By now, we are all aware of the benefits of refueling properly when riding a bike. When we exercise, we use the fats and carbohydrates (glycogen) stored in our bodies. While even the leanest athletes have enough fat stores for a training session, we all have only limited glycogen stores. Glycogen is stored in the liver and muscles where it is transported in the blood as glucose. While we’ve all experienced the dreaded “punk” when liver glycogen stores are so low that blood sugar drops; Even mild glycogen depletion can lead to a significant decrease in performance.
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This is why when I work with an athlete, I will describe their training and fueling during and after each session. This ensures that the intake of the macronutrient matches the requirements for that particular training session. This approach to cycling nutrition It has recently become known asfueling for the desired action“.
The question then becomes – what is really ‘required’ during training sessions?
As a (very) rough guide we can split the sessions into it Cycling training plans into three categories: easy rides, long endurance rides, and intense sessions. Each of these sessions has a different carbohydrate requirement.
What is the required feeding cycle?
These tours are short (less than 90 minutes) and very easy. Normally, as long as you fuel up before these rides, they don’t require additional carbohydrate intake during the session. However, if you’re doing them the day after the race when you may still be a little depleted of glycogen, it certainly wouldn’t do any harm to eat some carbs.
these Zone 2 endurance ride Longer (>90 minutes) but still fairly easy (if you do it right). However, due to its duration, you will still be using a large amount of glycogen while you are riding, so it makes sense to eat some carbs while you are riding. At a typical endurance intensity, 40-60g of carbohydrates per hour is sufficient.
These can be anywhere from short to tough HIIT exercises for long, tough races. In those shorter sessions (less than 60-90 minutes) intense carbohydrate intake is not recommended because the body will not be able to process the carbohydrates fast enough to burn them. By the time they pass through your digestive tract, into your blood, and then into your muscles or liver, you’ll likely be in recovery.
However, in long hard sessions (>90 minutes), you will need to eat a lot of carbohydrates if you do not want to run out of glycogen and notice a decrease in your performance.
In this case, you will need to eat more than 60 g / hour. In fact, some professional athletes now eat 90-120g/hr of carbohydrates.
Where do these carbohydrates come from?
Now that we know how much we’re eating, the next question is, where do these carbohydrates come from?
Below eating 60g/hr I would argue it doesn’t really matter where your carbs come from. The reason for this is that different types of sugars are absorbed through different channels in the gut. The glucose channel (by far the most common carbohydrate) can move approximately 60g of glucose from the intestines into the bloodstream per hour. In fact, in scientific trials, at these types of intensities, feeding cyclists potato-based products resulted in the same level of performance as specialized sports nutrition. Given this is where most of your training will take place – I recommend finding a product you like, checking how many carbs it has and then eating enough of it to get you to 40-60g/hr.
This is where things get a little complicated. Our gut can’t process enough of one type of sugar to meet the ~90g/hr needed to feed a session. Therefore, we need a mixture of sugars. The latest research indicates that a 1:08 ratio of glucose and fructose results in better carbohydrate absorption and the greatest performance improvements. This ratio is only found in specific sports nutrition products. So, for these sessions, I would definitely recommend specific products.
We also know that before the gut can process 90g/hr of carbohydrates, it already needs some training. Therefore, it is important that you do not suddenly gobble up 90g/hr on your first intense session or race and expect your stomach to handle it. Instead, you need to gradually increase your carb intake per hour, starting at around 60g/hr and all the way up to 90g/hr (or even higher in some cases).
Similarly, since all sports nutrition products contain a slightly different blend of ingredients, you cannot expect your gut to be able to process any stale product and all of them to be just fine. Doing so is a recipe for “stomach upset”… Instead, it’s much better to choose a product that you like the taste of and stick to it. Slowly increase your carbohydrate intake in intense sessions until you reach approximately 90g/hr or your stomach can take no more.
On easy riding, a little carb is fine and won’t do any harm. On endurance rides you should refuel 40-60 grams of carbs per hour, but you can get those carbs from wherever you want. For intense sessions (especially those longer than 60 minutes), I recommend finding a product that you like the taste of, that contains a mixture of sugars (ideally glucose and fructose in a 1:0.8 ratio), and using it in all sessions. Not only will this mean you’re improving bike performance, but you’ll be training as well your gut To deal with the high carbohydrate intake. This means no nasty surprises on race day.
As food prices rise, so does the cost of satisfying a cyclist’s appetite. Here’s a nutritionist’s guide on how to get your food for less.
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