When the temperature starts to dip, it’s easy to become cold on a long training ride – you work up a satisfying sweat on a climb, but during a long descent your body cools down and, ever helpful, it tries to warm itself. Your muscles start to shake to generate heat and you come home shivering. This is when a hot drink works wonders: it banishes the chill and can be an excellent post-ride recovery potion, delivering exactly what you need to recharge after a workout.
Some choices are better than others, says nutritionist Tara Gidus. “Post-exercise, you need liquid for rehydration, sugar to replenish your glycogen stores, and antioxidants and electrolytes to help muscles recover,” she says. Hot or cold, the best recovery drinks provide all four, and should be consumed within 30 minutes of finishing your ride. That’s when you gain the most benefit.
Tea doesn’t refuel the body with energy. Black, green and herbal varieties all contain almost no calories when brewed. So swirl some low-fat milk and a shot of honey into your cup to improve the recovery benefits. The sugar in honey travels quickly to recovering muscles, “so it’s a good choice immediately after exercise,” says Gidus.
Teas contain less caffeine than coffee – herbal is caffeine-free – so they’re less likely to interfere with hydration. And tea’s antioxidants are beneficial after a hard ride: black, green and oolong varieties contain detoxifying agents that can help neutralise muscle-damaging free radicals.
If you exercise in the morning you may long for a post-ride cup of coffee. Brewed coffee contains just two calories per cup, so it doesn’t provide the energy muscles need after exertion, but adding low-fat milk and sugar contributes calories, and the calcium and vitamin D improve its nutritional profile. And coffee contains antioxidants, which can speed recovery by helping muscles repair from the stress caused by tough workouts.
The amounts depend on the type of coffee used (robusta contains more antioxidants than arabica, for you coffee nuts out there), brewing method and time, and the amount of coffee used. In the debit column, caffeine may have a diuretic effect or make you jittery. And coffee on its own isn’t an ideal recovery drink. “It shouldn’t be the only thing you count on for replenishment,” says Gidus.
The energy-food company Clif has introduced a powdered hot-chocolate drink mix designed for optimum recovery. Combining whey protein, sugars, a mix of vitamins and minerals, and even some antioxidants (green-tea extract), Clif Shot Hot Chocolate is a well-rounded recovery-drink option. “It’s a good choice for athletes who want the convenience of a recovery formula,” says Gidus.
The drink’s calcium, magnesium and potassium replace electrolytes lost during exercise. And although Gidus feels its sodium levels might be high for some athletes (190mg), Clif’s hot chocolate could be ideal for triathletes who tend to sweat heavily.