Meeting your nutritional and hydration needs can help you achieve your peak performance during training and on race day. Nutrition plays a key role in attaining peak performance when training for, or competing in an endurance event. Consuming adequate calories and choosing the proper fuel source before, during, and after your activity can help you perform your best and reduce your recovery time.
Dehydration is one of the major causes of fatigue while biking long distances. During exercise, your muscles can generate 15-20 times more heat than when at rest. To keep from overheating, you release sweat! All cyclists need to be sure to replace fluids and electrolytes lost in sweat.
A proper pre-exercise meal can help top off the body’s carbohydrate stores, maintain normal blood glucose during exercise, and delay fatigue.
- A pre-exercise meal should be consumed 2-4 hours prior to the start of training or competition. Because carbohydrates are the main energy source for the working muscle and the brain, this meal should focus on carbohydrates and contain 2-4 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight depending on individual tolerance.
- It is best to choose familiar foods that are high in carbohydrate, low to moderate in protein, and low in fat such as the following:
- A turkey sandwich, a piece of fruit, one serving of pretzels, and one cup of skim milk.
- 2 packets instant oatmeal + 2t brown sugar + 1 serving Craisins + 1 cup grapes
- A whole wheat English muffin + 2 TBSP peanut butter + 2 tsp. jam + a banana
- 1 cup (cooked) homemade oatmeal made with low-fat milk + 1 TBSP brown sugar or honey + 1 TBSP chopped nuts + a piece of fruit
- A bagel + cream cheese
- 2 cups cereal +1 cup low-fat milk
- 2 cups pasta + 1 cup marinara sauce
- 1-2 scrambled eggs + 2 pieces whole wheat toast + 1 orange + 8 oz. low-fat milk
Choose a smaller snack if eating 30-60 minutes before training:
- 1 sports bar + 1 cup water
- 1 low-fat flavored Greek yogurt + ½ c. granola + 1 cup water
- 1 bagel + 2 slices turkey + 1 cup water
- 2 cups sports drink
- 1 cup milk + 1 cup cereal + 1 cup water
- 1 piece of fruit +1 cup water
- 2 pieces of toast + 2 TBSP jam or jelly
During exercise, adequate carbohydrate consumption helps maintain blood glucose levels, allowing the body to continue to use carbohydrate (the preferred fuel), as its primary fuel source throughout the exercise session.
- During events that last between 1 and 2 ½ hours, 30-60 grams of carbohydrate should be consumed every hour.
- For events lasting longer than 2 ½ hours (or ultra-endurance events), up to 90 grams of carbohydrate should be consumed every hour.
- These carbohydrates may come in the form of solid foods, sports drinks, or sports gels.
After exercise, adequate carbohydrate consumption replenishes carbohydrate stores and prepares athletes for the next exercise session.
- If the next training event or competition is less than 8 hours away, 1 gram of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight is recommended every hour for the first 4 hours after exercise.
- However, if the next training event or competition is more than 8 hours away, simply follow daily carbohydrate recommendations.
- For athletes participating in high-intensity endurance events, 6-12 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight per day are recommended depending the length and intensity of that day’s exercise.
Protein is also important after exercise, and 20-30 grams should be consumed within 1 hour post-exercise to aid in muscle recovery.
- Endurance athletes should aim to consume between 1.2 and 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day.
Fluids have many different functions in the body including lubricating tissues and cells, transporting nutrients and waste, and most importantly regulating body temperature during exercise.
Weight loss from body water of only 2% of your body weight can lead to reduced exercise, and thirst is not necessarily a good indicator of hydration:
- Drink on a schedule-about 4 ounces every 15 minutes during exercise
- If exercising longer than an hour and/or in hot weather, it is recommended to eat or drink something with sodium and potassium in it.
- Sweat contains more than just water; it also contains electrolytes that help with fluid balance inside and outside of cells. It is a good idea to drink something that contains a little sodium to stimulate thirst, a little potassium to replace sweat losses, and a little carbohydrate (sugar) for energy. Sodium and potassium also help improve water retention. Gatorade and other sports drinks are a great option!
- If you consume food during a ride, such as pretzels and salted nuts, those foods can do the job of replacing carbohydrates and electrolytes.
- You can also help meet your fluid needs by eating foods with high-water content. Think fruit, oatmeal, and even soups or broths.
- An easy way to know if you are adequately hydrated is to check your urine. Pale yellow means that you are hydrated at a normal balance. For specific colors search online for “urine color chart”.
One of the best ways to avoid dehydration is to determine your sweat rate. To do this, weigh yourself before and after 1 hour of training. The amount of weight lost is the sweat lost. Average sweat rates vary between individuals and range from 1-4 lbs. per hour! When you know your sweat rate you can then drink enough fluids during training to avoid dehydration: 1 lb. = 16 oz. = 2 cups (8 oz.) of fluid.
You may also avoid dehydration by replenishing the fluid lost during training by properly rehydrating after the cycling session. In this circumstance, it is recommended to replace 150-200% of BW lost during the training bout. This is accomplished by consuming 24-32 oz of fluid per pound of body weight lost during the exercise.