This is the third installment in a 4-part series about nutrition from our resident expert, Jenna Kowalski. Jenna is a Cat 2 cyclist and graduated from Cal Poly with a B.S. in Nutrition.
As a nutrition major and cyclist I have had a few years to learn how to fuel myself on and off the bike. Off the bike, no problem, I love eating. On the bike is a different story. I read about on the bike nutrition, I give advice about on the bike nutrition, and it has still taken me at least 3 races and a handful of training rides to realize the consequences of poor on the bike nutrition/not eating = BONKING!
Bonking, or hitting the wall due to a lack of fuel is totally preventable. By fueling ourselves on the ride or during the race, we can ensure that though we may become fatigued, we have the energy to make it home or through the finish line. As I mentioned in the previous blog, those riding less than 2 hours can maintain their efforts on the bike without on-the-bike nutrition, as long as they have had a sufficient meal ahead of time. But to those who plan to ride for greater than 2 hours, on the bike nutrition becomes essential.
Nutrition on the bike is a very personal thing. We all have our different preferences for electrolyte drinks, gels, chews, bars etc. It is important to determine what you like and what works best for you especially if you plan to race. Try out a couple of different products, find what works best for you, and stick with it. It is never a good idea to try something new on a race day…trust me, I have learned from experience. One hour into a race, it is not an enjoyable experience to find that eating a certain product gives you stomach upset or cramps.
The nutrition you choose may depend on the length and intensity of the ride. Electrolyte replacement/endurance beverages (i.e. Cytomax, Hammer Heed, GU Brew, Clif Shot) are great for riding/racing because they provide quick energy (liquid doesn’t require digestion) and replace electrolytes – that are necessary for muscular function – lost through sweating. And honestly, it’s often refreshing to drink something other than water. Electrolyte drinks should be consumed 15 minutes into riding, and about 6-8oz should be consumed every 15 minutes thereafter. This is especially important while riding in the heat, as it is very easy to become dehydrated. And remember, drink before you are thirsty.
Gels and chews are an excellent option for ride/race nutrition. They provide quick sugar to maintain blood glucose levels. Gels (i.e. Gu, Clif Shot, Hammer Gels, etc.) are great choice because they are easy and quick to consume. Chews such as Gu Chomps and Clif Shot Bloks provide the same benefit, they just require a bit more effort to eat! Gels and chews should be consumed roughly every 45 minutes.
Solid food and bars (i.e. Clif Bar, Bonk Breaker, Hammer Bar, PB&J sando, etc.) are helpful for rides 3-4 hours or longer. At this point it can be difficult to consume adequate calories with gels and drinks alone, and it is often a nice break from the gooey, sweet products. Bars provide a great source of calories through complex carbohydrates, protein and fat. The complex nutrients take longer to digest and result in a gradual rise in blood glucose to keep you fueled through the ride. An alternative to solid food or bars, if you are looking for extra calories, is an endurance drink mix that combines simple and complex carbohydrates and protein. Drink powders such as Hammer Perpetuem and Prolong provide 200-300 calories per serving, and allow you to easily consume calories without the hassle of unwrapping a package or chewing.
By providing your body with nutrition on the bike you are able to maintain adequate blood glucose levels to fuel your body as your glycogen stores become depleted. It is absolutely necessary to provide glucose to your cells to maintain riding capacity. And while you may think, ‘I have ample fat stores, won’t that fuel me through my ride?’ Our fat stores are a large percentage of energy used for cycling, BUT in order to utilize those fat stores, we must have glucose present! No glucose = no fat burning. So overall, we must eat to ride and eat while riding to burn fat!
Finally, on the bike nutrition helps with recovery – which will be discussed next time. By maintaining our blood glucose we don’t have to rely on breaking down our body’s proteins as a fuel source, and less cell degradation = better recovery.
If you want to get super specific, it is recommended that you consume .6 grams per kg body weight per hour. So, .6xkg wt.per/hour = g/hr. (Example: 70 kg rider, 6x70kg = 42g/hr. During a 3 hr race = 5 gels)
Tips to successful race-time eating:
- Practice eating! On training rides, practice eating like you would during a race. While it may sound silly, eating on the bike during a race can be a bit tricky. When you are breathing hard, sometimes eating a bar or chew is a difficult task.
- Have food ready to eat! By opening packages ahead of time, you eliminate fumbling with the package and can easily access your food.
- Eat when others eat! By eating at the same time as the other racers, there may be less chance of someone attacking…I have also learned this from experience.
Next time: Recovery Nutrition
Jenna Kammer Kowalski