Nutrition


For a recovery drink right after a ride, I tried five teaspoons of sugar in a large glass of low-fat milk. Is this good? What should I eat next, and when?

If it’s the summer cycling season, it’s probably hot where you live. Cyclists and other outdoor athletes are the first to notice rising temperatures. And the hotter it is, the faster you lose fluids when you ride.  Fluids are crucial to your performance and sense of well-being. We’re really just big bags of fluid—our blood contains about 50 percent water. Because water helps keep us cool, a loss of only one percent of our bodyweight as sweat means a significant loss of speed and endurance.  I know you’ve heard it before—drink, drink, drink! But it’s amazing how few cyclists heed this advice. They forget to drink because of the excitement of the ride, then they wilt before the end.  But proper hydration is easy. Here’s how. 

The key to riding long distances is food and drink.  Sure, training is important—but nutrition and hydration are even more vital. According to ultramarathon rider and coach John Hughes of Boulder, Colorado, “Nutrition, not necessarily training, is the limiting factor in endurance cycling.”    The reason? Even the best-trained riders pack only enough muscle fuel (glycogen) for a couple of hours of hard cycling. Fluid stores vanish even faster.  For everything from century rides to multi-day tours, remember these time-tested tips. 

My wife is on a diet that isn’t especially radical but it does emphasize protein over carbohydrate. I’m a relatively serious cyclist (2,000 miles per year) and during the cycling season I follow a high-carbohydrate diet. Would switching to my wife’s high-protein diet help or hinder my cycling performance?

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Watching the Tour de France this year, I noticed riders picking up little bags with a shoulder strap at certain points on the course. The commentator said this happened in the "feed zone." I know the bags contain food and drinks, but what exactly are the pros using?

Is there a daily vitamin formulated specifically for the stresses of cycling? I ride about 200 miles a week and train and race hard. I'm concerned that I'm deficient in important vitamins and minerals. 

I'm 58 and try to stay fit through proper eating and vitamins. But all the claims and hype are confusing. After I take all my supplements, I often wonder if there will be room for breakfast! They're costly, too. What's your recommendation for a reasonable regimen of vitamins for guys our age? 

Q:  Here's a quiz::  I'm in a long, long bike race and we have finally reached Mississippi. But I'm having trouble with recovery and I don't want to let my teammates down. None of the usual remedies (Coke, energy bars, sports gel) is working. I should:

A. Take lots of antioxidants,

B. Get an IV for rehydration

C. Get another massage

D. Eat some greasy chicken and fries

I don't care for commercial energy bars. What else can I use for fuel on long rides? -

I ride about 200 miles a week. My diet is quite high in carbohydrate. But I'm getting sick of eating the same stuff: pasta, potatoes, pancakes and rice. Blah! What should I do? 

I'm fairly fit and ride about 120 miles a week. Year before last, I lost 45 pounds on a high-protein diet. I ate carbohydrate at only one meal a day. This was the first time I had been able to lose weight consistently.   The problem is that I can't sustain a long ride at a high performance level with this diet. I run out of gas between 50 and 70 miles. I also crave carbs and eventually the weight loss stops, then I begin to gain weight. What's happening? 

Last winter I adopted a low-carbohydrate diet and lost 20 pounds. I'm continuing the diet but wonder if lack of carbs is the cause of my struggles on the bike. While I've improved my average speed on solo rides, I can't keep up with my friends on Sunday morning. I'm fine when the pace is steady, but if they sprint I'm off the back. How do I maintain low body weight and still get the necessary fuel?

I'm 6-foot-5, 180 pounds, 10% body fat, 46 years old. Is it a rational objective to lose weight to become a better climber? I love to eat, so it's hard to avoid the goodies -- especially if depriving myself won't help me improve. 

In newsletter issue No. 97, you said that people on the Atkins diet aren't likely to be strong cyclists because the diet doesn't include many carbohydrates. I think the Atkins premise is to fuel your glycogen stores from stored fat. It works. I'm living proof.  My diet consists of high protein (lean meats only), low fat, low carb, with extra vegetables. I am an Expert Vet mountain bike racer. I carbo load with a little rice, couscous or potatoes the day before races and big rides, and use gels and sports drink during events.

Since April I've been strictly watching my food intake, exercising and taking a weight-loss supplement with ephedra. But I've gained 30 pounds! I think the exercise is overdeveloping my quads and inner thighs.  I eat only 1,300 calories a day and try to burn most of it in the gym or on the bike. My gym's fitness manager thinks I'm not eating enough and my metabolic rate has either totally tanked or I have some type of food allergy. Why do you think I've gained this weight?

What is the best way to lose fat in my thighs? 

Last year I began doing intense indoor training intervals. I noticed a very strong ammonia smell moments after the end of the workout. Then I read in your column that this smell is a sign of overtraining and cannibalizing muscles. Yikes! How much time do I need to take off the bike once I notice this smell?

Last Saturday I was riding over the Colorado National Monument near Grand Junction and seriously lost energy on the return trip. I knew I was bonking, but instead of taking a gel or energy bar I decided to gut it out. I figured that because all of my available sugar had been consumed and my body was running out of fuel, maybe I would start burning fat for energy and lose some weight. Is there any truth to this theory? 

Several years ago, I heard Coach Fred talk about his participation in the Team Race Across America. He mentioned how he and his three teammates had planned to eat carbs but craved fat and even started wolfing down potato chips.  What's the scoop on nutrition for ultras? Are fatty foods necessary?

I've started doing long rides to build a base for ultra-distance racing next summer. But I tend to bonk after three or four hours because I forget to eat and drink enough. Any ideas? 

I've lost 40 pounds in the last year. I weigh myself daily and have noticed that if I eat something salty (like pizza with anchovies), my weight can be up 3 or 4 pounds. I assume this is caused by water retention.  So here's the question: Would it be a good idea to eat something salty a day or so before a long ride in the summer to help stay hydrated with the extra water and also provide extra salt? 

I’m overweight (6-foot, 230 pounds) and I’m slow. How can I lose weight and get fast enough to hold my own on fast group rides?

On rides of 60-100 miles, should I drink water and sports drink or just sports drink? Is there some optimal mix of the two? How much should I drink per hour? What about energy bars?

My local bike shop carries half-a-dozen brands of sports drinks. Which one is best for cycling?

Is there a way to determine the taste of a sports drink by looking at its list of ingredients?

My girlfriend and I had problems with fluid intake at the Hotter'n Hell Hundred in Wichita Falls, TX. We drank lots of water and some sports drink but still hit the wall. The worst problem -- we hate the taste of those drinks. What should we do?

I love to ride in the winter but sure wish I could have something hot to drink about an hour out. My bottles freeze even if I start with them filled with hot tea. What are my options?

I've vowed to ride all winter. I have the clothing to survive, but after about 30 minutes my water bottle freezes shut and I can't get any fluid. You live in Colorado. How do you keep your drinks drinkable?

Last summer I guzzled four bottles on a hilly 75-miler. I just rode the loop again for the first time this year and drank only one bottle. Does cooler weather have that great an affect on fluid needs?

My brother is a hydration freak. He often drains his 100-oz. CamelBak before the ride is finished. If he runs out, he finishes dry. I ration my water and always make it last until the end. Which method is better?

I'm careful to keep myself hydrated. I drink two large bottles every 30 miles, using both water and sports drink. On a 50-mile ride, I refill both bottles, making up a new batch of sweet stuff with a pre-measured amount of the powder.  I ride with a friend who drinks about the same amount I do. However, I urinate about four times during a 50-mile ride, while my friend doesn't go at all. Am I consuming too much fluid? 

I'm planning a 5-day tour and carrying light camping equipment in front panniers. I travel light -- total gear weight will be less than 20 pounds.  The problem is water. I'll be riding along an arid ridge, and two bottles won't be enough from one supply point to another. But I don't want to wear a hydration pack. Any suggestions?

I know this question must have a couple of obvious answers, but no one can give me a direct solution. On long rides, how can I replenish my fluid supply when the two bottles that I can carry aren't enough? I don't want to carry a back-mounted hydration pack while riding on the road.

I ride long on weekends and want to fuel up correctly. Weekday training is fine because I'm limited to 90-minute rides. How much should I eat and drink before a ride of 50-75 miles, and how much time should I allow between eating and starting the ride? 

I'm training for the LoToJa race from Logan, Utah, to Jackson, Wyoming. It's a one-day event of 188 miles. I've ridden half-a-dozen centuries this year and nutrition isn't an issue for that distance, but eating and drinking after about 120 miles is a pain. I tend to bonk and cramp because no food is appetizing. Can you suggest solids and fluids that work for really long rides?

Q:  I'm 52 years old, overweight and diabetic due to lack of exercise and high body fat. I got into cycling and I love it! I want to lose weight, and a friend recommended "bonk training." That is, don't eat breakfast and ride till I bonk. He says my body will suck fat like crazy and get slim. Is this bogus or does it work?

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