When you’re an avid cyclist, you don’t need to adhere to the strict eating habits society has implemented upon us. You know, rules like, “avoid carbohydrates” or “limit your caloric intake”. While those rules are good for regular folks, they could damage you. As a cyclist, you need all the energy you can get, and that requires a different kind of diet.
Cycling is an endurance-based exercise, so you need to continuously fuel yourself with carbohydrates, protein, and fiber. In order to optimize your body’s performance, you need to nurture it properly during each of the three stages of cycling: pre-ride, during the ride, and post-ride. By eating the right foods during the right stages, you’re giving your body exactly what it needs.
Before a race or a prolonged bicycle ride, your goal is to consume enough energy to keep your body working throughout the ride. The best way to do this is to fuel your body with fiber-rich carbohydrates and lean protein two to three hours prior to the ride. You also want to avoid foods high in glycemic index (GI).
A recent study conducted by the University of Hull in England had cyclists who ate a meal with a GI of 72 racing against cyclists who ate a meal with a GI of 30. It turned out that the cyclists who consumed low-GI foods completed the time trial three minutes faster than the cyclists who consumed high-GI foods. You can visit the University of Sydney’s Glycemic Index Database and find out the GI score of your meal.
You also want to avoid sugar and refined flours, because, while foods high in sugar and refined flours will give you a burst of energy, you will feel sluggish after the energy wears off.
Fiber-rich and lean protein recipes
Slow Cooker Apple Brown Cinnamon Oatmeal
- 2 sliced apples
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 cups rolled oats
- 4 cups water
Put the sliced apples, cinnamon, and brown sugar in a crock pot first, and then pour oatmeal and water on top. Do NOT stir. Cook on low heat overnight for 8-9 hours.
Zucchini and Eggs
- 4 eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 zucchini, sliced 1/8 to ¼-inch thick
Beat the eggs and Parmesan cheese together in a bowl, and set aside. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the zucchini in the hot oil until softened and lightly browned. Season the zucchini with salt, pepper, or garlic powder if desired. Reduce heat to medium, and pour the egg mixture into the skillet. Stir gently for about 3 minutes, and then remove from heat. Keep the skillet covered for about 2 minutes or until the eggs set. (Recipe source)
During the ride
If you’re riding for more than 90 minutes, it would be smart to fuel your body while on the bike. Your best bet is to eat something readily available that’s high in protein and carbohydrates, like dried fruit or an energy bar. While store-bought energy bars are great, they’re usually packed with sugar and preservatives. You’re better off making your own. Don’t worry – it’s easy!
Energy bar recipe
- 2 eggs
- 1 banana, mashed
- 1 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
- ½ cup unsalted raw sunflower seeds
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ cup nonfat dry milk powder
- ½ cup chopped dates
- ½ cup raisins
- ½ cup chopped walnuts
- ½ cup chopped dried apricots
- ½ cup toasted wheat germ
- 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
- ¼ cup whole-wheat pastry flour
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 9×3-inch baking dish. Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl until thoroughly combined, and then spread the mixture evenly into the prepared baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes, and then set aside to cool. Cut into 9 bars and wrap with plastic to store. (Recipe source)
When you’re finished riding, your muscle tissues are torn and your body is low on glycogen. At this point, you need to focus on rebuilding your muscle tissues and replenishing your glycogen levels. That means consuming protein and carbohydrates within an hour after the ride.
Lean protein and high-carb recipes
Chicken Fiesta Salad
- 2 chicken breast halves
- 1 (1.27 oz) packet dry fajita seasoning
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 (15 oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 (11 oz) can Mexican-style corn
- ½ cup salsa
- 1 (10 oz) package mixed salad greens
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 tomato, cut into wedges
Rub chicken evenly with ½ of the fajita seasoning. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat, and cook the chicken 8 minutes on each side, until fully cooked. In a large saucepan, mix the beans, corn, salsa, and the rest of the fajita seasoning and heat until warm. In a large bowl, toss the greens, onions, and tomato, and then add everything else. (Recipe source)
- 1 banana
- ½ cup plain low-fat yogurt
- 1 cup frozen blueberries
- ¼ cup low-fat milk
- ½ cup ice cubes
Put the banana and yogurt in a blender, and blend until thoroughly mixed. Add the blueberries, milk, and ice cubes, and then blend some more until thoroughly mixed.
The bottom line
A common cycling mantra goes something like this, “Eat before you’re hungry, and drink before you’re thirsty.” When your body is hungry or thirsty, it’s already weak as a result of having low levels of energy or fluid. When you’re cycling, you don’t want to let yourself get hungry or thirsty.
Instead, continuously replenish your body with food and water, no matter what. Remember to eat foods that are chock full of carbohydrates, protein, and fiber, and avoid sugary foods and baked goods. The more you nurture your body, the better cyclist you will turn out to be!
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