Fuel Your Ride: Complete Performance Nutrition for Cyclists

Fuel Your Ride: Complete Performance Nutrition for Cyclists

by Molly Hurford, Nanci Guest


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Athletes know that proper nutrition is important, but finding the right balance can be complicated. Fuel Your Ride is a comprehensive guide to performance nutrition for cyclists and provides all the tools you need to customize a unique nutrition plan to achieve maximum performance. This book teaches riders everything from what to eat on race day to avoid the dreaded bonk to how to lose weight while consuming enough nutrients and power hard training rides. Fuel Your Ride combines the expert advice of numerous nutritionists, coaches, and professional cyclists to present a simple, clean, and whole foods approach to eating complete with easy-to-follow recipes that include delicious and nutritious vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options.

In addition to chapters on in-exercise food and hydration, supplements, and weight loss, special attention is placed on what to eat and the best time to eat, taking into account the different nutritional requirements for training rides, race performance, and recovery. Fuel Your Ride provides cyclists with the comprehensive nutritional information you need to efficiently power your rides and perform at your very best.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781623366193
Publisher: Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale
Publication date: 03/22/2016
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 1,155,950
Product dimensions: 7.40(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Molly Hurford is a writer-at-large for Bicycling magazine and a level 3 coach with USA cycling. Prior to working with Bicycling, Molly was an editor at Cyclocross Magazine. She lives primarily on the East Coast but spends most of her time on the road chasing races and good cycling weather.

Nanci Guest, MSc, RD, CSCS, is a registered dietitian with both the Ontario and BC College of Dietitians. She is a certified personal trainer and certified strength and conditioning specialist, was the director of sport nutrition and head dietitian for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games, and is the current dietitian for the Pan Am games. She lives in Toronto.

Read an Excerpt



N utrition doesn't start on the bike. Every single person--racers, nutritionists, and coaches--I talked to said this over and over, so it's worth repeating. On your race day, or that epic endurance ride you have marked on your calendar, your breakfast and ride fuel are only a small part of the equation. How you've been eating for the past few months plays a huge role, not just in body composition, but in how you digest, how you use energy, and how you perform. You wouldn't start training the morning of a race, would you? So why should your nutrition start then?

The first thing we want to focus on is where we are now. Without knowing how well (or poorly) you're eating, it's hard to know what to tweak to fix your diet. And when it comes to macronutrient breakdown, most people are surprised by what the breakdown actually looks like for their daily diets. Hint: Carbohydrates and fat sneak in more often than you think, whether you cook a lot at home or eat at restaurants for every meal.

What is a macronutrient? Macronutrients make up our food, and the big three are fat, protein, and carbohydrates. They work together to keep our bodies running. Carbohydrates fill up glycogen stores so we have energy to function and to ride; fat provides energy as well and helps to protect our cells and dissolve certain vitamins, while protein builds and repairs muscle--not just bodybuilder muscle, cyclist muscle, too.

In the next three chapters, we're breaking down these three into bite-size pieces (pun emphatically intended) so you know just how much of each to eat, the best time to eat each one, and the best options in each. Macronutrients aren't created equal; there are good and bad fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Let's get started so we can cut out the bad and begin focusing on the good.


This is the big question for cyclists. What the heck is a bike body anyway? Is it one where your quads are so huge that you need specially tailored jeans to fit over your bulging muscles, or is it one so slender that even the tightest of skinny jeans are sagging off of your thin frame? Unfortunately, there's no one right answer, and like much of nutrition, it's all about the individual, as Smart Athlete coach (and slim but reasonably muscular elite racer) Peter Glassford explains.

"It's a complicated question--it depends on the sport you want to participate in," he admits. "There are a bunch of different sports within cycling, from ultra-endurance road cycling to multiday stage events to a track cycling event that may only last a couple of minutes. So there is a wide range of body types in cycling, not just skinny arms and huge legs."

Thank goodness.

But there are a few generalities that he shares.

Road Cycling: A road cyclist will typically be leaner, with not much muscle, low body fat, and much less upper body strength. Keeping weight low is even more important when you're doing more hilly rides and races versus flatter criterium races--to be successful, you have to watch out and keep weight low and muscle to a minimum. Not that strength training or consuming protein is bad, but you don't want to overconsume protein or do activities that tend to bulk up the upper body.

Mountain Biking: For mountain biking, on the other hand, you need a bit more muscle and upper body strength to navigate the varied terrain. It is common to see a mountain biker with a little more weight than your average road cyclist.

Track Cycling: This one is pretty variable, but generally, you'll see a more muscular sprinter body, similar to a running sprinter. It's very much power based, so having more muscle in the legs is key. They tend to be a bit bigger, but still pretty lean.

Glassford adds that when it comes to women, while the body types are similar to those we just described, there's a higher tendency toward outliers in the field. Just look at a women's professional field, and you'll see what he means. Tall, short, muscular, slender--there are so many different body types that can fit the winning bill for professional women's cycling. Even among the women interviewed for this book, there are huge discrepancies. "You see a much wider variation than you do in the men in terms of body types," Glassford says, and he's completely right.

But that just leads to the next point. Ride and eat right and your ideal cycling body type will find you. You can't change your DNA, but you can make your body most effective by--no surprise here--doing what you want it to do, and gradually letting it change. You wouldn't lift Olympic weights to get ready for a marathon, so why would you push heavy gears on the track if you're hoping to be a climbing specialist on the road?

"The sport takes care of it--whatever discipline you do the most of is how your body will start to develop," Glassford explains. "But you are limited a bit by your frame. That shouldn't discourage anyone though--there are outliers all the time. You see people make what they're born with work well- -a smaller, more muscular racer may be great at cyclocross, where being a little more built muscularly can help with lifting the bike over the barriers, running with the bike, and staying steady on the bike through the mud. There's always a discipline for you . . . or a technique that lets you compete in the discipline that you want to be in."

So before you throw this book out because you're afraid you'll never make it as a pro roadie because you pack on muscle like a linebacker heading into training camp, don't panic. There's still hope.

Look at this first task the same way you would look at creating a household budget: You can't make a reasonable budget if you don't have a clue where the money is going right now, can you? A food diary is a great place to start. Even if you're not trying to lose weight and are simply trying to appropriately fuel your workouts, keeping a food diary for a few days to make sure you're getting enough calories, or to see if you are consuming too many (and to see what your nutritional macronutrient makeup is), is an easy, cheap, and noncommittal way to get a snapshot of where your diet is. You can use a notebook, a spreadsheet, or one of the countless free fitness apps available on your smartphone. Pro cyclocrosser Jeremy Powers swears by MyFitnessPal, but choose whatever one you will actually use.

"You don't just know all of this nutrition stuff," Powers says when he talks about why he records what he eats and why he cares about the nutritional makeup of his food. "You have to be in a place where you make time to learn and to cook. I don't think any rider just immediately starts doing this. But I knew, for me, it was something I needed to do to get to the next level and keep my body healthy. And as I get older, I need to be on top of that."

Once you've recorded a few days of normal eating, you should be able to see patterns emerge. Maybe you have a huge breakfast, but don't go for a ride until midafternoon. Or, are you a late-night snacker because you train later in the day but eat a small dinner? Are you eating way more calories than you thought, or far less? Are you drinking enough water, or too much coffee? We make food choices that may not be the smartest (like that midday muffin 30 minutes before lunch) when we're not thinking about what we're doing, and having a written log is a great way of both taking note of those tendencies and working to curtail them.

The good news: Keeping a log isn't something you need to do forever. Think of it as an occasional exercise in mindfulness. "You do it, and then you take a step back the following season and say, 'Okay, that was good.' You begin to recognize where your nutrients are coming from," says retired pro road racer Ted King. "I think cyclists, in general, have their ears to the ground, so to speak, and understand nutrition. I love my time in the kitchen. I love paying attention to food, so, inherently, I look at a pile of cashews and now I just know roughly how much fat, protein, and carbs are in it. It might sound nerdy, but at this point, it's second nature. So, I inherently understand it, and I don't really need to nerd out on that stuff anymore."

As King points out, keeping a food diary can create long-term results. Even if you only keep it for a few days, observing serving sizes in relation to the portion size you are eating will give you a better sense of how many calories you are actually eating.

Pro cyclocrosser Katie Compton is a fan of keeping a food diary, and not just for counting calories. She's experienced some health and allergy issues over the years, and having a comprehensive log of what she ate and when she ate it has helped her adjust her diet into something that makes her feel good--something she needs when racing weekly through the fall and winter.

"I've been keeping a food diary for a few years now," she says. "It helps me keep track of when I'm feeling shitty and what I ate. Sometimes, you forget, especially when traveling and racing. You try to think back, but you can't remember everything that you had, so it's nice to have the diary to look back on." Laughing at herself, she admits, "but keeping it is annoying as hell, and I hate it."

Now that you know roughly how much food you're eating each day, it's time to see if that's too much, too little, or just about right. "When working with an athlete, I like to start with determining their overall calorie needs," explains Alexa McDonald, RD, CDN. "Those needs are often elevated in cyclists and other endurance athletes because of the intensity and duration of the sport. I break down their caloric needs into three different meals and two or three snacks per day, with taking into consideration and making some exceptions based on timing, duration, and frequency of their training."

To do this, you'll begin by calculating your basal metabolic rate (BMR)--a rough estimate of what you burn in a day before any activity. It's pretty simple, actually: For women, your BMR is your weight in £ds multiplied by 9.9; for men, weight is multiplied by 10.8. That's about how many calories you need in a day to just exist.

Now, here's where you can do one of two things. For an easy calculation to take exercise into account, multiply your BMR by 1.5, and if you consider yourself very active (training hard on a daily basis), multiply it by 1.7. If you'd prefer a more accurate count, simply multiply your BMR by 1.2 (the measurement for someone who's inactive) if you work a desk job and rarely are active except for training, or by 1.3 if you're fairly mobile even outside of training. Then, calculate how much you burn on the bike. This can be done using one of the many online calorie calculators available. (Bicycling magazine has a great calculator on their website.1) Or use your heart rate monitor or power meter to give you the most accurate reading. Got a number? Add it to that original BMR calculation, and voila! The number of calories you burn in a given day.

If you're trying to maintain weight, make sure you stay fairly close to that number. If you're trying to gain weight, go a bit higher, and if you're trying to lose weight, go a bit lower--but more on that later.

First, let's get into the nitty-gritty science of what you're putting in your body and why you're doing it. We're going to break down the three major macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Each one of them is important--especially for cyclists--and each has been demonized in the past few decades for one reason or another. In the 1980s, fat took the blame for the growing obesity epidemic in America, so we introduced a lot of low-and no-fat foods to combat that. But to make the foods still taste good, since fat is admittedly delicious, we crammed those chemically engineered monstrosities with sugar.

When the obesity epidemic seemed to take off even more in the early 2000s, we decided to blame carbohydrates and sugar. Now, it seems like no one can agree on which is the greatest evil . . . but luckily, as a cyclist in training, there simply isn't one evil of the three macronutrients. Why are all three important, and why do we need them? It all comes down to energy.

When we talk about burning energy during exercise, we're not just making a killer metaphor. We're talking about splitting the bond in ATP (adenosine triphosphate, for those science geeks) molecules, which then releases energy as it loses one of its phosphate groups and becomes ADP (adenosine diphosphate). Don't worry--we won't nerd out too much here, but it is important to understand the basics of what energy really is and why we need it.

In cycling, at some point or another, every rider has experienced bonking-- that feeling of hitting a wall, where your legs suddenly become too heavy to pedal, your mood plummets, and you just need a ride to be over. That's not a psychological issue (though, admittedly, sometimes it's more mental than physical, especially when the weather is bad or the ride isn't going according to plan). Bonking means you're out of energy stores, and your body is going into crisis mode. We want to avoid running out of energy at all costs, but at the same time, we want to avoid overfeeding, which can sadly make a ride lead to a net caloric gain versus a loss. You don't want all that hard work to be for nothing, do you?

"You hear a lot about the 80:20 rule, where you can eat 80 percent well and 20 percent indulgent, and if you're just the average person who does the basic requirement of trying to get out for 30 minutes most days of the week, and you don't care if you're carrying an extra 10 £ds, that's fine," Nanci Guest, MSc, RD, CSCS, explains. "You can get by being a bit more relaxed. But for optimal health, people should really be more so following a 90:10 rule, and the 10 percent is really about psychology more than anything else. You don't want to be so disciplined you're making sacrifices that make you unhappy."

Table of Contents

Introduction ix

Some of the Names You'll See in this Book xvii

Part 1 The Big Stuff

Chapter 1 Why Does It Matter? 5

Chapter 2 Fat 17

Chapter 3 Protein 27

Chapter 4 Carbohydrates 35

Part 2 Your Day

Chapter 5 Breakfast 51

Chapter 6 Lunch 61

Chapter 7 Snacks 69

Chapter 8 Dinner 73

Chapter 9 Everything in Moderation 83

Part 3 Your Ride

Chapter 10 In-Exercise Hydration 99

Chapter 11 In-Exercise Food 111

Chapter 12 In-Race Food 131

Chapter 13 Post-Ride Food 139

Part 4 Your Body

Chapter 14 Weight Loss 147

Chapter 15 Stress, Food Intolerance, and the Cyclist 165

Chapter 16 Supplements 173

Chapter 17 Immunity and the Cyclist 183

Chapter 18 The Future of Athlete Nutrition-Sport Genomics 187

Appendix: Testing 191

Bibliography 195

Acknowledgments 203

Index 205

About the Author 216

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