Whether you’re training for a century ride, a race like a criterium or triathlon, or you’re pedaling for the sheer pleasure of riding, your nutrition and hydration strategy can make the difference between a great day on the bike and a miserable one.
What works well for one person may not work for the next. What works for one type of ride may not work for another. What works in certain weather conditions may not work in others. This is why it’s so important to know what works for you.
Below we have helpful information and tips to help you get a handle on your fueling strategies.
Practice Makes Almost Perfect
Your training rides offer you the chance to try different fueling techniques to see what works for you under a variety of conditions. If you’re following our WFRT Century Training Plan, you’ll notice some days will ask you to pay particular attention to your nutrition and you’ll be instructed to practice your event-day nutrition.
Whether you’re following our Century Training Plan or not, it’s always a good idea to practice your nutrition strategy – to know what your body needs and what it can handle before the day of your event or ride.
Most races will post in advance what and where fuel and hydration will be on the course. This allows you to practice ahead of time with what will be provided for you on your event day. It allows you know whether you need to bring your own nutrition or hydration to supplement what will be out there on the course. For those with particularly sensitive stomachs, it’s good to know this in advance.
Keep a Training Log
Keep notes about what you consumed and when, in addition to the duration and intensity of your ride, the weather conditions and how you felt. This will help you dial in to what works and what doesn’t work for you under different conditions.
For those looking for real numbers on hydrating, do a weigh in before and after your ride. Weight gain on a ride means you drank more than you sweat. Too much weight loss means you sweat out more than you drank. This could be from lack of water or from lack of sodium to help your body absorb the water.
Even with careful notes, your sweat rate and metabolism are not set in stone. They will change as you become more fit. They are dependent upon your stress level, your quantity and quality of sleep and how fueled and hydrated you are pre-ride. Cloud cover and a breeze will have your body responding differently to the same temperature under a blazing sun.
You will never be able to account for every factor, but you can get a better handle on what works for you.
Calories In Do Not Always Equal Calories Out
Most cardio machines and HR monitors will exaggerate caloric expenditure. Here is a formula for calculating your expenditure on a given course.
Regardless of how many calories you’re burning while exercising, a person can only process up to 250-300 calories per hour. If you’re consuming too much, you’ll likely end up with some sort of GI distress such as cramping or nausea.
It’s important to know how many calories you need during your effort and also what those calories should consist of.
Type of Fuel Based on Degree of Effort
Your muscle glycogen stores should provide enough fuel for a one to two hour steady effort ride, like a TT or short-course triathlon. However, Robby Ketchell, Team Garmin-Sharp’s director of sports science, says his team uses a quick dose of a sports gel mid-way for another reason. “A little glucose actually helps create phlegm, so riders don’t get a dry throat.”
Short, intense races favor quick hits of glycogen, like what comes from a sports gel, if anything at all. While your body won’t have enough time to process chewed foods, a quick shot of sugars can give you a boost for a sprint finish.
A longer effort, like a century ride or a long-course triathlon, takes more careful planning. Fueling too much or too little early on can affect the rest of the day.
For these longer efforts, fueling is typically best accomplished through a combination of liquid calories and solid food. Finding the combination that works for you is key.
According to Kendall, “One of the most important tips for on-bike nutrition is to simply keep a steady stream of nutrition in your system. Don’t wait 5k for a downhill to sit up and eat, it might be too late.” Many sports watches will allow you to set reminders – so that a beep will remind you to drink from your water bottle every 10 minutes or to take food every 45 minutes. Whether it’s a race or a ride, you don’t want to be playing catch up with your nutrition or hydration.
Type of Fuel Based on Degrees
We tend to consume fewer calories when riding in lower temperatures. For this reason, teams like Garmin-Sharp will have a higher concentration of calories in their water bottles on cold days. Because the converse is also true, they’ll go out with lower concentrations of calories in their bottles on hot days, knowing that they’ll be hitting the water bottles more frequently.
The lower concentration of sugar has two effects, according to Kendall. “On a hot day, you’re drinking a bottle [more frequently], so you’re still getting enough calories per hour. Then the lower sugar content reduces GI stress, which is a bigger issue on hot days.”
On hotter days, the team will also be sure to go out with more sodium in their fuel mixture. Additional sodium will help your body absorb the water you consume, rather than letting it sit in your stomach. If you’re a particularly salty sweater (you’ll know by the white streaks the salt leaves on your clothing after a hard effort), taking in more sodium is especially important.
Calculating your sweat rate can be helpful. Weigh in before and after exercise, taking into account any fluids taken in and assuming no bathroom breaks. Each kilogram of weight lost translates into one liter of fluid lost. (For each pound lost, you lost 15.4 oz. of fluid.)
Dehydration will affect performance. Make an effort to begin hydrating the days before a ride or event.
- Two hours prior to an event, try to consume 14-22 oz of water.
- During an event, make it a goal to consume 6-12 oz every 15-20 minutes.
- Post-event, drink 16-24 oz for every pound of body weight lost (based on pre- and post-event weight).
For exercise that is longer than an hour, consider adding electrolytes and carbohydrates to your water. For exercise longer than three hours, the electrolytes and carbohydrates are necessary. For longer efforts, like long-course triathlon, the addition of small amounts of protein should also be considered.
We’ve already learned that we cannot necessarily replenish all of our burned calories during a ride. For those riding to lose weight, this is a benefit. For those already at race weight or struggling to maintain weight, this is a problem. For both groups, post-ride nutrition and hydration is key.
It’s in your recovery where your performance actually improves. Or not. Yes, you read that correctly. Your workout is imperative, but it’s after your workout when your body has a chance to rebuild itself. How you treat your body in this crucial period will determine whether all that training is put to good use.
After a workout of 90 minutes or more, be sure to refuel with a combination of carbohydrates and protein within 30 minutes. You’ve probably heard that chocolate milk is an ideal recovery drink. With its 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein, it helps your body to begin repairing itself.
Refueling post-exercise with carbohydrates will help replace your muscle glycogen stores. Protein is necessary to begin repairing muscle that is damaged during exercise.
Keep in mind, if you’re exercising for weight loss, you want to refuel your body without over-indulging to the point that you’re consuming more calories than you just burned.
Nutrition is so important, it’s often considered the fourth discipline of triathlon. Nutrition and recovery combined can either put all your hard effort in training into effect or it can come back to bite you on your important day. Do you really want to leave that to chance? Take an active role in your ride and post-ride nutrtion.
Hopefully these guidelines and tips will help you as you set out to do your training this summer – whether you’re following the Century Training Plan on Training Peaks, joining us for our group rides or training on your own. When it comes to nutrition, it’s important to find what works for you.
Since food products have a limited shelf life, we don’t stock everything in-store. We can order other products or other brands, like Bonk Breaker, Jelly Belly, Skratch Labs, Nuun, ProBar and Salt Stick.
If you don’t see what you want on our shelves, just ask if we can get what you do want in our next order. Or, if you’re looking for something in particular, give us a call before you stop by.
Looking for more information?
- Here’s more from Higher Gear on how to fuel for your ride.
- Get hydration tips from Skratch Labs.
- Learn how Skratch Labs hydration mix is different.
- Check out more on nutrition from Higher Gear.
- Here’s more on how and when to hydrate.
- Learn fueling strategies from Team Garmin-Sharp.
- Here’s how to calculate your sweat rate.
- Here’s the link again for how to calculate your caloric expenditure for a given event.
Our resident fitness guru, Joy Sherrick, shares with us the wisdom of her years of experience working with people to meet their fitness goals.