Bicycle Network: Health Matters
Fuelling up for the long haul
Eat right to improve your performance and energy levels. Sports dietician Lisa Sutherland explains how riders of all fitness levels can improve energy levels and performance by eating the right foods before training, competition or longer rides.
Food intake the day before a long ride and in the hours leading up to exercise are critical. Organisation is the key to ensure meals and snacks are timed to provide sustained energy for when you're on the road.
What to eat the night before
The most important goal for longer rides is to build up carbohydrate stores. Carbohydrates are the most important fuel source for prolonged exercise and make a difference between doing your best and hitting the wall early.
Carbohydrates are absorbed into the bloodstream from the gut. When there is plenty of carbohydrate available, such as after a meal of pasta, the extra that is not used is stored in the liver and muscles. These stores of carbohydrate are called glycogen.
Eating plenty of carbohydrates in the 48 hours before the big ride will help fill your glycogen stores. The night before your event, it is a good idea to include more carbohydrate in your evening meal than you usually have. Nutritious carbohydrate foods include:
- pasta and noodles
- potatoes, pumpkin, sweet corn
- dairy foods
- fruit and juice
- muesli bars
Protein is also important, but it is best to choose easily digested forms such as lean red meat, fish or chicken rather than fattier meats.
Pre-ride meal ideas
- Large bowl of soup with pasta/noodles/lentils or beans
- Large serve of pasta with tomato-based sauce and low-fat cheese
- Large serve of pasta or bean salad with a small serve of lean chicken
- Large serve of noodles or rice with chicken, fish or lean meat and vegetables (cooked with minimal oil)
- Small tin of baked beans on toast (rye or wholemeal) with low-fat cheese, followed by 200g low-fat fruit yogurt.
- Two or three large sandwiches or rolls (rye/multi-grain bread) or pita bread roll-ups with skinless chicken, tuna, turkey, lean ham or lean roast meat and salad.
- Large serve of breakfast cereal (e.g. 2 cups porridge or other whole-grain cereal, or 1 cup muesli (preferably not toasted muesli, which contains fat)
- 5-6 large pancakes (cooked in non-stick pan with minimal oil) with fruit and low-fat yogurt.
- Toast or crumpets with jam
- Low-fat fruit smoothie
- Don't forget to consume plenty of fluids too.
What to take with you
After a satisfying pre-ride meal, it is important to maintain your carbohydrate intake once you're out on the bike. Snacks will help to maintain blood glucose levels, and provide a constant source of energy to your muscles.
It is recommended that you start consuming carbohydrate early in the ride, at a rate of between 30 and 60g per hour. Foods eaten on the bike should be high glycaemic index and low fibre, for rapid absorption.
Portable food options containing 50g carbohydrate:
- 2 medium bananas
- 2 muesli bars
- 4 pieces of bread with vegemite
- 1 jam sandwich
- 4 pikelets and jam
- 2 carbohydrate gels
- 2 small scones
- 60g pretzels or rice crackers
- 600ml sports drink or cordial
What not to eat
Foods that are too high in fat or protein are slowly digested and may cause discomfort or a heavy feeling. Over-eating is also likely to make you feel sluggish.
Foods that are high in fibre may not be the ideal choice, considering their speed of transit through the digestive tract, and the potential lack of toilet stops!
Avoid discomfort by taking foods that you find familiar and enjoyable.
Lisa Sutherland is a sports dietitian and fitness consultant who works for the Hawthorn Football Club and the Victorian Institute of Sport. Visit her website at www.lisasutherland.com.
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