Cycling After Dinner – 15 Facts


So you have just had a nice dinner and feel like stretching your legs, so should cycling be the answer to all of this? It will certainly get the blood flowing, but is this the right thing to do while still digesting your food?

I have to admit that I regularly combine eating and cycling – but is this wise?

In this article, I’ll look at what the science says about cycling after dinner, and give you the most important 15 facts that you need to know.

Cycling after dinner facts

1. You Need to Wait After Eating Before Cycling

First, let’s get the time issue out of the way.

If you have had a large meal, then it is generally recommended that you wait some 2 to 4 hours after eating before you get on your bike.

However, if you have only had a small snack, then it can vary from 30 minutes to up to 2 hours. Once again, it all depends on the size of the snack.

This is clearly to allow your digestion to have the time to work. It will not be the best of ideas to simply jump on your bike as soon as you are finished as you will end up with all sorts of stomach and digestion issues.

Also, it will ruin your bike ride, and that, according to the experts, is 100% fact.

While I said you need to wait up to 4 hours after eating dinner, it’s important that you listen to your own body before deciding on the time limit.

2. You Won’t Burn Off as Much Fat When Cycling After Food

If you are hoping to burn fat when riding your bike, then the chances of this happening when cycling after dinner will reduce.

The problem here is that your body is going to focus on burning off the carbohydrates you have just consumed before it moves onto the fat stores.

This is something that the body will always do, so it’s not limited to just cycling. Burning off carbohydrates is significantly easier for your body to do than it burning off fat, so it makes sense as to why it would opt for that first. [Source]

But it’s worth keeping in mind that your body will act in that manner if it’s a fat-burning exercise you are looking for. 

3. You Could Suffer from Stomach Discomfort

Let’s say you have just had dinner, and you feel propelled to get on your bike and go for a ride.

Well, while it’s not guaranteed, there’s a pretty good chance you will end up with some sort of stomach discomfort.

Once again, this is all linked to your digestion. If you do this, then your body has not had ample opportunity to use its energy to digest food correctly.

Instead, what you have done is force your body into focusing on burning off food and keeping your body going. That causes a problem as what you just ate is sort of left behind. 

Any sort of stomach discomfort while cycling is not something you wish to encounter. It does not bode well for a good ride.

Cycling for weight loss
If weight loss is your goal, then eating before cycling is a bad ideas as your body will burn carbohydrates not fat

4. If You Do Cycle After Eating, it Must Be Gentle

If you feel you just cannot wait and need to get out for a ride after dinner, then nobody is going to stop you. However, it should be very gentle and not be pushing yourself in any way. 

You do not want to be getting your heart rate up, or pushing your muscles.

Instead, think of it in the same way as experts recommend you get up and have a slow, gentle walk after a meal. 

Now, if you feel confused about the digestion part here, then a quick explanation will help.

Slow, gentle exercise can help things to move along. It’s when we start to put our body under stress that a problem can, and often will, arise. That is the part you need to avoid at all costs. 

But here is another problem.

Even though it should be absolutely fine to have a gentle cycle, that’s not always going to be the case for every individual.

We are all different, and our bodies will react in slightly different ways. What could be fine for one person may be too much for another, so you need to be aware of your own body and its limitations.

5. An Oily Meal Is Worse For Cycling

If you have had dinner where there was quite a lot of oil involved, and you are aware that it was quite oily, then any cycling after it is a bad idea.

The oil in the food is not going to react well with your digestion being put under stress due to cycling. If you have had a meal with a lot of oil, then you need to wait an absolute bare minimum of 2 hours before you jump on your bike.

Anything under that could result in you actually vomiting on your ride, and no cyclist want that to happen to them at the side of the road.

6. Cycling On a Full Stomach Reduces Endurance Capacity

Various studies have indicated that riding on an almost empty stomach increases your endurance capacity.

That means riding on a full stomach is going to do the complete opposite. It’s also known to increase body capacity, and it’s all thanks to the way in which your body burns off fat rather than those carbs you just ate. 

When your body burns fat, it also manages to improve mitochondrial density. That does, in turn, lead to a VO2 max. That means your body is taking in more oxygen leading to better results.

All of that endurance-related stuff becomes defunct when you have a full stomach. 

When your body burns fat, it also manages to improve mitochondrial density. That does, in turn, lead to a VO2 max. That means your body is taking in more oxygen leading to better results.

7. You Won’t Recover the Same

Riding on a full stomach, or even a relatively full stomach will directly influence your ability to recover from your ride.

It slows everything down in the body, and so much energy is being used up by your digestion that other areas do suffer.

That means you will feel the effects of your ride for longer than you should, and even longer than you normally experience. People then wonder why they feel so different after that ride compared to normal, and that’s the reason why.

Your body will struggle with repairing that muscle damage. It has been unable to burn fat in the normal way.

You feel sluggish and more tired, and it just doesn’t bode well for you after being out for a ride in these conditions.

8. Eating Before Cycling Affects Hormones

When you are cycling on an empty stomach, a number of things happen in your body. One of these things is the production of growth hormones, which enables us to cycle harder, faster, and over greater distances.

If you cycle on that empty stomach, you get a real spike in growth hormones, and that’s great news. However, when you have just had dinner, then this spike is diminished. 

These growth hormones are important. They help with muscle and tissue repair, as well as building.

They also help you to burn more fat and effectively turn your body into a machine.

This won’t happen to the same extent when you jump on your bike after dinner. As we have said before, your body is focusing on other things, and it pushes this production of growth hormones down the list of what is important.

So, if you want to see some positive gains when you go out for a ride, then it cannot happen when you go ahead and do it on a full stomach after dinner.

9. Cycling After Spicy Food is a Bad Idea

If you love spicy food, then please do wait at least 2 hours before you go out for a ride.

It is well-known that spicy food is one of the main causes of individuals getting stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea when they go on their bikes too soon.

You certainly don’t want that to happen to you.

It’s all due to the way in which digestion works, and for some reason, spices can become problematic for some people. This can apply even when you are just sitting at home, as well all know how anyone can sometimes suffer after eating something spicy.

So, when that’s the case with just resting, then can you imagine the impact some hard exercise can have on your digestion and its ability to deal with spicy food?

It just cannot happen.

10. Do Not Have Alcohol and Then Cycle

If you love to have a glass of wine with your dinner, then don’t do this and go out for a cycle straight away. The alcohol is going to increase your chances of having gastro-intestinal distress while out on your bike, and that can apply to anyone.

Also, don’t think it’s going to be related to how much alcohol you consume.

While that can play a role, it’s known that any alcohol can prove to be distressful for any digestion, and you could end up in some sort of difficulty when out on your ride.

Cycling donw a river path after dinner
Eating before cycling reduces the quantity of positive hormones that your body releases

11. Avoid Fatty Food Before Cycling

We mentioned too much oil in your food as being bad, and the same does go for fatty food.

If you have had fatty food for your dinner, then jumping on your bike is a bad idea.

Fatty food will also take longer to digest, as all the fat needs to be broken down by your body before it can be stored. That does mean things are slowed down and sluggish, and that is where the problem can arise. 

Foods such as too much cheese, as an example, will increase the chances of you feeling sick on your bike and completely destroying your ride. 

12. You Won’t Use Glycogen Stores First

If you have heard about your body using glycogen for energy, then what we are talking about are fat stores. However, if you just eat and go out for a ride, then your body will use blood sugar as a fuel source rather than glycogen stores.

This impacts the ability of the body to use glycogen, which is kind of essential when it comes to turning your body into a fat-burning machine.

Your body needs to learn how to transform the glycogen, and that is something it cannot do when you have obscured things by making it digest other areas first.

13. Eating Before Cycing Makes Life Harder

Because of the way in which energy is being delivered, or failed to be delivered in some instances, then there’s no doubt you are making life harder when cycling after dinner.

You are simply giving your body too many things to do at one time.

Sure it can manage it all, but not without a struggle. Your body has to sacrifice some things in order to contend with other areas.

If you wonder why you were unable to ride as fast or as far as before, then this is the reason why.

14. It’s a More Uncomfortable Ride

Doing any sort of activity on a relatively full stomach is uncomfortable, so why would cycling be any different?

There’s a reason why professional cyclists have everything timed to perfection, and it’s to make sure their body is correctly fueled with the right stuff at the right time.

Failing to work things out from a time perspective will mean a more uncomfortable ride. 

15. If Your Body isn’t Happy, Then Why Do it?

If you are cycling in order to get fitter, then why would you go ahead and do something that would make it harder?

To get anywhere with cycling, you need to deliver what your body needs, and the one thing it doesn’t need is to be pushed to its limits after dinner.

While I said you need to wait up to 4 hours after eating dinner, it’s important that you listen to your own body before deciding on the time limit.

You know your body best, so pay attention as it will be quick enough to let you know when it’s not happy with something.

And those are 15 different facts related to cycling after dinner.

As you can see, it’s not something that is really advisable, unless you have managed to allow long enough for your food to be correctly digested. 

Be sensible with this, and there should be no reason why you have to completely eliminate going for a ride after dinner. 

Martin Williams

Martin has been tearing up all sorts of trails on a range of bikes ever since he was young. He once cycled across France, and once fell into a canal on a hybrid. He writes about everything to do with cycling on our site. You can find out more about him at bicycle2work.com/about-martin-williams/

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