Fighting fatigue to keep on cycling

A tourer resting on a round world trip | Photo by Velaia
A tourer resting on a round world trip | Photo by Velaia

Fatigue is the feeling you have after a workout, it is your body’s fuel gauge, helping you know what’s going on and how much more can you take. In regards to cycling, there are five types of fatigue: During the ride, right after the ride, accumulated fatigue (ie. overreaching), overtraining and of course, some kind of illness-related fatigue.

Your body is constantly using glycogen to fuel itself. When you are working out for extended periods, usually at least over an hour, your glycogen levels diminish. If you ride for a long time and do not have carbohydrates to replenish the fuel, your fatigue level will increase greatly. This is just your body telling you that you’re running out of fuel and should do something about it – before that your body will lower your performance so you will save the energy. It’s a subconscious self-preservation mechanism. So, in order to keep going – have a banana and a sports drink (with carbs) with you to refuel.

You can also have a rest and give your body time to create more glycogen, but if you don’t have the raw materials (carbs and fat) in your digestive system, there’s nothing to convert.

When you are done with your workout, you should feel some fatigue. If you have been a good monkey and eaten the banana you should feel fine. The purpose of training is not to drain yourself of everything, this doesn’t provide any benefit. Especially if you’re not a 100% sure on what you are doing. My approach has always been the “could I do this again today?”, which allows me to not spend too much energy.

This is good fatigue though, because you will increase your performance and set up your body to provide results the next time around. The most important and beneficial thing you can do after a ride is to help your body recover by giving it the needed resources. You can use a commercial recovery drink or just do like I do and chug down a pint of chocolate milk which has carbohydrates and fats. It also tastes awesome.

Sometimes it's good just to lay back and chill while taking photos of your knee

Accumulated fatigue or overreaching is the first step to overtraining, which is not a good thing. This is the pain you feel after a week of riding, or like in my case a 12 days biking combo platter with a rather intensive bachelor party on the top, with a side of 10 hours of sleep in three days. Not smart.

Good thing though, if and when you notice these effects and take action, it will benefit you and your training. Allowing your body to recover using the exact same methods used after the ride will get you back on the road being faster and stronger. Give yourself a day off once in a while. I have devoted my weekends to not riding during the commute as I still am in the process of getting the rhythm and keeping pace by riding slow enough.

Overtraining in itself is very similar to what your body does during a ride if it doesn’t get fuel. It goes into screen saver mode. The bad thing here though is that your body has a fail-safe which you cannot cross just by eating a banana. It will take weeks, might take months for your body to let you benefit from training again. Before that you’ll be fatigued constantly, your persona might change and well, it just simply sucks. So don’t overcook yourself.

Start slow, remember to refuel during and after, rest plenty and often and take days off. That is all.

Has fatigue been an issue with your training? You have our ears.

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By Markus Sandelin

Markus is a bike commuter gadget freak who is learning the ropes of the bike world, you can find him all around the web - but you can start with his twitter at @banton.