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If you’re planning to go on a long road ride, you might want to pay attention to your nutrition. Nutrition is not only about what you eat before and after the ride, but also what you eat and drink during the ride. Proper nutrition can help you maintain your energy levels, prevent dehydration, avoid cramps, and recover faster. It can also make your ride more enjoyable and satisfying. So, let’s begin our topic ‘nutrition for long road rides‘.
Sources of Energy: Carbs and Fat
If you’re a cyclist, you probably know that carbs and fat are your main fuels for riding. But how do they work, and what’s the best way to use them?
Carbs are made of sugars, which are broken down into glucose in your digestive system. Glucose is then stored in your muscles and liver as glycogen, which is like a reserve tank of energy. When you start cycling, your body uses glycogen to power your muscles. The harder you work, the more glycogen you burn.
But glycogen is limited. You can only store about 500 grams of it, which is enough for about 90 minutes of moderate to high intensity cycling. If you run out of glycogen, you hit the wall, or bonk, and feel exhausted.
That’s where fat comes in. Fat is stored in your adipose tissue, which is basically your body fat. Fat has more than twice the energy of carbs per gram, so you have a lot of it. Even a lean cyclist has enough fat to ride for days.
But fat is harder to use than carbs. It takes more oxygen and time to break down fat into fatty acids and then into energy. That’s why your body prefers to use carbs when you’re working hard. Fat is more efficient when you’re cycling at a lower intensity, such as on a long and steady ride.
Endurance training can help you use both carbs and fat better. Training can increase your glycogen storage capacity by up to 50 percent, so you can ride longer without bonking. Training can also improve your fat metabolism, so you can burn more fat at higher intensities, sparing your glycogen.
What about protein? Protein is mainly used for building and repairing your muscles, not for fueling them. Protein only provides about five percent of your energy when you’re cycling, and only when you’re low on carbs and fat. You don’t need to eat a lot of protein during a ride, but you should have some after a ride to help your muscles recover.
Glycogen Stores Are Limited: In Depth Explanation
Glucose is the main source of energy for your cells, especially during exercise. But your body can only store a small amount of glucose in your blood and muscles. That’s why it converts some of the excess glucose into glycogen, a more complex carbohydrate that can be stored in your liver and muscles.
Glycogen stores are limited, though. The average person can store about 400 grams of glycogen in their muscles and 100 grams in their liver. As mentioned earlier that’s enough to fuel about 90 minutes of moderate to high-intensity exercise. After that, you’ll need to replenish your glycogen by eating carbohydrates.
And as discussed earlier even the skinniest rider has enough body fat to provide energy for an endurance ride, but not enough glycogen. Body fat can be used as a backup source of energy, but it takes longer to break down and requires more oxygen than glycogen. That’s why you’ll feel more tired and sluggish when you run out of glycogen.
The good news is that you can increase your body’s capacity to store glycogen by doing endurance training. Endurance training stimulates your muscles to produce more enzymes that help convert glucose into glycogen. It also increases the size and number of your muscle fibers, which can store more glycogen. Studies have shown that endurance training can increase your glycogen storage by 20 to 50%, depending on the intensity and duration of your workouts.
Primarily Eat Carbs
Carbohydrates, or carbs for short, are one of the main macronutrients that our body needs to function properly. Carbs are the main source of energy for our cells, especially our brain and muscles. They also help regulate our blood sugar levels, mood, appetite, and digestion.
Eating enough carbs is important for our health and well-being. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, carbs should provide about 60% of the calories in our daily diet. That means if you eat 2000 calories a day, you should aim for about 300 grams of carbs.
Carbs are found in many foods, both healthy and unhealthy. Some examples of healthy carbs are dairy products, fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, legumes, and seeds. These foods provide not only carbs, but also fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that benefit our health.
Some examples of unhealthy carbs are sugary foods and sweets, such as candy, soda, cakes, cookies, pastries, and ice cream. These foods provide mostly empty calories and added sugars that can harm our health. They can also cause spikes and crashes in our blood sugar levels, which can affect our mood, energy, and appetite.
Therefore, it is important to choose mostly healthy carbs and limit unhealthy carbs in our diet. This way, we can enjoy the benefits of carbs without the drawbacks.
If you’re planning to do a big ride, you might want to try carb loading. Carb loading is when you eat more carbs than usual for a few days before your event. This way, you can store more glycogen in your muscles and liver. Glycogen is like the fuel that your body uses when you exercise. The more glycogen you have, the longer you can go without getting tired or running out of energy. Carb loading is especially helpful for endurance events that last longer than 90 minutes, like cycling, running or swimming. But it’s not really necessary for shorter or less intense workouts. To carb load properly, you need to reduce your exercise and increase your carbs for about 3 to 7 days before your event. You can eat between 5 to 12 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight per day, depending on your activity level and goals. Some good sources of carbs are bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, fruits and sports drinks. Just make sure you don’t eat too much fat or protein, as they can slow down your digestion and make you feel heavy. Carb loading can help you perform better and feel more confident on your big ride. Just remember to drink enough water and eat some carbs during your event to keep your glycogen levels up.
Pre-hydrating is a smart way to prepare your body for a big ride. It helps you avoid dehydration, which can cause fatigue, cramps, headaches, and even heat stroke. Pre-hydrating means drinking enough fluids before you start cycling, so that your urine is clear or pale yellow. Here are some tips on what to drink and what to avoid:
– Drink water, sports drinks, or diluted juice. These fluids will hydrate you and provide some electrolytes and carbohydrates. Aim for about 500 ml (16 oz) of fluid two hours before your ride, and another 250 ml (8 oz) 15 minutes before you start.
– Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and carbonated drinks. These fluids can dehydrate you, interfere with your performance, and cause stomach discomfort. Save them for after your ride, if you must.
– Adjust your fluid intake according to the weather, your sweat rate, and your ride duration. If it’s hot, humid, or windy, or if you sweat a lot, you may need to drink more before and during your ride. If your ride is longer than an hour, you may also need to replenish your fluids along the way.
Before you hop on your bike for a long ride, don’t forget to fuel up with a good breakfast. Breakfast is important because it provides you with energy, helps you avoid hunger and cravings, and supports your performance and recovery. Skipping breakfast can lead to low blood sugar, fatigue, dehydration, and poor mood.
Some examples of good breakfast options are:
– Oatmeal with nuts, seeds, and fresh or dried fruits. Oatmeal is a great source of complex carbohydrates, fiber, and antioxidants. Nuts, seeds, and fruits add healthy fats, protein, vitamins, and minerals.
– Eggs with whole-wheat toast and avocado. Eggs are rich in protein, choline, and iron. Whole-wheat toast provides complex carbohydrates and fiber. Avocado adds healthy fats, potassium, and vitamin E.
– Greek yogurt with granola and berries. Greek yogurt is high in protein, calcium, and probiotics. Granola provides crunchy carbohydrates and fiber. Berries are loaded with antioxidants, vitamin C, and phytochemicals.
– Smoothie with banana, spinach, almond butter, and milk or plant-based milk. Smoothies are easy to digest and hydrate you. Banana provides simple carbohydrates and potassium. Spinach adds iron, folate, and vitamin K. Almond butter supplies healthy fats and protein. Milk or plant-based milk adds calcium and protein.
Eating During the Ride
Eating during the ride is important to keep your energy levels up and avoid dehydration. Here are some tips on what to eat and drink while you pedal:
– Aim to consume 500-1000 ml of fluid per hour, depending on your build and the weather conditions. You can use a hydration pack or a water bottle to sip regularly. Water is fine, but you can also add some electrolytes or sports drink mix to replenish your minerals and carbs.
– Eat small and frequent snacks every 15-30 minutes, such as energy bars, gels, dried fruits, nuts, or crackers. These will provide you with quick and easy calories to fuel your muscles and brain. Avoid foods that are high in fat, fiber, or protein, as they can cause stomach upset or slow down your digestion.
– If you are riding for more than two hours, you may want to have a more substantial meal at some point, such as a sandwich, pasta, rice, or soup. This will help you maintain your glycogen stores and prevent bonking. Choose foods that are familiar and easy to digest and avoid spicy or greasy foods that can irritate your stomach.
– After the ride, make sure to rehydrate and refuel as soon as possible. Drink at least 500 ml of fluid within 30 minutes of finishing, and have a balanced meal that includes carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats. This will help you recover faster and prepare you for your next ride.
After a long and hard ride, you might be tempted to just flop on the couch and binge-watch your favorite show. But don’t neglect your post-ride recovery! It’s crucial for your health and performance. Here’s why:
– Post-ride recovery helps you replenish your glycogen stores, which are depleted during exercise. Glycogen is the main fuel source for your muscles, so you need to restore it as soon as possible.
– Post-ride recovery also helps you repair your muscle tissue, which is damaged during exercise. This is how you get stronger and fitter. If you don’t give your muscles enough time and nutrients to heal, you risk overtraining and injury.
– Post-ride recovery also helps you rehydrate your body, which loses water and electrolytes through sweat. Dehydration can impair your cognitive and physical functions, as well as increase your risk of heat-related illnesses.
So what should you eat and drink after the ride? Here are some tips:
– Aim to consume a mix of carbohydrates and protein within 30 minutes of finishing your ride. This will help you replenish your glycogen and repair your muscles. Some examples are a banana with peanut butter, a yogurt with granola, or a sandwich with lean meat and cheese.
– Drink plenty of fluids to rehydrate yourself. Water is fine for most rides, but if you sweat a lot or ride for more than an hour, you might need a sports drink or an electrolyte supplement to replace the minerals you lost.
– Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and sugary drinks, as they can dehydrate you further and interfere with your recovery.
Nutrition is a critical aspect of a successful cycling journey. By strategically fueling your body to optimize performance, you can ensure an enjoyable ride and a speedy recovery. Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned cyclist, you can benefit from understanding the importance of pre-ride, during-ride, and post-ride nutrition. By following the tips and advice in this article, you can avoid common pitfalls and overcome challenges that may affect your cycling experience. Remember to stay hydrated, eat well, and have fun on the road!