Post-ride fatigue is actually very common among endurance athletes. In fact, many Pro or Olympic level endurance athletes are known to sleep 10 hours a night PLUS 2-3 hours in a nap during the day. Why? Not sure exactly. It hasn’t been determined in research, nor has it been well studied. There are hypothesis, though. Some experts think that the cytokines released during long, intense training causes sleepiness afterwards – this does not occur with shorter exercise. In fact, most shorter or easier training is invigorating…longer can cause sleepiness. These are the same cytokines released by the body during a short illness such as a cold, which is why most people feel very sleepy when they are sick. Bummer.
While there may not be a “magic bullet” to fix all of this, there are ways to optimize your fuel to give you the best chance of recovering well and staying energized after training and throughout the day. And, maybe we can lessen the effect of those cytokines. Here are my recommendations:
1) Hydration: More hydration during your ride: Aim for 16-24 oz. per hour (at a minimum, 16 oz. per hour). Dehydration is detrimental in many ways as it can cause nausea, fatigue, headaches, cravings, etc. Additionally, stay on top of hydration day to day, aiming for 64-80 oz. fluid per day (in addition to what’s needed for training).
2) Carbohydrates: Aim for 40+ grams of carbs per hour on the bike. For these rides that are longer than 60 minutes, I recommend sports drink + 15-25 grams of additional carbs from a gel, ½ energy bar, energy chews, etc.
3) Recovery: Your recovery shake needs to contain 30-60 grams carbohydrates, 10-30 grams protein, and fluid. I also strongly recommend adding Medium Chain Triglycerides, from organic extra-virgin coconut oil, as they are an efficient energy source that’s used directly by the mitochondria (energy powerhouses) of the cells. As a bonus, antioxidants and probiotics are helpful in recovery – the probiotics increase the absorption of the antioxidants which fight the extra free radicals created by exercise. For a recipe, try this Recovery Smoothie and use plain yogurt in place of milk. Try to consume your recovery snack within 30 minutes of finishing your ride.
4) Supplements: It’s beneficial to most endurance athletes to supplement with a high-quality multivitamin. One brand I like is the Rainbow Light Brand, and they have a multivitamin specific for men. Since it sounds like this is an issue after long rides, and not fatigue in general, it doesn’t sound like an iron issue to me. Also, being a male cyclist (as opposed to a female runner), you’re not in a high-risk group.
5) Healthy Fats: Since omega-3s from fish oils slow the release of cytokines and thereby reduce their effects, hypothetically it’s possible that omega-3s may reduce this endurance-exercise-sleepiness issue – and, they’re healthy for you anyway, so it’s worth a try. I generally recommend 1000 mg of DHA/EPA per day from supplements + 6 oz. fatty fish 2 times per week for ~1500-2000 mg of DHA/EPA per day. Vegetarian sources of omega-3s may also help, but most research has used fish oil.