Rushing to get out the door to get to your group ride? Don’t skip breakfast!
While there was a theory tossed around a few years ago that training on an empty stomach could help boost weight loss, this is neither a safe nor an effective way to train.
Breakfast is “breaking the fast” of the 6-10 hours you’ve just spent sleeping. (Especially if you’re training, you’re hopefully getting 8-10 hours to give your body time for proper recovery, but we’re accounting for reality here.) When you wake up in the morning, your body is already in starvation mode.
In order to avoid “the bonk” during your training ride, to make the most of your workout and to burn more calories post-exercise, you should eat before your morning ride. David Ertl, a USA Cycling Level 1 (Elite) Coach, says, “You are much better off eating enough to have a good ride where you will be able to enjoyably burn a lot of calories, [than] trying to ride in a sugar-depleted state and ending up burning less overall calories and consuming muscle tissue for fuel.”
If you have more than an hour before your ride, you have plenty of time to get in a good breakfast. If you’re pressed for time, however, make sure to consume quality carbohydrates* (we can call it a “snack” instead of a “meal”) for your body to call upon during your ride.
Carbohydrates are our primary source of energy. Consuming carbohydrates before your morning training replenishes those glycogen stores that were depleted during your evening “fast,” making them available to your working muscles. This spares your body from having to break down proteins for energy.
Yes, that’s right, if you don’t have glycogen stores to pull from, your body will start breaking down muscle. (If you’re like me, I’d much prefer to burn fat and spare my muscle tissue.) Before that, however, replenishing your glycogen stores spares you from “bonking.” It also means that you’ll have maximum brain capacity – which is important, especially if you’re riding outdoors and need your wits about you.
* So, what are sources of quality carbohydrates? Whole grains, oats, brown rice and fruits are options that provide a good source of carbs, while being easy on the stomach and can be prepared ahead of time. (Getting your pre-morning ride snack prepared the night before gives you more time to air up your tires and get out the door quickly so you’re not late for your group ride.)
Your pre-ride nutrition should be low in fiber and easy on the stomach. It should also include fluids. Make sure to hydrate with water (and/or coffee or tea) with your pre-ride meal or snack.
Getting on the bike after eating is much easier to do than, say, running or swimming with food in your stomach. That said, what works for one person is different than what works for another. Keep a log of your training and meals to see what works best for you. Learn what gives you the most energy without causing any GI distress.
Eat before your ride in the morning to make the most out of your training ride. Getting in quality carbs will help you avoid “the bonk” and will “fuel” your post-exercise metabolism. Then, don’t forget your post-ride nutrition.
Your biggest bang for your buck comes after your workout. Begin your recovery (repairing and building muscle) by fueling within 15-30 minutes of completion. Post-workout, you’ll want a combination of healthy carbohydrates and protein. The length and intensity of your exercise will dictate your Resting Energy Expenditure.
Your metabolism is increased post-workout, as your body works to heal itself. Small meals/snacks every two to three hours will assist your recovery and prepare you for your next hard effort. If you’re looking to lose weight, keep these post-exercise snacks (and all meals) small so that, even with these additional snacks, you’re still consuming fewer calories than you burn.
Years spent working in health clubs, our resident fitness guru, Joy Sherrick, shares with us the wisdom of her years of experience working with people to meet their fitness goals.
Additional resources regarding pre-exercise nutrition: