3 commonly asked questions on how to eat as a cyclist

By Janel Holcomb

As a coach, brand ambassador, and former pro, I’m fortunate to have ample opportunity to work with many cyclists, events and organizations. I encounter a wide variety of cyclists – women, men, juniors, racers, beginners, dirt, road, and endurance riders – but many of the questions I get asked are similar, if not entirely the same.

What’s the hottest topic in Cycling Town? Nutrition! Everyone wants to know, “As a cyclist, how should I eat?”

In early November, I was a guest speaker at a women’s clinic for the Network for Advancing Athletes and after each of the guests spoke on a different topic, we opened the floor for an “Ask Me Anything” session. It was a no-holds-barred Q&A with some incredibly knowledgeable pros/coaches/athletes. When the first woman cracked the surface of nutrition, the floodgates opened and we covered a lot of important ground.

Here were the three most discussed questions:

What should I be eating?

In life and on the bike, aim to eat a variety: colors, protein, carbohydrate, fat sources. Shop the outer circumference of the grocery store: produce, meat, fish, dairy, etc to get the least processed, whole foods. Off the bike, half of your plate or bowl should be fruit and/or vegetables. On the bike you need to fuel according to your effort, so you will depend primarily on carbohydrate sources. This is why I love Enduro Bites – they are the perfect amount and healthful source of carbs!

How much should I eat?

My rule of thumb that I learned from my coach years ago is this: Pre-Ride Meal + Ride Food = Calories Burned on Ride. After your ride, eat healthily to cover the rest of your caloric and nutrient needs.

Without exaggeration, I eat 1000-1200 calories or more before a 4-hour ride. My breakfast always includes carbohydrate dense foods and fat to help slow digestion: muesli with nuts, seeds, grains, milk and fresh fruit; multigrain toast with avocado, tomato and salt. Then I eat 200-300 calories/hour on the bike. To hit my target I mix 100-150 calories of maltodextrin with Beta Red, add 100 calories of mix to my other bottles, and pack my pockets with Enduro Bites and simple sandwiches (roll with cream cheese, jam and banana, for instance).

I can’t eat much before rides and I have trouble eating during the ride. What should I do?

Just like we gradually increase our training to get stronger for long rides or lots of climbing, we have to train our digestive system to manage the fuel we consume. For breakfast, try giving yourself more time to eat even if it means waking up before the sun. It might help to add a liquid calorie source such as a smoothie with spinach, banana, dates, yogurt and milk of your choice.

Gradually increase the amount you eat for breakfast and work at it every time you ride. On the bike, set an alarm so you remember to eat every 15-20 minutes and have a little snack every time you hear the alarm. Start eating solid foods like Enduro Bites early while saving simple sources of fuel for when you are tired and your gastro intestinal system is slowing down.

Want to learn more? Ride with me and get a taste of my coaching during the Belgian Waffle Survival Camp in San Diego, CA Jan 27 – 29, where you’ll get to mix road, dirt and gravel.  It will be a fun opportunity to polish your skills and your disc brake bike!

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