You may not realize it, but mountain bikers require a different nutrition plan than, say, your average couch potato. More time on the bike means you’ll need to replenish the fuel source you burn off.
“If there is not an effort to replenish that fuel source while exercising, the body will burn through all of the stored glycogen, eventually running out and ultimately slowing the recovery process,” explains Brent Mann, MS, vice president of R&D/Scientific Affairs at GU Energy Labs.
But that doesn’t entitle you to eat whatever you want. Mann recommends athletes consume at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, eat whole grains and minimally-processed food, and avoid products that are high in simple sugars.
“Each and every athlete is different and should experiment to find what works best for the individual,” he says.
About.com caught up with the nutrition expert to find out when and what cyclists should eat before, during and after a ride.
About.com: When should cyclists eat – before, during or after a ride? If all three, why?
Mann: Before a ride or race, be sure to eat solid food well in advance of the exercise bout to clear the stomach of food needing to be processed. Drinking plenty of fluids before exercise commences is key to being prepared for a proper bicycle ride.
During a multi-hour ride or race, cyclists on average need to take in about 200-350 calories per hour. Anything less than that and you risk the dreaded “bonk” associated with not having enough fuel in your system. Anything more than that amount of calories and you risk decreased performance due to gastric distress.
After the exercise bout, it takes approximately 48 hours to completely recover and replenish your glycogen stores; however it is within the first 120 minutes after a hard workout that your body is most open to recovery treatment, and repletion of your lost glycogen stores. Taking in a well-formulated recovery product inside this magic “glycogen window” after training is of the utmost importance.
About.com: What should cyclists eat – before, during and after a ride?
Mann: The human body uses a mix of carbohydrate and fat as fuel while aerobically exercising, with the proportion of carbohydrate increasing as the intensity of exercise increases. While the human body inherently stores a certain amount of glycogen, endurance events burn through the body’s stored glycogen pretty quickly, which is why fueling DURING the event is so important. Athletes need a significant amount of that nutrition to be carbohydrates (anywhere between 40-60 grams/hour) as the body is dependent upon this carbohydrate as an energy source to fuel working muscles.
About.com: Why is it important for cyclists to replace the energy they’ve burned off?
Mann: In order for athletes to maximize training adaptations, and get the most gain from hard workouts – an athlete must be in energy balance. That means that the athlete is consuming the same number of calories they are burning every day. If they are in negative energy balance, in other words burning more calories than they are eating, that will help them lose weight – but will also minimize the biochemical and structural adaptations to endurance training that will help them perform in the future. However, if the cyclist is overweight – then it will likely benefit performance not to replace all the energy they have burned during exercise to facilitate weight loss. However, for particularly intense training sessions where the goal is to stimulate physiological systems to adapt, it will likely be best to be in energy balance to get the most out of that training session.
About.com: What are some benefits fitness-specific foods have over other foods?
Mann: GU Energy products have been formulated to most efficiently deliver energy to athletes during competition, in order to maximize his or her performance during training and on race day. One of the greatest obstacles in this quest is delivering the appropriate amount of calories to an athlete under stress without upsetting his or her stomach.
Additionally, GU products are easy to digest, some have ginger to sooth an upset stomach, many also have branched chain amino acids to facilitate recovery and minimize central fatigue. GU products use a mix of different types of carbohydrates which has been found to maximize intestinal absorption.