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Is The Coffee Stop Killing Your Ride?

Dr Garry Palmer | 2 years ago


It would be a challenge to find a club run anywhere in the country that doesn’t take in a coffee shop or cafe at its half way point. The stop for coffee while cycling is a tradition as inescapable as shaving your legs or referring to distances exclusively in kilometres. So who is this upstart telling us we shouldn’t be stopping for a lovely, refreshing rest?

Turns out, he knows what he is talking about. Dr Garry Palmer, sports scientist and founder ofsportstest.co.uk gives us his reasoning why we should be avoiding stopping during training rides at all costs.

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of joining a group ride, something I don’t often get to do, so whilst I was nervous about being able to stick the pace of some of the faster riders, I was looking forward to spending some time of the bike in the company of others.  Unfortunately for one reason or other it took over 90 minutes to cover the first 30km of relatively flat road.  Then at just before 2 hours from the start someone called for a coffee stop!  I made the anti-social decision to carry on solo….

Café stops on a Sunday ride are a great tradition, and for many are considered as a way to refuel, socialise, get some warmth back in the hand and feet, and possibly a chance to dry off. But are they really a benefit? Well here are three physiological reasons to keep riding…

Muscle stiffness:

Have you ever stopped riding without a warm-down? What do your legs feel like a little later on? Well, chances are during the café stop, you are not only not warming down, but you are then sitting in a fairly cramped space, this will not promote clearance of waste products from the working muscle, and in worst case situations will also cause blood pooling in the legs.

This will often mean that when you get up to climb back on your bike, your legs will feel very heavy and stiff. It will often take 20-30 mins before you feel you are riding effectively again. Of course this could also have something to do with the metabolic imbalances you have just caused where the body is trying to promote carbohydrate storage to aid recovery.


Carbohydrate storage:

As soon as you stop exercising, the body moves into restoration mode, trying to restore its resting balance. One of the major responses at the end of exercise is to enhance the activity of glycogen synthase. These are the enzymes that are responsible for carbohydrate resynthesis and storage back into the muscle. The activity of these enzymes is stimulated for about 2 hours following exercise.

The problem on a Sunday morning is that if you are stopping for about 30 mins, before starting to ride you will cause a severe metabolic imbalance, where the body is trying to restore the muscle carbohydrate (glycogen), but the same fuel is needed to produce the muscular power to push the pedals round.

So the stimulus you are providing to the body is confused, and not one you are attempting to replicate for a race situation. This will also completely suppress any possible chance of fat burning, as the body will need to metabolise additional carbohydrate to overcome this situation.


Fat burning:

Often, one of the reasons for the long Sunday ride is to promote fat burning. To do this the intensity needs to be low, and the duration long. In order to effectively mobilise fat as a fuel, you need to have been riding for a minimum of 45 minutes.

Therefore if you stop 2 hours into a ride, before completing a further 2 hours, your ability to fully use fat as a fuel effectively falls from 3 ¼ hrs to just 2 ½ hrs in the 4 hour total, (not a massive difference, but certainly significant if you have limited time).

So all in all, you need to think about the reason you are stopping, and do the social reasons outweigh the physiological justification for that warm cup of tea and a slice of cake!  You need to decide what you want to get out of the ride…it is a social, or is it to benefit your training?

So, some might call me miserable, but when it comes to café stops (or punctures) I will pause as briefly as possible, and keep pedalling.  I can promise you it will have a significant impact on your training.  If you want to meet the group again, find out which way they are heading, ride on for a short amount of time (10-15 mins) then turn to come back and join them!

Of course, if you really want a coffee stop, wait until the end of the ride, and use it to refuel….

Happy cycling

Garry (aka “the miserable git”)

Dr Garry Palmer

| 2 years ago

About this author:
Dr Garry Palmer is a sports scientist and founder of Sportstest. He's also our go to guy on all things to do with training programmes and nutrition.
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