By Leah Barrett, MS, LCSW
Nutritionist / Wellness Counselor at become fit in Fort Collins, Colorado
What you eat plays a significant role in how you feel during your bike rides. It’s not so easy to decipher all the nutrition information that’s out there these days. This article is designed to help you better understand how to harness the power of good nutrition for great experiences on your rides.
The best foods to fuel your muscles are carbohydrates, either simple sugars (such as the naturally occurring sugars in fruits and juices) or complex carbohydrates (starchy foods, such as pasta, bread, rice, cereal, oatmeal, corn and other grains). These carbohydrates provide not only energy but also important vitamins and minerals. Refined sugars (such as in soft drinks, sports drinks and candy) also fuel muscles––but are nutrient-poor choices and lack vitamins that help your body’s engine run best.
Your muscles store only carbohydrates–not protein or fat–in a form of sugar called glycogen. During hard exercise, your muscles burn this glycogen for energy. When you deplete your glycogen stores, as can happen during repeated days of hard training/riding and a low carbohydrate diet, you feel overwhelmingly exhausted. Eating high carbohydrate foods (cereal, pancakes, bread, fruit, vegetables, pasta, potato) on a daily basis can help you ride longer or harder or both and feel better while doing it.
During the ride, drink on a schedule: 8 to 10 ounces every 20 minutes. Because you need both fluid and about 240 calories of carbohydrates per hour (for fuel), plan to consume sports drinks or water plus high-carb foods (banana, energy bar, gels) during the ride. Stop drinking if the fluids are sloshing in your stomach.
After the ride, enjoy a nice meal or smaller snacks. Keep in mind your muscles need carbohydrates to refuel. A little protein enhances the process and may reduce muscle soreness. Choose some salty foods (soup, pretzels, spaghetti sauce) to replace sodium losses. Drink plenty of non- alcoholic fluids until your urine is a clear color.
Be sure to choose low-fat carbohydrates. When selecting your diet, carefully choose high carbohydrate foods, not high fat foods. The two often come together, such as butter on potato and cream in ice cream.
Best choices (highest in carbohydrates):
Spaghetti and pasta meals with tomato sauce
Rice, potato, yams, stuffing – limit butter, gravy
Lentils, chili with beans, split pea soup
Bread, muffins, bagels, cereal
French toast, pancakes, oatmeal
Jam, jelly, honey, syrup
Fruit – bananas, pineapple, raisins, figs
Apple crisp, date squares, fig bars
Juices – apple, grape, cranberry, orange
Blenderized fruit and juice smoothies
Sherbert, sorbet, frozen yogurt
Poorer choices (lower in carbohydrates):
Pizza & pasta meals with lots of meat, cheese
French fries, fried rice, buttery potato
Meals with lots of meat or cheese
Donuts, croissants, danish pastry
Eggs, omelets, and breakfast meats
Butter, margarine, cream cheese
Cookies, chips, high-fat snacks
Desserts made with lots of butter
Beer, wine, alcohol
Milk shakes, frappes Ice cream – especially gourmet brands