohol inhibits recovery by impeding testosterone and other hormones
  • If you want to drink, give it at least 48 hours after a strength-building effort
[/content_box] [dropcap style=”default”]I enjoy a beer[/dropcap] after a hard, strenuous activity just as much as any other athlete. In fact, I mostly enjoy Belgian beers known for their intense flavors and high alcohol content. But those super tasty, alcohol saturated frosty’s, as much as I love them, are something I completely avoid whenever I have just finished workouts designed to increase my strength.

Why? Because consuming alcohol after a hard workout essentially cancels out all of the hard work I’ve just done. More specifically, alcohol interferes with the body’s efforts at synthesizing post-workout or post-race protein that you take for recovery.

That means that protein isn’t going to be as effective at repairing muscle damage done during hard workouts or races, and that also means post-exercise soreness isn’t going to be any lighter.

An example of a typical cycling workout designed to increase force on the pedals are classic hill repeats. Hill repeats are essentially the equivalent of going to your favorite gym and doing leg sleds or squats — only you’re doing them on your bike. It’s especially important in the late winter, after you’ve ramped up your gym time with more intense weights, to start transitioning that gym work to the bike.

After an intense gym session, my legs, in fact my entire body, usually has a good case of the quivers. When you strain your musculature to that degree, your body’s muscles are starving for carbohydrates and protein. Protein, of course, is a basic building block of muscle.

protein shaker and protein bar

It’s whey good for you.

That’s when I reach for the portable shaker in my gym bag. It has a couple scoops of a glutamine-fortified carb and protein mix, plus a scoop of whey protein.

However, according to a number of studies, alcohol suppresses protein synthesis. Additionally, protein synthesis utilizes a number of hormones while engaged in the process of muscle building. Testosterone and human growth hormone chief among them. Alcohol essentially stifles a release of these hormones. Drinking after a workout will cause your liver to release substances that will negate the muscle building effects of testosterone in your body. And that’s not a great situation for an athlete in the process of trying to develop serious stomp on the pedals.

“But Sam, I pound a couple cold one’s with my riding buds after pretty much every group ride, and I’m fine.”

You may be…it really depends upon your goals. The type of athlete I’m referring to here is the athlete who is seeking to realize year upon year, season upon season gains; gains in strength, and gains in muscular endurance. If you’re still pushing out the same wattage this season as you were 2 seasons ago, I think I’m highlighting one of the culprits for you.

[callout icon=”hb-moon-bike”]Alcohol interferes with the body’s efforts at synthesizing post-workout or post-race protein that you take for recovery.[/callout]

Imagine a “wave” that shows your training load during the season. The more you work out, and the more you work out on successive days, the higher that wave climbs. When you taper off, or have holidays, that wave dips. One of the tricks to periodization is to have the overall trend of that undulating wave increasing. This cumulative build up is known as Chronic Training Load, or CTL.

For most recreational athletes, that wave pattern bowls out at the end of the race season. Then come holidays, winter, extra pounds, et cetera, followed by some kind of increased activity in the very late winter or early spring.

When you get back into it, you may workout as hard or even harder then last season. Ultimately, though, if you’ve not kept your CTL afloat, you’re simply working to “break even” with last year by digging out of that “bowl.”

The effects of alcohol on post-hard rides or workouts is likely even more pronounced for the older athlete (of which I am one) in terms of CTL. Younger cyclists have an easier time stretching out the effects of a high chronic training load as long as they are maintaining a certain degree of exercise intensity. Cyclists over 40 begin to see a pronounced dive in their CTL after just a few days of relative activity. This is another one of the reasons that I stick to a pretty firm workout plan starting in late October as I aim for the following spring’s season. I’m working for cumulative gains over previous seasons — plus, I’m working to keep distance on Father Time.

Toss in a tall, cool Belgian or a nip of Scotch, and I might as well have taken the entire week off. Not good, especially for athletes like me who have day-jobs. There’s only so much time to train.

So when can a mindful athlete imbibe? The simplest advice is this: wait at least 48 hours after any specific force-building workout. This assumes you’ve been properly hydrating and fueling throughout, and that you’re following accepted recovery nutrition practices after hard efforts. 48+ hours allows your body to recover and synthesize that recovery protein. After you do imbibe, be sure to pay extra attention to your hydration immediately afterwards.

[icon_box icon=”hb-moon-bike” icon_position=”left” align=”left”] Question: What has been your experience with a post-hard effort adult beverage — or two? Tell us, below.[/icon_box]

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Sam Lowe

I've been a road cyclist with a penchant for speed ever since my first-ever paycheck holiday. I blew the whole wad on a turquoise Schwinn Tempo with then-new Shimano 105 indexed shifting way back in 1985. I've been a voracious consumer of racing-oriented information ever since. Training, nutrition, bike fit, racing techniques, and all manner of "kit." Between nearly 30 years of riding, racing, and reading about racing, I'm ready to help you get ready to race.

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