Good hydration helps your body to perform well in all aspects of your life. Whether it’s on the bike or in the classroom, your mood as well as your mental and physical performance benefit from adequate hydration. Try to drink throughout the day, so that you never really get very dehydrated. Be sure to have a glass or bottle of water (8-16 oz) in the last couple of hours before riding, and another one in the few hours before that. In general, try to average about 12-16 oz every 2-3 hours that you’re awake and a little more while you ride.
While riding in cool weather, you should have 1 bottle every 1-1.5 hours of riding. You may need up to 2-3 bottles per hour in warm weather. In cool weather, plain water or a sports drink mix are both fine. For shorter, easier rides just one bottle of water will be good, because you don’t really need any extra electrolytes or calories for those easy rides. In warmer weather or during very hard workouts, it is good to have a drink mix with electrolytes and some sugar to help absorb and retain the water more effectively. You will also want to take in some fluids after riding. After racing, hard workouts, or longer rides in hot weather, you will be low on fluids and may want 2 bottles or more in the first 30-60 minutes after finishing the ride.
Most of the time when you’re not riding, focus on drinking water. Sugary drinks like sodas or most juice drinks are high in empty calories and not good for you. During exercise, some sugary drinks may be okay, but usually most sports drink mixes are much lower in sugar than any soda. Except for the times that you are riding or immediately after you finish your ride, it will be good to mostly avoid extra sugars and focus on just drinking water.
Eat properly before training and racing to maximize energy and get the optimal benefits of training. Your body cannot adapt and get stronger and fitter from training if you do not eat healthy and appropriate foods before, during, and after your training rides and races. It’s good to have a balanced mix of fats, protein, and slowly digested carbohydrates at every meal. This ensures that your body receives an evenly distributed amount of energy throughout the day, rather than quick highs and big crashes from a high sugar diet. Always try to include a lot of vegetables and some fruits in your diet. Try to avoid processed foods, and instead choose natural plant-based foods, whole grains, nuts, maybe some fish, poultry, or meat products. You will be healthier and fitter in the long run if you eat mostly unprocessed foods and avoid added sugars, refined carbohydrates, and artificially added fats.
After any moderate to hard training session, it is good if you can plan a snack or meal so that your body gets in calories and protein when it needs it most to recover, stay strong, and get fitter. If you won’t eat one of your main meals for a few hours after riding, then just having a small snack with some protein and carbs within half an hour is a good option.
When you are training hard, you want to be sure to get enough protein in your diet. This should not be difficult if you eat a mix of different food groups and include beans, nuts, and some meat, fish, poultry, or dairy products every day. If you don’t get at least a few servings of each of these every day, because you have certain dietary needs or restrictions, then you may consider adding a protein powder to your oatmeal or post-workout fruit smoothie. Soy, pea, whey, or other protein powders should all provide adequate amino acids for your needs.
Training day with 9 a.m. morning ride:
Eat a light breakfast 1.5-2 hours before riding that includes a little protein, carbohydrates and fat. Some examples:
- Oatmeal with nuts and berries
- Yogurt, granola, and a banana
- Eggs with toast and butter or olive oil
Take 1 or 2 water bottles with you on every ride (however many fit on your bike). Take a small snack (a sandwich, bar, banana, cookie, or other small solid food item that will sit well in your stomach while riding). Consider taking some gels, chomps, or a bottle of drink mix if your ride will be hot or exceptionally long or hard.
You can burn anywhere from 200-600 calories per hour, depending on how hard you’re riding, how fit you are, and your size. If you are only riding for an hour or less, then you don’t need to worry about taking in extra calories. If you are riding 2 hours or longer, then most athletes will feel stronger and perform better if they take in some extra calories throughout the ride. It takes time to digest food and absorb calories, so don’t wait until you’re hungry or feeling tired and weak, start eating early in the ride. You can focus on solid foods earlier in rides because that will take longer to digest and will provide more sustained energy. If you are racing or riding very hard, then try to pay attention to your body and eat foods that won’t upset your stomach.
Gels, chews, chomps, and drink mix get digested and absorbed quickly, so they work better for many athletes during hard workouts or races. Don’t rely on these fuel sources, though, for most of your riding calories.
Use the mantra; “Person first, equipment second.” Take care of your needs for fluids, calories, and protein before worrying about cleaning your bike and gear. The sooner you eat the better you will recover. It’s best if you can eat within the first 30 minutes after riding. If you can’t, then at least get something before an hour has passed. If you don’t, then your recovery will be much less effective. Not enough protein or calories keeps your stress hormones elevated. As soon as you step off the bike, the clock starts ticking for your 30-minute window. It’s good to get 20-30 grams of protein and some carbs (with how much depending on the intensity of the workout) then.
You can eat real food or take a prepared recovery product. Milk or yogurt with some cereal or fruit can be good. A fruit smoothie with protein powder is great. A sandwich with some meat or toast with a couple of eggs can work. Pick anything that’s available and includes 300-500 calories and some protein, or if it’s time for a full meal, then that will work well, and you probably don’t need to worry about making any special plans as long as you have several hundred calories and some protein in the meal.
If you have a small snack after riding, then try to plan a full-sized meal within the next 2 hours after that snack. As always, try to include some protein, fat, and carbohydrate, and avoid lots of added sugars and fats. If you are not sure what nutrients are in your food, there are good resources online where you can look up the nutrition facts of any food.
Training day with 4 p.m. after school ride:
Eat a normal (healthy) breakfast and lunch. Pay attention to your body and energy levels. Make sure you are staying hydrated, and pay attention to whether or not it will help you during your ride if you have a piece of fruit, a sandwich, or some other small snack 1-2 hours before the afternoon training session. Not everyone will need a snack at this time, but some people will feel best with a small snack between lunch and afternoon training. Again, always take some ride food and 1-2 bottles on your bike.
Think of it the same as a training day, with some changes – read above. Always consider your training days as practice for race days. Your riding and your eating habits can be tested out in training before you implement them on race days.
Know the course ahead of time so you can plan ahead where you can eat and drink. Eat the same type of dinner and breakfast you always eat, don’t change anything up on or right before a race day.
If your race is within 2 hours of breakfast, then there should be no need to eat more. Hydrate and fuel during the race. Leave sugar products to the end, giving you energy to attack and sprint at the end.
If your race is later, eat a snack within 2 hours of the race. For example, toast with butter, a sprinkle of salt, an avocado, or a small sandwich.
Hydrate in the first hour, then hydrate and eat real food during hour 2. Use glucose tablets or blocks in the last 15 minutes for quick energy to attack and sprint.
Recover with the same schedule as a training day; protein within 30 minutes, followed by a real meal within 2 hours.
Limit or avoid:
- Processed carbohydrates or added sugars, except maybe during training or immediately afterwards for your recovery snack.
- Regular use of NSAID drugs (Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Naproxen). Basically, all pain-killers except for Tylenol/acetaminophen are NSAIDs.These drugs stop your body’s inflammatory activities, which are instrumental to adapting to training. If you are always taking ibuprofen or naproxen, then you are preventing your body from responding naturally to training by adapting and getting fitter.
- New practices on race day. Always try out any eating or drinking strategy or product in training before you try something on a race day. This way you can avoid unforeseen problems with digestion. Nobody wants an upset stomach during a race.
Notes for women:
Hormonal changes can affect your bodies and may make hard training or racing efforts feel more or less difficult on different days. Just pay attention to your body so that you can know when to expect when you will feel normal or good and when you may not feel as strong on your bike.
- 5-7 days before menstrual period you might need a little extra carbohydrate if you are
- Branched chain amino acids are also helpful if you are making hard efforts in the 5-7 days before
- 3 grams before training, 5 grams after training.
- Increase your protein intake during your menstrual period.
- Consider taking a multi-vitamin with iron or an iron supplement if you do not eat much red meat. Even if you do eat meat most days, you may still benefit from going out of your way to add iron to your diet. If you take supplemental iron, it is a good idea to get your blood checked by your doctor a few times each year, maybe at the beginning and the end of the season.
Reach out to other women on the team if you need more support.
Dealing GI Issues
Trail Runner magazine with some guidance on addressing GI issues (upset stomachs and other) experienced while on a ride or run. What the Gut?