One of the keys to having fun in cycling is the ability to maintain energy level during a ride. Having to cut a ride short or worst, running out of steam midway through a ride alone and 2 hours from home is not exactly what anyone would call fun. On a survey in the C2S Facebook Group, many indicated that one of their top goals for 2018 is to “Ride longer distance more often.”. To do so and still enjoy the ride, we must understand the art of fueling.
Whatever you stash in the jersey pockets, carbohydrates are the most popular source of energy used in cycling. Understanding what carbohydrates do and how the body reacts to it can help in managing our energy level on and off the bike.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour of exercise. “The average person can process, or oxidize, only about 1 gram of carbohydrate per minute, no matter how much is consumed.” (How To Eat Light On Your Bike, Bicycling 04/10). On group rides however, we sometimes confuse insufficient aerobic fitness with glycogen shortage. It can be easy to mistake inadequate oxygen delivery to our muscles with lack of fuel as they may result in similar sensation. We are sometimes a little quick to reach for the carbohydrate bar or gel packet at the hill regroup just 20 minutes into the ride. Consuming any more than what we can process does not benefit. Actually, it just opens up the chance of having an upset stomach.
Failure to replenish glycogen reserves and taking in too much carbohydrates during a ride have their negative effects. The human body is a fascinating machine. It stores carbohydrates it does not use. (see lipogenesis).
With carbohydrates’ popularity in the North American diet, we rarely think about other sources of energy. There are many scientific research now available that reveal carbohydrates and protein may not be the best or only sources of energy. Dietary fat is gaining popularity as a great source of energy. Yes, the “F” word of nutrition! “You will find that the bad rap put on dietary fat over many decades is slowly being lifted.” (The Truth About Fat, Time 06/14). Recently the USDA modified its dietary recommendation as well. Here’s something to think about – You get more fuel in form of glucose from breaking down a gram of fat than from a gram of protein or carbohydrate.
Dr. Jeff Volek, who co-published “The Art and Science of Low-Carbohydrate Performance”, in an interview by Cycling Weekly said, “Improved body composition, less inflammation and less oxidative stress, faster recovery and improved health parameters are all reasons an athlete may consider LCHF (low-carb, high-fat) diet especially when they have some underlying insulin-resistance.”.
Personally, while keeping with the LCHF strategy on and off the bike, what I eat for a 100k are different from a 200k ride as much as it vary for shorter group rides. What I will eat during a multi-day long distance ride in June 2018 at the Epic Journey Against Diabetes depend on intensity (factored by elevation changes, wind, temperature and humidity) of the day, and the point in time of the ride when I take in nutrition. Whatever type of ride I engage, I always try to be mindful of when the nutrition I eat will be available for energy and when will my body need and use it.
Whatever cycling goals you have, from spirited coffee rides to multi-day epic rides, understanding nutrition definitely help FUEL THE FUN!
By: Edwin A. Velarde, Director of RAG-Diabetes and Director of Publicity, Rotary Fellowship – Cycling to Serve USA/Canada