Nutrition for CyclistsNutrition for Cyclists
Have you ever heard the saying, "you are what you eat"? It's actually true. If you eat junk, you'll feel probably feel like junk. That saying holds true when it comes to your cycling nutrition too. You can't put low grade foods into your body and expect to perform like a pro.
What's worse than eating low quality food is not eating at all. Since you are what you eat, when you eat nothing, you are nothing. And if that's the case you'll crash or bonk. You know, that feeling when you hit a wall and just can't go any further. Avoid that feeling altogether by following this guide to eating before, during, and after your ride.
Ready to Ride
Fueling for a ride begins long before you sit in the saddle. Depending on the length and intensity of your ride, your body might tap into energy stores from the previous day. With that in mind, when heading into a long training ride, be sure to eat a balanced meal for dinner the night before. Think lean protein, healthy fats, and slow digesting carbohydrates like whole grain pasta, brown rice and sweet potatoes.
After wrapping up a filling meal, get to sleep early; your body will thank you later. Then, in the morning, don't skip breakfast. If you have three hours or more before your ride you can get away with eating a full meal complete with 60 -80 grams of carbohydrates for women and 80-100 or more grams for men. Like the previous night's dinner, some healthy fats and protein will help to top off the tank.
The goal is to build up glycogen stores. Glycogen is the stored up carbohydrates. So if you're body is the engine, glycogen is the gasoline. You need it to keep going, especially during exercise. Since glycogen is the gas, that means that water is the oil that lubes the engine. Be sure to pre-hydrate, sipping a sports drink or coconut water prior to setting out.
Snack in the Saddle
When you're riding, what you eat and when will be determined by the length of your ride. Put simply, shorter rides require less fuel. Still, that doesn't mean that you should overlook eating and drinking altogether.
Short ride - one hour or less
If you didn't skip breakfast your body will have enough energy stored up to make it through this ride without any added snacks. The main focus will be fluids, as in what you drink. Don't allow yourself to become thirsty, that sensation follows the need for water. So take a drink every 15 minutes during the ride.
Mid-distance - 1 to 3 hours
After the 60 minute mark glycogen will become the main source of energy. That's why you need to replace the carbohydrates you're using up. Look to consume 30-60 grams of carbs per hour. Nutrition bars, gels, and drinks are the easiest way to get these calories and carbs in, but you can also opt for bananas, dates, or other whole foods. Don't forget to keep drinking your water or sports drink every 15 minutes throughout the ride.
Long ride - over 3 hours
You need to keep eating, but you don't want to overdo it. Try to stay within the 30-60 grams of carbs per hour. As the length of the ticks up, so does the need for electrolytes in the form of tablets or pills. For longer rides, it's also a good idea to start out by eating whole foods, turning to gels and bars later in the ride.
When the ride wraps up take advantage of the recovery window by consuming a meal or shake that is fits a 3:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio. This will help aid recovery and replenish muscles. Then, one to two hours later, plan on consuming a meal complete with protein, healthy fats, and plenty of carbohydrates.