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Cycling nutrition: eating for a big ride

BikesEtc
27 Nov 2018

Understand how your body works and you’ll soon see why developing an eating strategy is integral to getting you over the finish line

This article first appeared in Issue 48 of BikesEtc magazine

The longer you ride, the more you need to think about nutrition. Get it wrong by eating too much, too little or the wrong type of food and you could lose strength, stamina, mental focus or even end up suffering from embarrassing and unpleasant tummy troubles.

Here we look at how to eat to keep going…

What fuels my body?

When you exercise, stored glycogen is broken down into glucose to supply energy to working muscles. The body can store enough glycogen to power about 90 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise.

Ride longer or tackle hills, and you’ll need to consume top-up calories while you ride.

What form should these calories take?

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend 30-60g of carbs per hour of exercise lasting 1-2.5 hours, and up to 90g per hour for longer bouts.

What form should these carbs take?

Go for fast-acting carbs such as bananas, raisins, dates, figs, and cereal bars, and energy bars (not protein bars).

Train with your food of choice, too – don’t suddenly introduce it on the day of a race or sportive as that could prove messy. Quite literally.

When should I eat?

Get the fuel onboard early, say 30 minutes into a longer ride. Then munch on small amounts every 20-30 minutes. Instead of eating an energy bar in one go, break it up into a couple of pieces to eat over the course of an hour.

If necessary, set a timer on your watch or bike computer to remind you to graze on schedule. Don’t overdo it, though.

Your body has a fixed capacity to absorb carbohydrates, and eating too much can cause gastric distress.

Should I eat or drink carbs?

Eat them. It’s always best to separate hydration from refuelling. Drink 250ml of plain water every 90 minutes to keep your body properly hydrated  – but add an electrolyte mix to your bidon for longer rides.

Any carb ingestion should be delivered to your body’s batteries via solids. Hydration should be left to liquids – so don’t mix the two. 

What should I munch before I ride?

Eat a high-carbohydrate meal (one with plenty of pasta for example) one to two hours before you start riding.

If you’ll be riding for longer, add some protein to your fuel intake – foods such as eggs, Greek yoghurt, cottage cheese, tofu or chicken.

This will help sustain your energy levels by preserving your muscles for longer while they’re under stress from exertion.

TIP: Blood used for digestion is diverted from your guts to your legs while riding, so on long rides eat solids at the start and save gels and the like for the latter stages.

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