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 1 ½ hrs in the 4 hour total.

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?

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