Ask 10 cyclists what they eat and drink on their bike rides, and you’ll most likely get 10 different answers… Everyone has things that works for them, but there are some key principles to remember when planning your eats! We’re on hand to give you some insight into sports nutrition.
Hydration drives nutrition strategy
Only if you are well-hydrated, can your nutrition strategy work. No matter what you eat, if you’re dehydrated, that energy will either make it to working muscles more slowly, or ultimately lead to nausea.
Dehydration slows gastric emptying and gut motility. Important to note: dehydration doesn’t just begin when you are thirsty. By the time thirst kicks in, you’re already too late. This is why it’s important to pre-hydrate before you ride, and re-hydrate on the road. Without hydration, you run the risk of harming both your performance and your health.
Carbohydrate fuels high intensity
Whilst there are examples where training with low carbohydrate stores can be useful, high-intensity efforts need to be fuelled by carbohydrate. If carbohydrate is unavailable to you, your power output and ability to repeat hard efforts decreases. Cycling is an intermittent-intensity sport, meaning there are periods of low- to-moderate intensity that are mostly fuelled by fat. There are then more critical moments of higher intensity efforts that require carbohydrate. Similarly, the interval training sessions that build fitness to make those high-power efforts possible, are also fuelled by carbohydrate.
What you need to eat during rides is therefore affected by not only the length of the ride, but potentially by intensity demands as well.
Eat carbohydrate, but not too much!
The standard sports nutrition recommendation of 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour of aerobic exercise, is based on the fact most people can only absorb about 1 gram of carbohydrate per minute. However, you don’t need to always consume as much as you can possibly absorb. Only aim for the high end of the range – or train your gut to absorb up to 90 grams/hr – when your rides are long or strenuous enough to deplete those carbohydrate stores.
Overeating is worse than eating too little
We reckon all cyclists would agree, when we say it’s better to be a little hungry than to be over filled. Eating more than you can process quickly, is one of the most common mistakes we see during longer rides. This leads to nausea and unfortunately the only solution is to slow down, cool down, sip water, and wait.
If you err on the side of caution and sit on the side of being slightly hungry, you’re in a better position, as you can easily feel great again by eating some carbohydrate. Assuming you’re well hydrated; fixing a slight caloric deficit only requires 10 minutes and around 20-25 grams of carbohydrate.
Separate calories from hydration
Carbohydrate-rich sports drinks can be very useful, but like everything else there is a time and a place. When considering what to drink, it’s worth considering how much you’ll need to drink. If it’s hot out, your hydration needs will increase dramatically, but your ability to absorb carbohydrate will not. To keep your hydration is in your bottles and your calories in your pocket, means you can adjust independently.
A drink we enjoy is mixing a little orange juice with water!
Check out our blog post suggesting what to consume on varying length rides, next month!