A lot of nutrition experts say that they’re astonished by the eating habits of cyclists. Most of them, including some of the pros, don’t always eat the right kinds of foods before and after a ride. It’s no surprise then, that these cyclists who don’t pay more attention to their nutrition constantly suffer from loss of energy, injuries, and even a full-fledged bonk.
It helps a lot if you’re a professional cyclist who’s on a big-budgeted team. Then you can easily have access to a medical staff that can monitor and regulate your physical conditioning, including your diet. But what if you’re just a regular weekend rider, or one of those cyclists who haven’t quite made the successful leap to pro level yet? Then you’re on your own, and you need to study up on what’s best for your body when you’re out there riding.
What You Should Eat
Sometimes, a basic understanding of what your body needs for fuel for a ride is all you will need. As an endurance athlete, you will need glucose, most of all, to keep your body going the extra mile. Glucose serves as fuel for your muscles, and it is stored in your body as glycogen which can be quickly used as fuel when your body needs it to keep going.
Since you’re going to need a lot of glucose for on those long rides, you should be focusing on your carb intake. Carbohydrates are the best nutrients to get the glucose that your body demands, since its chemical structure allows it to be broken down and processed faster and more efficiently than other sources of glucose, such as fats and proteins.
Fats would indeed seem to be a more viable source of energy, since it does contain more calories than either carbohydrates or proteins. But why is it not recommended to stuff your face with burgers and fries while you ride? Primarily because your body will have a tougher time extracting that glucose from fats than from carbs. As a matter of fact, it will take more energy to get that glucose out of those fats than what you need to extract the same amount from carbs.
Meanwhile, you could have used that energy to power your muscles and ride faster and longer on your bike. Trying to get energy from fats as compared to carbs, then, is a waste of– well, energy. So carbohydrates wins it as the best source of energy for the endurance athlete, and that means you, the cyclist.
Where Do You Get the Carbs
You know that foods like pasta, corn, rice, and other grains or cereals are rich in carbohydrates. But you can’t go around eating spaghetti or a cup of oatmeal on your bike, can you? What you need to carry around during long rides are low-fat, high-carb foods that you can easily fit in your jersey pockets. Some of the best items on this list include dried fruits like raisins, prunes or dates, and breads like bagels or bite-sized cookies.
Energy bars are also extremely popular among cyclists, and the pros eat them during races all the time. I find that there are three distinct advantages in eating energy bars during rides: they are easy enough to carry, they have rich amounts of carbohydrates, and they are low in fat.
There are other great sources of carbs too, like those energy gels you might have heard of. Energy gels are made specially for endurance athletes, so you won’t have to worry about them being dangerous for consumption. However, you must drink a lot of water along with eating those energy bars or energy gels, otherwise they will just sit in your stomach like slop and won’t be able to provide your body with the glucose it needs.
Speaking of water, you can also get high doses of carbs from energy drinks like Gatorade. Yes, I know that these drinks are usually advertised mainly as being able to replenish the electrolytes that you lose during the sweating process and such, but the carbs in those drinks are what a cyclist like yourself needs, anyway.
What’s the Best Time to Eat
Have you ever heard of the saying, “Eat before you’re hungry and drink before you’re thirsty”? If you haven’t, then you probably need to experience more in the world of cycling. It’s a popular mantra among riders, and it’s popular for a very good reason.
Your body feels hungry or thirsty because your brain sends signals telling it so. However, by the time your body starts getting those signals, it’s usually too late to do anything about it. Of course it won’t be too late if you’re just walking around and start feeling hungry, then you can just pop into the nearest diner and have at it. But we’re talking cycling here, remember?
When you’re in a race, stopping for lunch would be unthinkable, to say the least. And it’s also not recommended even for casual cycling where you’re not going after podium finishes or the fastest time. Don’t wait until you get hungry. Carry some food with you and learn to take quick bites while you’re on your bike, and do it as often as possible throughout your ride.
This way, you can prevent losing your body’s storage of glucose and you’re also giving it usable fuel at the same time. A good time gap would be eating every 30 minutes or so, starting with the very first hour on your bike. And remember; everything I said here pertains to you fluid intake, too.
Carrying Your Food
Energy bars are so easy to carry and eat while out riding, whether in a competition or not. It helps a lot to have bite-sized pieces of food with you, rather than something which you have to bite into and then return to your bag or pocket.
So, a good idea is cut up one or two energy bars before the ride, put them in a sandwich bag or something similar, and then store that bag in my pocket without sealng them up. This way, you can easily reach in, grab a bite-sized chunk, and pop it into your mouth while riding. And, you don’t even have to slow down for this. What makes this so great is that when the ride is over, all you have to put away is that single bag. No wrappers or other mess to worry about, right?
This also goes for dried fruits, or crackers, or any food that you take with you. Do your best to store them in a rolled-up but unsealed bag beforehand, so you won’t have to fudge around in your pocket trying to get it open.
However, eating while on the bike will take some time getting used to. You may find that you’ll actually have to practice this before you get the hang of it and start eating on your bike like a pro. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself slowing down, or worse, losing balance altogether. Slowing down may not mean much when you’re not in a race, but if you are in the midst of a 25-rider battle down the road with 15 kilometers to go and a championship on the line, it makes all the difference.
The Best Kind of Food to Bring
We’ll keep it simple. When you’re thinking about what kind of food you should bring with you on your ride, just consider for a moment if you’ll really eat it or not.
For example, you might have heard about the latest energy bars or the best energy gels available, and your team doctor is even telling you to bring them along. But will you actually eat it when you’re hungry? You might just spit it out because you personally think it tastes horrible. In this case, bringing all that “food” was just a waste of time, and you’re still riding out there without additional fuel.
So bring along the food that you will eat. If you can’t stand the taste of a Powerbar, bring some raisins or cookies, instead. Actually, it’s a lot better to bring along food with high carbs and some fat (like a sandwich, for example) that you’re sure you will eat, rather than bringing a whole pocketful of energy gels that makes you cringe just by thinking about them, never mind putting one into your mouth. Puking while riding is no fun for you or your trailing riding buddies.
Here are some quick suggestions if you need them: sandwiches (maybe with jam or honey), cereal bars, crackers, cookies or biscuits, dried fruits, and glucose candies, if you have them.
So there you have it. Hopefully you have learned something about staying energetic and healthy on your bike, as well as the role of glucose and carbs in providing much-needed fuel for your body. Remember, do not avoid eating on your bike if you can help it. It’s a bad idea and you could lose energy or totally bonk out. Eat before you get hungry, and eat throughout your.