On bike nutrition strategies

I get asked all kinds of questions about sports nutrition as a coach. What I share is practical knowledge based on my own experience as an athlete and a coach. It also doesn’t hurt to be coached by one of the best Sports Nutritionists in the industry, Kelli Jennings of Apex Nutrition LLC.

What I am going to share is just the basics of in ride nutrition strategies. I also want you to think of nutrition on the bike as fuel!

When fueling for a ride you must first think of the day in its entirety, not just the time you are on the bike. When you eat and what you eat will play a very large part in how well you do on the ride.

What I eat during the day

On the day of a race or a long training day, I like to keep it simple. My daily nutrition consists of whole foods with little to no processed foods. I will consume more protein than your average person due to my high volume of training. My protein sources come from lean meats, fish and whey protein. When I am concerned with daily carbs I also like to limit it to fruits and vegetables. I try to limit/remove sugars and starchy carbs as well as they can lead to insulin spikes and the inevitable low energy crash. The healthier I eat the more this “crash” is noticeable when I cheat and eat something I shouldn’t.

So where do all of the gels, sports drinks, and protein bars come in?

In normal weather conditions, I only consume sports drinks, gels before and during rides and races lasting longer than 1.5 hours. If it’s hot and the humidity is over the top I will consume sports drinks on rides 40 minutes or greater due to potential electrolyte losses. I will only eat protein bars after a long race or ride when it is not easy to consume a recovery shake of my own design.

That’s it?

I hate to say it but I like to keep it simple when it comes to my nutrition concerns and rarely change my diet. I have found that the longer I train and race the less time I want to spend over analyzing what I am eating.

What if I don’t have access to my favorite nutrition?

I recently received a comment from a reader that liked my sports drink formula in the hydration article but when they calculated how much they were going to need they calculated about 100lbs of Sports Drink Mix in an effort to meet my requirements for hydration. To answer I have a simple response to all concerned. “Do the best you can with what you have.” This is actually some of the best advice I was ever given as a child from my Grandfather and it has helped me through many a tough decision.

It may be impossible to get your favorite nutrition on a cycling tour but there are few rules that you can follow that will help you stay healthy.

  • Eat cleaned whole foods (Fruits, Vegetables, Roots, Nuts, Berries, Lean Meats/Protein)
  • Stay away from packaged foods that have ingredients you do not recognize
  • Stay away from packaged foods that do not have ingredients listed
  • Drink only water that has been purified or bottled
  • Stay away from packaged foods that contain sugar alcohols, as they can be tough on digestion especially in hot climates
  • Stay away from High Fructose Corn Syrup as a sweetener used in many packaged sports drinks and supplements

As I said before do the best you can. You may be in the middle of nowhere and only have a handful of power bars and can of coke to fuel with. It’s not the end of the world its just not the best fuel for the long haul.

What I enjoy eating

I also get asked quite a bit about what I like to eat during training, racing or on long rides. I have had several sponsors over the years and some have some great nutrition products and some not so great. Right now I am sponsored by GU Energy Labs and I really like their GU and Roctane brand of gels. I also use be a huge fan of Cliffshot blocks but after trying GU Chomps I am now a convert. When it comes to electrolyte mixes I use to be sponsored by the new Defunct Motortabs. I found that NUUN tablets were very similar to Motortabs but tasted better. I now use GU Brew and it works as well as the NUUN tablets. Just wished there was a bit more sodium. I also like to bring bananas along for long steady distance rides. I find on slower rides that whole foods just stick with me longer.

How often do I fuel

On hard rides and workouts lasting an hour or longer, I will take a gel 15 minutes before starting. Then I will take on a gel every 30-40 minutes. If I am doing lots of intervals and distance I will use the same formula for consuming gels but also add a bottle of my sports drink mix per hour of training. This sports drink I will take a sip every 5 minutes. If you’re not comfortable constantly looking down at your bike computer you can set an alarm on your computer or sports watch to remind you.

Eating while riding

I see far too many cyclists stop to eat. In some cases, it s perfectly fine to stop get off the saddle and eat but if you are having a hard enough time fitting in your rides and training then its time to start eating and riding at the same time! It is actually easier than you think With prepackaged gels, blocks, protein bars and fruit you just need to know a few tips.

  • Not comfortable reaching in your back jersey pocket while riding? Store a gel just under the leg elastic on your shorts or bibs
  • Don’t want to tear into packaging while riding? Open the package before you start
  • The idea of riding in a group and eating make you nervous? Drop to the back to eat and drink
  • What do I do with all the wrappers? Put them back in a free jersey pocket. GU wrappers can be placed in a zip lock baggie too
  • I don’t like taking my eyes off the road. Don’t! When pulling your bottle out of the rack to drink do it by feel not sight!

As I wrote at the beginning of this article this was going to be very basic and nontechnical and I will give you one more piece of advice that has served me well on long rides. “Eat before you’re hungry and drink before you are thirsty.”

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Until the next article Train Smarter Not Harder!

Coach Rob

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