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Fueling the Ride

Fueling the Ride

By Sports Nutritionist Lori Nedescu, MS RD CSSD @CadenceKitchen

Fueling the ride is an important part of your training. Without the right energy consumption during rides, your training will suffer. An individual ride will result in the dreaded bonking, leaving you unable to continue your ideal effort. Bonking can be so severe that the rider might have to end their training effort altogether. Ride after ride of poor fueling will result in overall decreased recovery, low performance gains, and injury susceptibility. This is a recipe for disaster for anyone’s training season. 

First, lets cover the basics.

  • Fuel any effort lasting 90 minutes or more.
  • Consume 30-90 grams of carbohydrates per hour.

  • Fuel earlier rather than later!

Fueling Chart

 Day to Day Training

Training volumes differ athlete to athlete. A track cyclist will likely spend less time involved in long training blocks than a road racer or stage racer. Each athlete should consider how much time is spent training each day and day after day. More time on the bike should equate to more fuel on the bike to keep energy levels high and keep the body from breaking down.

Train Your Gut

Some people can eat pizza during a workout while others can feel sick choking down a single gel.  If you are sensitive to food while training, do not just stop consuming. Train you gut to take in food by setting intake goals and practicing race day nutrition during training. It may be useful to take in smaller, more frequent amounts of fuel, switch to more liquid options and/or change the source of carbohydrate. 

Type of Training

Are you going out to complete an hour of VO2max intervals? Or a 4 hour group ride? Each type of training has different nutritional needs. 

Know Yourself

Each athlete should ideally know how different fuel types affect their bodies. Consuming the fuel that works for you is the most important thing you can do. If a product says it has great results, but you hate the taste and therefore neglect ingesting it… it does you no good. It’s okay to try new things, but make sure you are aware of what works for you. 

Eat Too Early Rather Than Too Late

Most athletes have heard the phrase ‘If you’re thirsty, your body is already dehydrated’. The same thought process goes for eating. If you get to the point of being hungry while riding, your body is already in a state of caloric deficit and you are likely to experience a bonk. Your body needs time to digest, process, and use the calories you give it. If you know you are going out for a 2 hour hard ride, start taking in fuel at the 30 minute mark, not the 90 minute mark. 

Hone in on Specifics

This is the most difficult, but most rewarding way to strategize your cycling fueling behavior. Look at your route ahead of time and plan for your fueling to kick in at just the right time. For example, there is a popular Southern California ride that takes place every Saturday called the Swami’s A Long Ride that covers roughly 80 miles and close to 4,000 ft of elevation. It is a fast, professional (men and women) led ride that is intense at minute one of roll out. Almost all the significant climbing is complete by mile 35. What does that have to do with fueling? Well if you show up with only a banana in your gut and think you don’t need to fuel until the brief regroup gas station stop around mile 40, you will be dropped and miserable. What good does it do to put your body in a state of energy deprivation during all the hard work, only to fuel up for a (mostly) flat ride back home? It doesn’t. Well, it will get you home, but likely not with the group and your body will be in a poor state. Instead, when you know you’re doing a ride like this, where all the hard riding happens right away, fuel up early on. If you did this ride in reverse, you could start out empty and full later in the ride. It can be very beneficial to fuel not just for your body’s needs, but for the routes demands as well.

Common Fueling Issues

Under Consuming

Many athletes, especially female athletes get caught up in restricting calories. Cycling is a sport where power to weight ratio comes in handy, however, leaving your body with low energy stores is dangerous. While an athlete is likely to see immediate benefits from weight loss (faster climbing), the long term effects can include low bone density, female athlete triad, disordered eating, decreased immune function, and inability to recover well.  To balance fueling needs with weight needs, see ‘on off bike’ section.

Over Consuming

May sounds shocking, but it is the most common issue I see in cyclists. Many cyclists go out for an hour or two ride and assume that gives them the ability to eat whatever they want for the rest of the day. On average, you’ll burn 500 calories/hr cycling. Think of that in terms of food. 500 calories is equivalent of ---- . So when you consider pre-ride fueling, during ride fueling, recovery meal, normal meals outside of training… those ride calories do not go far. Athletes disregarding the balance of in vs out energy needs in this way will likely gain weight, feel sluggish and be less healthy overall. 

GI Distress

Cycling has the benefit of keeping your stomach in a stationary position, which decreases the amount of distress as compared with other sports. However, athletes of any kind are at risk of gastric complications, which can lead to discomfort and even disastrous effects. Typically, consuming too much bulk, not enough water, energy from a single carbohydrate source, pain relievers (NSAIDS), and poor fueling practice are to blame. 

 Lacking the Skill to Fuel

While this is more of an issue for the new rider, it can affect an athlete at any level. Competitive level training includes rides without friendly stops at coffee shops and gas stations. If you aren’t stopped, how do you consume fuel while riding a bike?! One hand needs to come off the handlebars to get your food or water. Too many riders neglect eating and drinking on the bike due to lack of confidence and poor handling skills. 

Learn more about practicing to fuel your ride HERE

To create a personalized fueling plan, sign up for a performance consult

Not ready for an in-depth plan, but need a little guidance? Grab my Musette Bag complete with ride fueling tips. 

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