Eating a plate of lasagna bigger than your head is not quite the optimal way to prepare your body for training. While no one will argue about the importance of carbohydrates as cycling fuel, learning how to eat healthy when training involves more than snarfing down a lot of highly processed, white food.
Cycling 101 says that you need carbs for energy. But you also need the right types of carbs at the right time. Simple carbs break down into glucose (blood sugar) fast for a burst of quick energy. The glucose gets stored in the muscles as glycogen, but any excess that your cells don’t use as fuel gets stored as fat. The energy boost simple carbs provide is short-lived and often precedes an energy crash. Simple carbs include sugary snacks, like candies, and more processed carbs, like white bread and white rice.
Complex carbs take longer to break down. They provide more sustained energy. These include vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. While they’ll break down into glucose/glycogen as well, they take longer and give you a more sustained energy supply than simple carbs.
When training, it’s a good idea to consume a healthy portion (about the size of your fist) of complex carbs with your meal an hour to an hour and a half before you set out on a ride. Spreading out your total carb consumption over several meals and snacks during the day is better than snarfing a huge portion of carbs all at once.
A general rule of thumb is 2.5 to 4 grams of carbs per day for every pound of body weight. Light training should keep you on the lower end of the intake scale, while active and intense training can take you slightly beyond the top.
Protein builds and repairs muscle, and it may also help maintain the immune system. Protein is harder to digest than carbohydrates, and thus more filling. A portion of healthy protein can control appetite, but you wouldn’t eat a huge steak right before a training ride. After the training day is over, a nice portion of broiled salmon or baked chicken with green vegetables and whole wheat rolls will rebalance your stores of energy and aid in recovery.
It seems silly to assign a moral character to foods, but certain types of fat are much better for you than others. Stick with unsaturated fats found in fatty fish, nuts, seeds, and avocados. These help build “good cholesterol” (LDL) and control “bad” cholesterol (HDL), which, in turn, can help keep unhealthy inflammation in check.
All this healthy eating for training requires adequate hydration. Cyclists need additional fluid on top of the daily recommendation of 32 to 64 ounces that is generally recommended because they need to replace fluids they lose during training. While your hydration needs will vary, a good guideline is to hydrate enough to not get to a point where your body feels thirsty, because then you're already dehydrated and performance is already starting to suffer.
Remember, it's always a good idea to consult with your doctor before starting any rigorous exercise program. When you’ve reached a goal, treat yourself to a new ride. Our online bike store offers Marin bikes for sale that will take you to the next level in cycling.
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