Nutrition for Cyclists
Cycling is an excellent way to strengthen your body, but the activity can actually make you weaker without proper nutrition. Eating the right foods before, during and after you ride helps to replace the fuel your body demands.
Typically, your body has enough energy stored as glycogen in muscles to support up to an hour of moderate exercise. If you are active for longer periods, it is important to consume carbohydrates, proteins and other nutrients that can be rapidly absorbed by hungry muscles. Energy bars and gels provide a good balance of these essential healthy fuels to power your body without weighing you down. They come in a variety of flavors and are formulated to be easily digestible, and they are easy to carry on a ride.
Some Basic Guidelines for Fueling Up
For Rides Less than 1 Hour, eat a small, carbohydrate-based meal (cereal, fruit or toast) at least two hours before you ride, and allow your food to fully-digest before you get on the bike. You most likely will not need to eat anything during a ride of this duration.
For Rides of 1-2 Hours, follow the same pre-ride meal recommendations for rides less than 1 hour, but carry and consume at least one energy bar or gel pack during the ride.
For Rides over 3 Hours, eat a solid meal at least two hours before you start your ride. Avoid fatty foods and concentrate on healthy carbohydrates such as oatmeal, yogurt, fruit, toast or bagels. Carry enough energy bars and/or gels to ensure that you have something to eat at least once an hour.
For rides between 1 and 2 hours, eat a small carbohydrate- and protein-based snack (cereal, lean meat, fruit, whole grains, nuts or vegetables) to help your body recover. After a long ride, eat a healthy meal within 20-40 minutes. This will help you switch your metabolism from a "breaking down and using" state to a rebuilding state. The timing is important because the rate at which recovery and tissue repair can occur is at its highest immediately following exercise. This refueling process cannot begin until you make that metabolic switch by eating carbs and protein.
Protein rich meats and vegetables combined with whole grains will help to restore your muscles while keeping fat levels down. If you face a lengthy drive home following a long bike ride, be sure to have some protein bars and a recovery drink on hand to start the recovery process within the optimal time period. Also, be sure to get some rest, as sleep is the body's natural recovery mechanism and should not be avoided.
Tips for Energy and Recovery Drinks
Energy drinks vary in sweetness, and may produce stomach upset if too strong. To avoid this, dilute with water until you find the right mix.
Keep your bottles sanitary by washing them after each ride. Most bottles are safe to place in the top rack of a dishwasher. If you prefer to hand-wash, a bottle brush from the baby aisle of your local market is the perfect tool for this task.
Even with regular washing, bottles will need to be occassionally replaced. When the inside of your bottle looks darker than the outside, it's time to say goodbye.
Avoid using hydration packs for energy drinks. Bottles are much easier to keep thoroughly clean.
NOTE: This guide provides a basic overview of cycling related nutrition, but should not be considered exhaustive. If cycling is a major part of your lifestyle or if you are dealing with a particular health issue, we highly recommend that you seek out a qualified sports nutritionist.