Keeping Up Your Energy -- Training / Nutrition
Keeping Up Your Energy
AKA Bonk Prevention 101
Although it seems as plain as the face on your nose, it can be helpful to recognize the different ways you can keep up your energy levels on a ride. I often hear of people feeling ‘down’ or ‘low’, and this is often prevented by making sure you’re eating properly!
First, a little background: when riding, your primary fuel source will be the carbohydrates stored in your body. Fat is also used as fuel, as well as a very small (~5%) amount of protein at times. There’s a ratio of fat to carbs that’s burned, depending on your level of intensity. (As your heartrate increases, you’ll burn a higher percentage of carbs. At 80% of your heartrate and above, you’re burning almost exclusively carbs. Conversely, as your intensity level decreases, you’ll burn a higher percentage of fat. Note tho, you’re always using *some* carbs.)
As a little perspective, Chris Carmichael (Lance Armstrong’s trainer) says we have enough stored carbs for 1-2hrs of moderate to high-intensity activity – beyond that, in order not to suffer, you’re likely going to need to consume something to maintain your level of activity.
The first area I would focus on is the day before the ride/race. Eating a lot of high-carb foods really can make the difference in how you feel -- I definitely notice that I run out of juice much more quickly if I eat a small meal the night before. Feel free to stuff your face! (Also, by getting into the habit of eating high-carb meals the day before a ride, it becomes less for you to think about, and becomes more of a habit when racing.)
Next is the pre-ride meal…which is often breakfast! If you’re going to be eating semi-solid food (like cereal or oatmeal) you’re going to want to give yourself at least an hour before hopping on the bike (unless you like acid reflux!) Again, make sure it’s a high-carb meal.
My own preference is a smoothie, which is easy to make, enjoyable to eat early in the morning, and assimilated very quickly. My smoothies are made of soy milk, bananas (2-3), frozen berries, greens supplement, ground flax seeds and maple syrup, and I can eat it 30mins before heading out with no digestive problems.
(Important note: go light on the fats and proteins – your main fuel source when cycling is carbs, and that should be the majority of what you eat before and during a ride! It’s much harder for your body to use fats and proteins as energy, so go with the pasta rather than tofu burgers.)
The next consideration is what you’ll be eating *on* the ride. Prepared foods like Clif Bars are quite handy, as well as bananas, dates and high-carb items. (I avoid nuts, as the high fat and protein isn’t useful while riding.)
A ‘power drink’ is also helpful, and keeps you hydrated! Commercial beverages are available, but I prefer my less-processed homemade liquid energy: I juice a couple oranges, and add 4-6 TSP of fructose (available at health food stores) as well as a tiny pinch of salt. Fill the rest of your bottle with water and shake. It’s not too sweet and especially tasty when you need it.
FYI, the fructose is absorbed more slowly than other sugars, so you don’t end up getting a buzz. As well, I recommend a ‘rock’ or other unprocessed salt like gray Celtic Sea Salt, which contains other minerals and is considered more of a ‘food’ than a condiment. (I use ‘Real Salt’, which is a bit cheaper than Celtic.)
While you’re riding, it’s good to make sure you eat *before* you feel hungry, because if you’re starting to feel famished, it means you’re already quite low on energy. After the first hour, make sure you consume at least 150-200 calories per hour after, and even more if you’re out for more than 4hrs.
The final area of consideration is post-ride; make sure you eat within 45mins to fill your ‘glycogen window’, which allows for a much speedier recovery (your body can absorb carbs and restore the energy in your muscles *much* faster in this period.) This is incredibly helpful in recovering for a ride the following day, and I will write on this in more detail in a future article.
Stupid Sounding Summary: eat lots of carbs the day and night before, and bring food and drink. Eat when you finish too. That’s your mantra: eat eat eat eat eat!