Episode #5 – Performance Enhancing Drinks to Ride Harder and Recover Faster

Episode #5 – Performance Enhancing Drinks to Ride Harder and Recover Faster

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Episode 5 of the Semi-Pro Cycling podcast talks about performance enhancing drinks that make a big difference to your riding and recovery.


This week I talk about the Olympics, including Phil Liggett’s comments on the inclusion of Mountain Biking and BMX and Vino’s win. Also, what left a big mark on me was the show of emotion from Cancellara at the end of the race. I’m not going to say it shows he’s human, what I am going to say that the pressure these guys put on themselves is so great, the heartbreak was clear. It was a nice moment, not for Cancellara, but amongst the hype that big one day races bring.


The nuts and bolts were inspired by Josh our.playground.net, he brought beet juice to my attention and I took it from there.




Beet Juice


Straight up let me say I haven’t tried it, but looking into it seems to have crept into the pro cycling sphere with teams like Garmin using it at Tours such as the Tour of California.


What is it?


Ergogenic aid – which are substances taken in concentrated forms to achieve a specific performance benefit. The evidence is starting to accumulate to support nitrates/beetroot juice for endurance performance.


What are its performance benefits?


Professor Andrew Jones, from the University of Exeter, lead author of the research talks about his study on beets and cycling performance. Dr Allen Lim offers a simpler explanation and a recipe.


When to take it?


Before you ride. It seems like a pretty heavy substance so I would recommend starting out drinking it 2 hours before a ride and moving up to an hour if you can stomach it.


Personally, I want to try this beet juice before I make a final decision. So I’m going to buy some in the next week and test for a few more weeks then get back to you.






What are its performance benefits?


I recommend you drink water – here’s a little insight as to why from Max Wunderle. There is a massive change in performance before technical dehydration. When you are talking the definition of dehydration, it’s somewhere around a 3% of body weight loss in fluids. So 1% loss of fluids for a 10% loss in performance is huge. So it’s less of a performance boost, but rather a performance reduction if it’s not maintained.


When to take it?


All the time. Doing the math and converting to metric, the equation for daily water drinking outside of training time is (BW in kg x 2.2 / 2) x 0.029 = Litres per day or a rough calculation of BW in Kg / 31 = Litres per day. During exercise in 22-23 degrees – 1/2 litre hour and 30 degrees – 1-litre hour.




What is it?


Ergogenic aid – again these are substances taken in concentrated forms to achieve a specific performance benefit. Caffeine is also one that has been shown in well-designed studies to improve performance.


Alright, how to get it into your system:

  • Coke has about 32 mg of caffeine in a can.
  • Tea about the same. Black teas have more caffeine. Green tea has about 15 – 20mg.
  • Coffee is the power house a cup of coffee has about 110mg depends on the quality of course.
  • Another way to get it in your system is Aeroshots


What are its benefits? 


Caffeine has been shown to improve performance over a variety of distances and types of races. Check this out though, for as long as I have raced people have been using coke in the final stages of races, we’re talking the last lap of MTB races. Funny thing is that someone back then (1997) did a  survey on the top pro US road teams at the time and found that roughly 90% teams consumed coke, and in all cases towards the end of 2-6 hour races.

So is there any evidence that Coke actually works well as a performance enhancer? Well, it’s the caffeine in Coke that is the factor here, and because of the low amount of caffeine compared to coffee, your tolerance is something to consider here. If you are a regular drinker the effects may be lost on you. As recommended in the literature review, try and sustain from drinking it for one week before a race and see if that changes your performance.


When to take it?


For shorter races, take a dose of approximately 3-6mg/kg body weight approximately 60 minutes before the start. For longer events, do the same and then take approximately 50mg per hour of racing. Which is 1 and a half cokes . Try de-fizzed and diluted in water.


Post Ride 


We are talking about drinks that provide energy via protein in a convenient form, in this case, protein powders. For me, these replace normal food as a convenience thing. It’s just not practical to get protein into my system in the in the 30-minute window after a ride. Specifically, Whey Protein.


What is it? 


Whey is a group of proteins found in milk (about 20% of the total proteins by weight).


The powder is made from the waste product of cheese making (curds and whey). It comes in 2 forms. Whey Protein Concentrate and Whey Protein Isolate


Whey Protein Concentrate is 80% protein by weight and is produced by passing the whey through an ultra-fine filter. While Whey Protein Isolate is 90% protein by weight, produced by further filtration. There’s nothing to suggest one is better than the other. So just use Whey Protein Isolate as it’s lower in lactose with 10% more protein.


Why you need protein?


Protein is vital for the repair and recovery of muscle tissue after a ride. It’s in this post-recovery phase that you may need to rethink what you’re eating. Not only should you be rebuilding your fuel stores immediately after a ride, but you also need to repair damaged muscle fibres as soon as possible.


What are its benefits? 


There’s clear evidence that whey protein can help enhance recovery. It aids the muscles in repairing themselves and building themselves up to promote adaption to training. There’s also evidence to suggest that whey protein can help manage weight and body composition.


When to take it?


Immediately after hard training sessions. If you drink right then your body will get stronger, fitter and recover faster.


How much do you need? 


Depending on the amount and intensity of your cycling, the recommended range is 1.2-1.4g protein per kg of body weight per day. So I’m talking about 30g of whey protein isolate with water. Which should get you 130 calories, 5g carbs & 25g protein. You can flavour it with some honey and frozen berries. Just don’t over do it with extras, they can be a large calories trap.


After you’ve showered and dressed, eat something more substantial with carbs and protein to top up to the daily recommend limit to prepare your body for your next ride.




What are the take aways?


1. Try beet juice for yourself to see if the scientific evidence can be proven in your riding. Let me know how you go!


2. Work out your daily water consumption and hourly rate during exercise based on temperature, and try some salt and lemon in your water.


3. Try with restraining from coffee for a week and try coffee and/or coke in a ride or race to see if it works for you.


4. Get some Whey Protein Isolate and make shakes after your ride for recovery and tell me if you notice a difference on your next ride.


Tech, Hacks or Products 


Home made gel – I’ll put the recipe in the show notes.




The following delivers ~320 calories or a little more than 3 packets of Gu.




65g Maltodextrin – brewer’s sugar. On a quick side note, You can add it to foods/drinks at any time to boost carbohydrates. It’s useful post-ride if restoring CHO stores quickly is important.


15g Dextrose – Dextrose is quite similar in taste to sucrose (table sugar), but has a higher glycemic index. That means it causes a more rapid increase in blood glucose levels, which provides a quick energy boost but can eventually result in low blood sugar. Dextrose is therefore often mixed with other sugars to help temper those effects.


15g Sports drink powder for flavour you could use juice.


½ tsp / 3g salt


A nearly full Gu flask of water. About 1/2 cup of water.


I use a Gu Flask.  A small container with a bidon nozzle. It holds 5 normal gels, which is quite substantial. I actually remember for a mountain bike marathon just filling up a normal bidon with my home made gel a bit of a mistake, I needed some real food. I suffered a bit that day.




1. Measure maltodextrin, dextrose and sports powder into a glass jar


2. Add your water


3. Put jar lid on and shake.


4. Take lid off the heat in microwave oven.  Intermittently remove from microwave to stir.  Be careful not to allow the mixture to boil over.


5. When mixture if fully dissolved, remove from microwave and pour into Gu Flask.




This recipe needs to be warm to be used.  I recommend making it the day before your ride or race then tossing it in the microwave briefly just before heading out.  If carried in a jersey pocket, body heat is more than sufficient to keep the concoction liquid and free flowing.





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2 Responses to Episode #5 – Performance Enhancing Drinks to Ride Harder and Recover Faster

  1. Hi Damian,

    Interesting session on Beet Juice. Just launching Beet It in North America. We offer a 70ml (2oz) concentrated Beet Juice called the Beet It Shot that has the equivalent dietary nitrate levels found in 500ml-1L of Beet juice. It evolved out of the early research in the UK as a more convenient and tasty method to gain the benefits of beet juice.

    In any case, we are currently building out our new site which will showcase a portal dedicated to the many research studies surrounding the health and medical benefits being studied.

    Let me know how your trials go….


    • Hi Stephen,

      Beet It will definitely solve the volume issue. I will check out your site when it’s up, keen to read more on Beet Juice. Goodluck with the launch!


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