Nutrition 4 Cycling: Eat to Ride vs Ride to Eat

Hello Art’s Fans! Jenna “Jammer” Kowalski here. I recently graduated with my B.S. in Nutrition from Cal Poly, and I thought I would share some of the 5 years of knowledge crammed into my brain before it flies out. This is the first installment of a four-part series to offer you an overview of the importance of nutrition for cyclists. I’m a Cat 2 cyclist and race for Team Now MS out of Southern California. If you have comments, want specifics, or need more detail on the metabolic processes (my favorite topic…no joke), let me know!19237_702345646595_6421056_40603994_5735719_n1

Nutrition is a continually growing and changing science. Everybody has their own idea as to what’s healthy and what’s not. And while nutrition may not be an exact science, it has proven to be an important one. Especially for cyclists. As far as cyclists are concerned, we feed our bodies in order to perform to our greatest potential – although, I do know a few individuals who ride solely to justify that gooey cinnamon roll and ‘skinny’ latte on the weekly coffee ride.

In the most basic of terms, the food we eat (ex. Pasta – a carbohydrate) is digested to its most simple components (carbohydrates become glucose) and converted into energy which fuels our body. Our body utilizes this fuel based upon our individual needs, and when  exercise is added to the equation, the demand for fuel increases. When our body runs out of fuel, we are unable to continue performing at the same level (~50%). During a race or difficult ride, we have all experienced this feeling of ‘bonking’ or ‘hitting the wall.’ We prevent these situations by providing our body with proper nutrition. Proper nutrition pre-race (ride), during, and post (recovery) are essential to maximize performance on the bike.

The body’s preferred fuel is glucose. Glucose is obtained by consuming primarily carbohydrates (bread, pasta, oats, rice, sugar), but can also be made in the body by converting our body’s protein (muscle tissue, etc.). Glucose is stored in the liver and in the muscle, and  is known as glycogen. Glycogen from the liver can be broken down and used as blood glucose to fuel our tissues, while muscle glycogen is used only by the muscle in which it is stored. During aerobic exercise, our body relies on both blood glucose and muscle glycogen to fuel working tissues. Anaerobic bouts rely primarily on muscle glycogen, and an intense workout may deplete our muscle glycogen stores. Training enables us to maximize our muscle glycogen stores, BUT, in an unfed state, as our glycogen stores diminish, our capacity for exercise decreases as well.

Proper nutrition enables us to maintain our blood glucose and replenish glycogen stores, and it all begins with a good breakfast…

Next time: Pre-race/ride nutrition