Nutrition and Hydration Tips
"Bonking" is what we call it when your body screeches to a halt because it is out of fuel. It comes on suddenly and takes a while to recover. Dehydration is loss of water and a depletion of important blood salts like potassium and sodium. Vital organs like the kidneys, brain, and heart can't function without a certain minimum of water and salt.
So what's the solution? Eat before you are hungry and drink before you are thirsty! But you also have to eat and drink smart. It's not just the amount of food and fluids you put down. Timing is crucial too. Here are five strategies to help you feel great on the bike - for your whole ride.
Eat Before The Ride
If you do much running, you know how hard it is to run on a full stomach. Not so with cycling. The smooth pedaling motion means you can eat shortly before and during rides. And you'll need to start off with a full tank if the ride stretches over 90 minutes, because cycling consumes about 40 calories per mile. So about one hour before you get on the bike, down about 60 grams of carbohydrate if you're an average-sized woman, 80 to 100 if you're a man. How much is that? Most energy bars contain about 40 grams of carbs and a banana packs about 30. Or try a bagel with jam and a handful of raisins or a fruit bar.
You need food before the ride, but you also need to be sufficiently hydrated. Most people are chronically dehydrated because they drink coffee and other caffeinated beverages like soda (mild diuretics) and they don't drink enough water during the workday. So most cyclists start a ride dehydrated – and it only gets worse. Research shows that it's difficult to rehydrate with water alone. So, drink copiously all day, and about an hour before the ride pound down about 16 ounces of a sports drink.
Eat and Drink During A Ride
Drink before you feel thirsty. Your body's sensation of thirst lags behind its need for liquid, so when you feel thirsty, it's already too late. Make it a habit to reach for your water bottle every 15 minutes and down four to six ounces (several big swallows). If you forget, set the alarm on your wristwatch to sound every 15 minutes as a reminder. That beeping alarm is also a signal to eat. If you are riding with others, remind them to keep hydrated. Whenever you take a sip, call out: "Hydrating!" If you can't remember the last time you took a sip, take a sip! About every 30 minutes, eat the equivalent of half an energy bar – about 20 grams of carbohydrate. Several fig bars, half a banana, or a piece of bagel work well, too.
Hydrate After A Ride
No matter how much fluid you ingest while riding, in hot weather you'll finish the ride depleted. There's a simple way to be sure you've rehydrated after the ride – simply weigh yourself before and after, and compare the figures. If you've lost weight, it's water you've sweated out, not fat. You'll need to drink 20 ounces of fluid for each pound of body weight you've lost while pedaling. Keep drinking until your weight has returned to normal, and your urine is plentiful and pale yellow in color.
The Glycogen Window
One last step – but it might be the most important. Studies show that your muscles replace their fuel (glycogen) much faster and more efficiently if you eat plentiful carbohydrates immediately after your ride. Your goal is to eat 60 grams of carbohydrate (if you're an average-sized woman) or 80 to 100 grams if you're an average male. Your muscles will refuel best if you down this chow 15 minutes after the ride. The refueling process becomes less efficient after a two-hour post-ride "glycogen window." Notice that the amount of carbohydrate you should eat after the ride is similar to what was suggested that you consume before the ride. Research also indicates that if you mix four parts carbohydrate with one part protein, your glycogen stores will top off more quickly. That's as simple as having cereal, a banana, and some skim milk for protein after your ride. If you follow these five steps, you'll feel great while riding and recover faster.
Thanks to Dr. Amy Roberts for this information on nutrition.