Harmons Grocery has been a longtime supporter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. We accept donations at checkout stands throughout the month of June. In addition, Harmons will match the first $25,000 in customer donations dollar for dollar.
Another way to join in the cause is by participating in the in-person bike race! Bike MS: Harmons Best Dam Bike Ride 2021 will be held on June 26. To register and join the Harmons team, go here.
In honor of the Bike MS event, Harmons’ passion for food, and my personal investment in nutrition and bikes, here we are for a post all about cycling fuel.
First, let’s set the record straight: you don’t have to be racing the Tour de France or be a professional athlete to pay attention to sports nutrition. A little knowledge can go a long way in maximizing performance. Maximizing performance is important whether you’re riding across the country or around the block.
There are some nutrition principles are that are generalizable to most sports. For the basics, see our Sports Nutrition 101 post. For this post, we will talk nutrition within the context of endurance cycling.
Pre-ride carbohydrates: Your body has approximately 1800 calories’ worth of carbohydrates stored in the muscle and liver. These limited stores influence how long and hard you can ride. By eating enough carbohydrates before and during your ride, you can delay the onset of fatigue and avoid “bonking.”
What are the best pre-ride food choices? Something familiar is a good place to start. Trying new foods on race day can be a recipe for disaster! Everyone is unique, so you will have to do some experimenting, but:
A balanced meal, 3-4 hours before exercise has been shown to improve performance. This means including a variety of food groups! Protein, fat, and carbohydrate all contribute to a balanced meal. Also shoot to include a fruit or vegetable—or even better—both! Fiber is necessary for a well-rounded diet, but it’s best not to overload right before exercise. Moderate amounts of fruits and veggies should be fine 3-4 hours before, but get to know what your body tolerates. Because carbohydrates will be a main source of fuel for endurance exercise, don’t skimp on them. Aim for at least 300 calories from carbohydrates.
Snacking close to the starting line: The closer it is to “go” time, the more careful you want to be with your snacking. A safe bet is something carbohydrate-rich that is low in fat, protein, and fiber. This will likely sit well and digest easily rather than feel heavy and uncomfortable. Here are some ideas:
- Whole grain crackers such as Triscuits
- A slice of plain bread or toast
- Belvita breakfast biscuits
- Pretzel Thins
- Whole fruits*
- Instant oatmeal*
*These are higher in fiber; know beforehand what sits well with your individual body before exercise.
Fueling during a ride prevents dehydration and low blood sugar, either of which could sideline you with fatigue.
Avoiding Dehydration: It’s best to start hydrating before your body starts signaling thirst! Drink small amounts consistently—small amounts are usually better tolerated than chugging all at once. For a ride under an hour, water is most likely sufficient. For longer rides, sports drinks and electrolyte beverages can be a great tool. These products all have different combinations of carbohydrates, sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and other minerals and vitamins. Some also have added caffeine. Products marketed with zero sugar may sound healthy and appealing but would not be a good choice if you are looking to replenish carbs throughout. Make sure you read the nutrition or supplement facts panel on the product to make an informed decision on what will be a good fit. Here are some examples of products to hydrate with for those long rides:
Avoiding Low Blood Sugar: Because your brain controls your muscles and your ability to concentrate on a task, you will ride well and have more fun if your brain is well fed. The brain relies on glucose for fuel. The glucose comes from carbohydrates you eat and the stores in your body. You need to fuel appropriately both before and during the ride to stay sharp and feel good.
The general recommendation for carbohydrate consumption is about 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour of activity. Ideally, have some of your 30-60 grams of carbohydrates every 15-20 minutes throughout the ride, rather than waiting until you are hungry. Slow, consistent carbohydrate consumption ensures a steady stream of energy and reduces the risk of digestive discomfort. Remember that beverages like sports drinks can also include carbohydrates. A few product suggestions to meet your 30-60 g per hour:
Fluids: Replace lost fluids as soon as possible! As soon as you get off the bike, hydrate. A more exact way of measuring fluid need is to weigh yourself before and after exercise, and replenish the weight lost in fluids. Since this is not always realistic, drink enough to quench your thirst, then continue to sip water the rest of the day.
Carbohydrates: Replace lost carbohydrates as soon as possible! Eat a carbohydrate-rich food as soon as you can tolerate it (ideally within 1-1.5 hours of finishing). If it was a long endurance activity, be conscious of eating every couple of hours for the rest of the day. The food doesn’t have to be exclusively carbohydrates; it can and should be a part of a well-balanced meal.
Protein: Eat a small amount of protein along with carbohydrates to aid in muscle repair and reduce soreness. Try to get in about 20 g of protein within 30-60 minutes after the ride. Both carbohydrates and protein are important for recovery. A recommended ratio is 3:1 or 4:1 grams of carbohydrate to protein.
Why Does This Matter?
Applying even a small component of this information to your cycling could be the difference between a massive victory or hitting a wall of fatigue. Paying closer attention to your fueling before, during, and after rides can help you to have the best performance possible. For more specific or individualized sports nutrition guidance, contact your dietitian at email@example.com.