"Le Tour de Fuel: Getting your nutrition right" was written by Pip Taylor. Pip is an accredited sports nutritionist and accredited dietitian, professional triathlete, author and mother of two. Pip recently had her first book published, 'The Athlete’s Fix’. Check out Pip's favorite snacks for fueling workouts here.
It’s the time of year when many of us are avidly following Le Tour de France. That sporting institution of equal parts beauty and pain where Tour riders chow down in the range of 8000 calories per day in an effort to try and keep up with their incredible energy expenditures.
Inspired by Le Tour, perhaps you’re headed out for a long ride yourself. Or perhaps you are completing a Century or even a multi-day tour event. While you don’t need to try and down the same number of calories a Tour rider does, the need to fuel appropriately is real, no matter your level of expertise or fitness, or what your overall goal is.
: Fuel up. The days leading into a race and even the day or night before a long demanding training ride provide an opportunity to make sure your glycogen levels are optimal. (Glycogen, along with fat is the fuel that provides energy. Fat stores are almost limitless so you don’t need to try and top up on fat.) This is often known as carb-loading but the process isn’t simply about what or how much you eat. Carb loading can be achieved by simply backing down on usual training loads and maintaining regular diet. If you continue to train through, then just focus on including some more carbohydrate rich foods into the mix. Rather than turn to refined sources, make an effort to include nutritious options such as whole grains, tubers and fruits. Cyclists have an advantage over runners and other athletes in that the incidence of GI distress is usually much less, meaning that there is wider tolerance for types of foods in the run up to an event. If you are fueling up for a race, then the night before is not the best time to do so – instead consider adding extra fuel earlier in the day to give your system some time to digest, absorb and get comfortable again. You ideally want to wake up on race morning with normal hunger levels and ready for a breakfast or pre-race meal to top up glycogen stores.
: Over do things. It is easy, especially if you are anxious about performing or even about making it through the distance to be tempted into just eating as much as you possibly can. This can often mean too that nutritional choices are questionable – cramming in cookies and cakes will provide a bucket load of energy but you can only store so much glycogen. The rest is converted into fat.
During the ride:
: Pay attention to hydration as well as fuel. This might mean that you have a nutrition plan that caters to your individual needs. Try and stick with foods and fluids that you have tried and tested before. If you are riding a full day or in a multi-day tour, then you will want to consider variety. Flavor fatigue can set in quickly if all you have on hand are sweet drinks, gels and bars. Explore some real food options like baked potatoes, sandwiches, rice cakes, home-made fruit and nut bars and bananas. Make sure that they can be eaten one handed, can withstand some temperature fluctuations, and that the packaging is easily opened.
: Get stuck without enough to eat and drink. Even if there is the opportunity to pick up additional on-course nutrition it is important that you have some on hand – that way you can take advantage of opportunities to eat and better maintain energy levels. For races that last over 3 hours or so you will likely want to consume as much as 90-100g of carbs per hour from different sugar types. Using a mix of sugars such as glucose and fructose, speeds uptake and reduces risk of stomach upset. Glucose and sodium act synergistically in facilitating hydration, so especially if sweat rates are considerable then include some sodium in either your hydration or nutrition.
: Before any celebratory drinks (even if you aren’t riding another stage the next day) pay attention to some simple recovery steps. This will ensure you are in much better shape the next day whether for more adventures or for returning to the office. If you are completing a multi-day tour, then recovery is critical and is best as soon as possible after finishing.
The 3 R’s of recovery:
- Rehydrate: a quick weigh in pre and post ride will indicate roughly how much fluid you have lost. You want to replace all this and more but it doesn’t have to be straight away. Adding some sodium wither to the drink or to the food will help retain fluid in cells.
- Refuel: Restore glycogen levels which have been depleted during the ride by consuming carbohydrate. Quality whole food sources such as fruits, vegetables, starchy tubers and whole grains will also provide some essential nutrients – something that can be lacking from the nutrition that forms the bulk of the on-bike food.
- Rebuild: Protein is vital in the recovery meal to help repair, build and maintain lean muscle. 20-25g is a good amount to shoot for.
: Overestimate the calories you burnt during the days ride – especially if it is a training ride or a stand-alone race. Fatigue can trick our brains into thinking that we have expended more energy than reality, or send our body into panic that we are going to do the same thing again tomorrow so we had better stock up and inhale every single calorie possible and quickly. Try and offset immediate hunger by following good recovery habits (above) and then focus on getting in some good quality nutrients. And sleep. If you are riding again the next day these components are essential.
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