For cyclists, eating right makes the difference between peak performance and a performance nightmare. Knowing when, what and how much to consume helps ensure you're prepared for any endurance event. Whether you're cycling for fitness or riding competitively, following a few nutrition tips helps keep you from running out of energy on the road or in the studio.
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Precharge Your Fuel Level
Eating a carbohydrate-rich meal about four hours before your ride helps fill up your liver's glycogen store and keeps your blood sugar levels stable for the next several hours, according to Anita Bean, author of "Food for Fitness: How to Eat for Maximum Performance." For long rides, she suggests eating 150 to 200 grams of carbohydrates. For rides under an hour, you need only 75 to 150 carbohydrate grams. Cereal with dried fruit and milk, oatmeal with bananas, scrambled eggs on toast or toast, honey and milk are excellent choices for a preride meal.
Timing is everything when it comes to refueling your body during cycling. Waiting until you feel hungry or tired before eating means your blood sugar has dropped. Eating regularly keeps your energy level humming, but running on empty quickly ruins your ride. In the "Encyclopedia of Sports and Fitness Nutrition," Elizabeth Ann Applegate suggests that to stay fully energized, cyclists should start consuming calories during the first half hour and plan an intake of 100 calories for every half hour of riding. Foods such as bananas, fig cookies, gel-packs, energy bars, dried fruit or any high-carb, low-fat snack help keep your energy level up without feeling bloated.
Hydration is crucial for cyclists. Water regulates body temperature, but your body loses water through sweat and urine. Excess water loss leads to dehydration, resulting in energy loss, a drop in performance and possible cramping. Although you may not need to consume carbohydrates or electrolytes to maintain energy or regulate mineral loss during events under an hour, they may assist hydration during longer rides, according to Dr. Arnie Baker, author of "Bicycling Medicine." Taking a swig from your water bottle every 10 minutes during your ride helps ensure consistent hydration.
Replenish to Recover
Long cycling sessions use up vital amounts of energy that must be restored. These nutrient stores need rapid replenishing to recover properly. Muscles use carbohydrates and protein more efficiently within the first 15 minutes after exercise than at any other time. Ironman Sports Medicine Institute recommends eating a snack of protein and carbohydrate, such as half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole-grain bread or a protein- and carbohydrate-rich sports drink, immediately after exercise of more than 45 minutes.