Introduction- How to Recover From “Bonking”
Before your mind wanders to more colorful topics, the word “bonk” in sports refers to “hitting the wall” or reaching the limits of your physical ability.
For endurance athletes, it is an immediate and overwhelming feeling of lack of energy. You were running or climbing what appeared to be a manageable segment, and, without warning, your feet turned to cement. With heavy legs, a feeling of tiredness all over the body, and sometimes dizziness, you are forced to stop to regain energy.
One of the earliest examples of the athletic term “bonk” came from a film in the mid-1950s produced by British Transport Films. In this film, cyclists remarked that if they did not get sufficient rest and food, they would have bonked. They said the feeling was similar to a punch in the head.
Points to Note
- If you feel your legs are flat and dead, you are losing energy, and your heart rate is high – drink more liquid. It takes time to recover, but you can speed it up with water and a pinch of salt.
- If you experience dizziness, spacey, or blurred vision, you will need to eat more: you can reduce the intensity so that your body uses fat, not carbohydrates, and take a glucose pill for immediate relief. Eat something tangible as quickly as possible.
- Long term: eat and drink at regular intervals while riding.
What Causes Bonking?
A bonk can be described as a total depletion of glycogen in the muscles and liver. Many would also describe it as “fatigue”.
Glycogen is the main fuel source for endurance athletes. This critical glycogen deficiency does not occur during short, high-intensity exercise. Rather, it occurs during continuous exercise at about 70 to 85% of maximum oxygen uptake (VO2). Most people reach this level while exercising for about two hours.
Short, high-intensity efforts use a different combination of energy systems in the body. This waste of the energy system ends up intervening with muscle contractions and forces you to stop or slow down.
So what should you do when this happens?
While hydration may seem like an obvious course of action when you get off the bike, it is also essential during hours of riding. If you’ve done your best, it certainly hasn’t replaced all of the fluid lost during the ride. Proteins and quick sugar will help you in your recovery, so if you can, take some milk or fruit juice.
Further, electrolytes are essential to maintain your body’s mineral balance. This is why many athletes consume sports drinks to replace both fluids and electrolytes.
Your glycogen stores have been completely depleted. Sometimes you feel voracious after a bonk; other times, you feel a little sick or lacking appetite. No matter how you feel, it is essential to eat as soon as possible to get your body back to normal.
Ideally, it would be best if you ate a good balance of carbohydrates and protein, like chicken pasta, peanut butter sandwiches, or rice with eggs. In practice, these foods may not be available immediately, especially if you don’t expect to feel tired and exhausted after or during the ride.
The most important part of recovering a bonk is food to restore glycogen stores, so get some food as soon as possible. Many endurance sportspeople bring along energy bars and sports drinks to long events, and these help to provide some relief before you can get access to more substantial food.
No beer after the ride
Many people love a cold beer after an intensive workout, but a beer after the ride won’t help you feel better. Alcohol is a diuretic; it will dehydrate you even more and can cause headaches. Alcohol also affects muscle repair and glycogen replacement, slowing down your recovery.
Your body needs adequate time to recover- where possible, take a nap after eating, or at least get some rest and cancel all immediate appointments.
Reflect on why you bonked
This is where you get to reflect on what happened during the ride; when did you start feeling exhausted and how much nutrition did you provide/ consume? Use this experience when planning hydration and nutrition for your next trip.
Signs and symptoms
If you participate in a triathlon event such as Ironman, you will find that more than one participant is swinging along the way, looking stunned, confused, and disoriented. These are all athletes who have significantly reduced their glucose stores.
Lack of blood sugar has emotional and cognitive effects, in addition to the physical impact. When your blood sugar drops too low, the first thing that happens is problems with continuous muscle contractions. You will feel slow, heavy, and weak. If you continue, the physical effort becomes more difficult, and you will start to feel muscle tremors, sweating, and a lack of coordination. You may experience extreme hunger or lack of appetite.
At this time, your body protects the brain by stopping the muscles. The brain and nervous system will soon be affected, and the result will be mental and emotional symptoms. Dizziness, feelings of lightness, tunnel vision, and disorientation are common experiences. Anxiety, nervousness, and even irritability and hostility can occur in some people. Some athletes experience a feeling of depression. In its extreme form, hypoglycemia can cause seizures and even coma.
Anyone can bonk if he or she does not eat properly during intense resistance exercises. Bonking is common in sports such as running, cycling, and mountain biking. Cyclists are usually able to keep pedaling at a very high intensity for hours, while triathletes and runners who are used to the high intensity could also deplete their glycogen stores.
Ask for help if you bonk
An important factor in recognizing and recovering from bonking is to keep in mind that you may not be thinking clearly. For this reason, it is good to ask for help. If you are in a race event, there will be race officials or assistants whom you may approach.
If you are in a training session, ask someone around you to look out for you while you recover. Ideally, you should not be training alone, but with people that you know. However, if you have to depend on a stranger for assistance, try to pay more attention to what is going on around you.
Bonking or fatigue in endurance sports, such as cycling, is never a good feeling. If that happens to you, make sure to seek help, drink liquids, have some food, and rest to recover. Thereafter, you should evaluate the reasons why you bonked, such as a lack of nutrition prior to the event, and plan thoroughly for future cycling trips.