What to Eat for Short, Medium and Long Rides

The American College of Sports Medicine, recommends 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour of exercise, but few athletes understand the reason for this amount. The average person can process, or oxidize, only about 1 gram of carbohydrate per minute, no matter how much is consumed. The issue is: it’s your intestines, which can transport glucose from food you eat into your bloodstream only so fast. Dumping more carbohydrate into your gut doesn’t necessarily increase the absorption rate, and it can increase your chances of an upset tummy!

You can totally overload on carbs…….. here is a quick example!  Take Joe: His half an energy bar (23 grams of carbs), one gel (27 grams of carbs) and bottle of sports drink (about 50-55 grams of carbs) meant he was taking in about 100 grams of carbohydrate every hour. Early in his rides, he was doing great because he was getting all the fluid, energy and sodium his body could handle, but after a few hours the excess carbohydrate sloshing around in his system was making him nauseous, bloated and ill. Happens all the time!!!

One of the easiest ways to optimize your carbohydrate intake during rides is to drink a low-carb, electrolyte hydrating drink while you’re eating light, digestible snacks, like fig bars and bananas.

Here is the KEY:  Simply separating these two categories—hydration and solid food—typically brings people back into the range of 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate per hour, while also ensuring they’re getting adequate sodium and fluids. 

Data shows that by consuming energy foods that contain a mix of sugars (such as glucose and fructose, or glucose and maltodextrin) instead of just one type, you can bump oxidation to as much as 1.7 grams per minute. Energy gels that are heavy maltodextrin are too much.

Here is how to test this: You keep a journal. And try to set an alarm to beep every 15 minutes as a reminder to drink, instead of guzzling an entire bottle at once. Try adding granola bars and fig bars to your stash of energy bars and gels for variety. As you roll past the four-hour mark, you will soon find, you are taking long turns at the front and then, next thing, hitting the finish line-faster than before!

One of the first things a new cyclist learns is that without on-bike food and fluids, you can’t pedal very far or very fast. Here’s what to eat and drink on rides of various lengths for a stronger finish:

Short-Length Rides
‌•Ride Duration: 1 hour or less
•Primary Concern: Fluid replenishment ‌
•What to Drink: Plain water or a low-carb, electrolyte hydration drink
•What to Eat: Most people start with enough stored energy for a 60-minute workout, but carry a banana just in case you’re out longer than expected or you start to fade.
•Bonus Tip: For optimal recovery, eat a full meal within an hour of finishing an intense workout. Always include protein (chicken, fish, beans, legumes, tofu, lean beef), and a clean carb (quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat pasta udon noodles, yams, baked potatoes).

Medium-Length Rides
‌•Ride Duration: 1 to 3 hours‌
•Primary Concern: Carbohydrate replenishment‌
•What to Drink: 2 bottles low-carb, electrolyte hydration drinks, at least
•What to Eat: 30 to 60g of carb per hour from food.
•Bonus Tip: Don’t wait until you are hungry or thirsty to eat and drink. Take small nibbles and sips from the get-go.  Thirst is not ‘always’ an indicator OR works in heavy workouts.

Longer-in-Length Rides‌   (H2B)
•Ride Duration: 3 hours or more‌

  • Primary Concern: Carbohydrate and electrolyte replenishment; food boredom‌
  • What to Drink: 2 bottles low-carb, electrolyte hydration drinks, at least‌
  • What to Eat: 30 to 60g of carbs per hour, total.

*Digestion can get harder as rides get longer, so eat more solids at the beginning of the ride, and switch to blocks, chews, and other easily digested foods during the final part of the ride.

*Just be sure to drink plenty of fluid to chase down gels, so you don’t get GI upset.

*Bonus Tip: Supplement bars and gels with carb-rich, low-protein, moderate-fat “real” foods. Don’t worry about specific amounts of protein or fat; just eat what tastes good so you keep eating.

*excepts from Bicycling. Other nutrition data from Joanne Keaveney, M.S., R.D.  for questions/tips, contact: jojo44@verizon.net    or 617-710-2904 (text only).

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