Nutrition for Bike Riding – How Important Is It?
Here’s a topic you may not have given much thought; does it matter what I eat before a ride, and while riding?
The answer, like it so often is, is “it depends”. More specifically, it depends on the type of ride you’re going to take.
Water – Unless you are going to do a very short ride, say a mile or less, you want to take a bottle of water at the bare minimum.
Electrolytes – Even if you are an experienced rider, I would recommend putting some electrolytes in your water bottle if you are going to ride 10 miles or more. This may seem like a short distance, but on a warm day you’d be surprised how much you sweat. Electrolytes basically come in a couple of forms: Hydration Tablets or capsules such as NUUN©, or GU©, chewable tablets such as SaltStick FASTCHEWS©, and electrolyte powders such as Hammer HEED©.
Nutrition while riding – Ever watch Le Tour de France? Those guys are constantly eating and drinking as they ride, as they burn thousands of calories during a day’s ride. As a rule of thumb, on a long ride you should be eating a high energy bar, Gel Shot, cookies, or something similar every 20 to 30 minutes. Even if you don’t ride like a professional,
you’d be surprised how fast you burn calories. I’ve heard it said that if you begin to feel hungry while riding, it’s too late. You’re already depleted and your riding performance is going to suffer. I can attest to this from personal experience; I’ve hit the wall on any number of long rides when I haven’t eaten enough.
Nutrition before riding – This is one of those subjects about which you will hear a lot of debate. In general though, the idea is to do some “carbo loading” before a long ride. One of the ways to do that (which I’m a fan of) is to eat a large pasta meal the night before the ride; just don’t overdo it! 😉 Another thing is to eat a high carb breakfast, such as a stack of pancakes with strawberry topping (my favorite); just be sure you eat it at least 30 minutes before the ride, though. Some people swear it’s important to eat a high protein meal after a long ride, to rebuild the muscle breakdown. Could help I suppose, but I’ve never particularly paid attention to that.
Leg Cramp! – OMG! Those really hurt! Fortunately there’s a remedy (or I should say remedies). But first, some preventative action. Electrolytes! This is hugely important when it comes to leg cramps. Be sure to take in plenty of electrolytes on a long ride! Second, use a little common sense when it comes to the length of the ride you’re on. If you usually average about 10 miles on a ride, don’t go off and try to do a 50 or 60 mile ride without working up to it! Trust me, been there done that. Cramps are almost a given if you do that! Now to the remedies: 1 Stretch it out! If the cramp is in the front of your leg, in your quadriceps, hold onto something and squat to stretch it out. Then, rest it for several minutes. It can also help to walk around a little, or walk the next couple of hundred yards. Take in some extra electrolytes, and pedal slowly until it subsides.
Fatigue – Finally, although it’s not about nutrition per se, if you get fatigued, STOP RIDING! That’s when accidents happen. You’re not mentally sharp, and it’s very easy to make a mistake you’ll regret. I’ve jumped into a SAG wagon after 150 miles on a 200 mile ride, because I knew I was spent and it would be dangerous to go on, no matter how much I wanted to.