So you finish your ride : you are freezing and starving. The first thing you do is jump in a hot shower, eat something sugary whilst simultaneously reaching for the most instant dinner you can think of.
None of this however will actually help you feel any better past the immediate effects – you will still wake up starving and sore tomorrow wondering why you do it.
The reason you are craving sugar is because you have lowered your bodies instant stores, your blood glucose are lowered and because you have worked so hard up that hill you were working at a high intensity and therefore anaerobically (a limited oxygen supply) so you have been unable to breakdown the more complex sugars. As you have stopped your body is working at a low intensity ( leaning on the handlebars) and it has started to recover replenishing the muscles with oxygen allowing aerobic breakdown of energy.
This allows your body to start burning fats. This is a normal and healthy response; you may think you need the sugar but it is just your body switching over to utilising fats – ideal for those looking to ‘lean up’. The other reason may be because you are dehydrated mistaking needing food instead of water. You should try and sip water as you ride to maintain your hydration levels throughout helping to avoid getting into a dehydrated state in the first place. If you don’t however you should try to replace the water lost, predominantly through sweating, by drinking approx 1-1.5L following a hard ride; the volume required does vary between people with some needing more, others less.
OK so you have started to rehydrate, now to ease your muscles you should try to do a 5-10 minutes gentle cycling, even round the car park. This helps flush the lactic acid, among others, from the muscles and aid replenishment of well oxygenated blood. This will help minimise or avoid those dreaded muscle aches and pains the next morning. This is known as delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) and its severity can be improved by a simple cool down.
You are now ready to jump in the car and drive home.
Once your home you should make a high protein, low in saturated fats, carbohydrate dinner, not your instant microwave meal. Getting the good stuff in within 2hrs following a ride, in particular protein, will aid recovery as this is the window when your body is able to absorb protein etc. at a greater rate, key for repairing muscle fibres. This combined with gentle stretching of the major muscle groups used (quads, calf, back) will help minimise the effects of DOMS the next day. Not only will you feel better but it will mean you are completely recovered for your next ride.
Now you can get in your warm shower and relax!