Nutrition for Bicycle Touring
What to eat and drink on the road -
Cycling long distances burns calories. To keep your body fueled eat lightly but steadily and hydrate with water or sports drinks. This enables you to provide fuel for your muscles, repair tissue and muscle damage, and replace electrolytes. Always drink before you're thirsty and eat before you're hungry.
Hydration -When cycling you lose fluids through sweating and breathing. It's important to drink before you feel thirsty to stay ahead of dehydration. Water acts as a coolant and helps the blood in carrying nutrients to muscles and other parts of the body. It also cleanses the cells of metabolic by-products such as lactic acid. It lubricates joints and tissues and helps to facilitate digestion. Plain water is great to drink on short rides but any ride longer than two hours you need to replace lost electrolytes with a sports drink.
Electrolytes are minerals (sodium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, potassium) that carry an electrical charge necessary for muscle contraction and the maintenance of fluid levels. Electrolyte imbalance can result in decreased performance, cramps, (usually affected by potassium, sodium and calcium) and heat stroke, especially in hot weather. You can replenish electrolytes by drinking a sports drink (Gatorade), or eating fruits and vegetables. Sports drinks hydrate you better than water because they are formulated to replace electrolytes and carbohydrates. They also have added sodium, which helps your body retain water and stimulate thirst. Try to keep drinks as cool as possible because they are quickly digested, more refreshing and lower your core body temperature.
To prepare for your ride prehydrate first by drinking 14 to 20 ounces of a sports drink or water an hour before the ride. On the ride drink about every 15 minutes (3-4 ounces). Try to average a 12-to 16-ounce bottle of liquids an hour. No matter how much you drink during the ride you need to rehydrate after the ride. A simple way to do this is to weigh yourself before and after the ride, then compare the figures. Drink 20 ounces of water or a sports drink for each lost pound of bodyweight. If you don't have a scale check your urine. When you are fully hydrated it should be pale yellow in color and plentiful.
What to eat -Touring cyclists need food to sustain them on the road. To eat for endurance, fuel with low fat, high carbohydrate foods.
Carbohydrates are the food of choice for working muscles because they can be broken down quickly and efficiently into useable glucose. Carbohydrates are stored as glycogen in liver and muscle cells. When working muscles need an increased fuel supply, glycogen is broken down into useable glucose. On a long-distance ride, you need to eat carbohydrates because the body's normal glycogen stores only support the first 1-2 hours of cycling. At least 60% of your total daily calories should come from carbohydrates. It's best to consume complex, whole, unprocessed carbohydrates (oatmeal, pasta, rice, fruit, vegetables, beans, wholegrain breads) for long term energy instead of refined, simple carbohydrates that are absorbed into the body for quick energy (sweets, candy, chips, soda, cakes).
Fats, also needed by your muscles, are used to a lesser extent then carbohydrates. Your muscles use fat as fuel for light to moderate intensity exercise. The body has a higher storage capacity for fat, so it doesn't need to be replenished as often. About 15-20% of your daily calories should come from fat. Saturated fats are widely believed to have no known positive benefits for sports performance. Monosaturated fats are the most beneficial and include oils (olive, canola), nuts, avocados, olives and seeds. Fish and flaxseed are examples of healthy polyunsaturated fats.
Protein is a maintenance material important for rebuilding and repairing muscles. Protein boosts the immune system and enhances healing and recovery abilities. It is not used by the body as an energy source until muscle glycogen stores are depleted. The body can't store protein like it can fats and carbohydrates, so you need to replenish it daily (no more than 15% of total calories on ride). Protein rich foods include chicken, turkey, fish, lean meat, eggs, nuts, beans, yogurt, cheese and milk.
When to eat -When bicycle touring, it's important to fuel your body with the right foods but you also need to eat at the right time. Timing is everything so you don't experience the dreaded "bonk". Carbo-load the night before so your muscle and liver glycogen stores are full for the next morning. Load up on pasta, rice, pizza, vegetables, bread, whole grains and fruit. Don't attempt to build up this energy-rich carbohydrate reserve by eating large quantities at breakfast or during the ride. It takes 12 to 24 hours to digest carbohydrate in the muscles and liver in the form of glycogen.
Eat a high carbohydrate breakfast before you ride. Foods like oatmeal, bananas, pancakes, whole grain breads, cereal and fresh fruit will give you a healthy start to your day. On the bike, nibble high carbohydrate foods frequently (about every 30 minutes) throughout the ride. Good foods on the bike include raisins, bagels, granola, energy bars, bananas, peanut butter, pretzels, fig bars and fruit. When taking a break at a fast food restaurant choose Italian, Chinese, or Mexican cuisine. These foods have less fat and are high in energy yielding carbohydrates. Refrain from eating high-fat foods such as chips, cakes, meats and cheeses. They are less efficient as fuel, take longer to digest, and may cause stomach distress.
After the ride, it's important to replenish your glycogen levels. The first 30 minutes off the bike (glycogen window) are critical for your muscle's post-exercise recovery and repair. You need to eat a blend of carbohydrates and protein while your body is most effective at replacing glycogen stores. Some good post-ride snacks include cereal with milk, P& J sandwich, bananas, slice of pizza, yogurt with granola, chocolate milk, or a bagel with crèam cheese. There are also post ride recovery drinks that you can buy that contain carbohydrates and protein.