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Eating, Drinking & Riding

San Diego Century - June 1, 2013

San Diego Century - June 1, 2013

One of the biggest factors for enjoyable cycling is proper nutrition and hydration.  Whether it’s winter or summer, time for holiday calories or time for summer drinks it’s always a good time to practice and plan for proper hydration & nutrition on your rides.  We’ve worked with Coach John Howard’s sage advice to help plan your nutrition/hydration for whatever training and events you put on your calendar for the next few weeks.  Start with these basic tips:

  1. Experiment during training, and lock in what works before you take on a new distance or new race. Try a variety of sports drinks, gels, energy bars, or other high carbohydrate food to find out what helps you kick a**, thus maximizing your performance and endurance.
  2. Establish a nutritional plan and stick to it.
  3. Be careful about trying new things during organized rides or races that you haven’t tried during your training.  Save your nutrition experiments for holidays, training, and after you are done riding!

Here’s a summary of Coach John Howard’s recommendations for the weeks leading up to your next riding event.  The recommendations are most applicable for longer rides and races, but are also useful for shorter distances if you plan to be on the bike for an hour or more.

The Week Before Your Next Big Event

Eat foods you are used to. Avoid new foods and those you think might cause gastrointestinal distress. Eat carbohydrates and proteins in a 4:1 ratio, and don’t limit your carbs to pasta and rice. Fruit, yogurt, and chocolate milk will add to your glycogen stores and will provide needed vitamins and minerals. You may gain weight, but don’t be alarmed! A full reserve of glycogen weighs more than a pound, and 3 to 4 pounds (about 1.5 kg) of water are added during the conversion process.  If you are planning a ride that is under an hour it’s less critical to build up a glycogen store.

Two Days Before Your Next Big Event

Two days beforehand be sure to hydrate well. Increase your liquid intake gradually by sipping small amount of liquids frequently throughout this period. Continue to eat as before, but include other electrolyte sources, including my favorite, liquid colloidal trace minerals including calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium. You are probably not going to find these, or the nearly 60 trace minerals that stabilize the primary electrolytes in the usual sports drinks. Do some research, especially if your ride event will last more than a few hours, and you are expecting hot conditions. Performance tends to fall off when the electrolytes diminish in the body, so lace the liquids in your favorite sports drink and sip your way to success.

One Day Before

Eat a good breakfast and a bigger lunch. These are your most important meals prior to riding, since they will top off your glycogen stores in time for your race. Eat familiar foods, and consume the same amount of fiber you did while you were training. Eat a good dinner, but don’t overeat or eat too late. Continue hydrating. On the flip side of dehydration, we have hyponatremia in which it is possible to over-hydrate with pure water and literally wash the minerals right through your system. For this reason, drink small doses of mineral-laced liquids. Another personal favorite of Coach Howard is a product called Acid Check, an alkalizing agent that assists the body in maintaining optimal pH levels. It improves endurance, shortens recovery, and buffers exercise-induced acid as it is generated. It will also greatly assist in preventing cramps during your event.

Three to Four Hours Before You Ride

(Three to four hours prior), people who suffer from prerace jitters may struggle to get food down. Eat whatever works for you for breakfast: cold cereal, oatmeal, energy bars, energy drinks, or small amounts of water along with copious amounts of acid check. Anyone who has ever ridden a long event with a full bladder will understand the necessity of finding the perfect mix of just enough fluid without overdoing it. It is common for athletes to experience some intestinal issues associated with anxiety in the hours before the scheduled start. While Coach Howard has gone on record as advising consumption of around 17-20 ounces two to three hours prior to your event and 7-10 ounces 10-20 minutes before your start, the current thinking is that while this may be the ideal way to hydrate, it probably may be excessive. Find your own balance in training to avoid this problem! The expected temperatures during the ride and the length will dictate how much you need to drink. If it is very hot, consuming a small amount of fluid or energy drink immediately before the start may create a need to hit the bathroom, which is OK, because you will begin to lose fluids soon after you begin.

During the Ride

What and how much you consume during an event depends on the length of the event and the weather conditions. Try to take in enough fluids to match what you lose; don’t wait until you are thirsty. Many athletes try to consume between 500 and 1000 milligrams of sodium for every hour they are on the bike, but excessive amounts of any electrolyte can cause nausea and vomiting. If you eat a gel or an energy bar, make sure that you also take in an appropriate amount of liquid. If the ride is long, check the sodium content of your carbohydrates; some gels have insufficient amounts of sodium, so you may need to alternate your gel consumption with a sports drink or pretzels. As before, you should already know what works best for you from your training experience. Above all do not try anything new during the ride!

After the Ride

After your event start eating and drinking within the first few minutes if possible, preferably in the first 30 minutes to maximize absorption. Carbohydrate will replenish your blood sugar and glycogen stores. Protein is necessary for your body to repair any cellular damage to your muscles and to shorten your recovery time. Nut bars plus fruit, smoothies, and chocolate milk will provide carbohydrate and protein. Post-race recovery drinks are commercially available that replenish small amounts of electrolytes, carbohydrate, and protein. Carbohydrate consumption should be at least one gram for each kilogram of body weight (pounds/2.2). Usually 10-20 grams of protein is enough for most cyclists. Drink fluids for the next few hours either until your weight returns to its prerace value or your urine is pale and not deeply colored.


Good nutrition is mandatory to help you exhibit your highest levels of athleticism and enjoy overall good health. Like your mom always told you, eat a balanced diet that includes carbohydrate, protein, and fat. As you get closer to your organized events & compeititions, the majority of your calories should come from carbohydrates (50-65%), much of which should consist of fruits and vegetables. Limit your protein consumption (12 to 18 percent of calories) to lean meats, nuts, and low-fat dairy products. Avoid saturated fats, and include healthy fats in your diet, keeping overall fat consumption to 20 to 30 percent of your daily calories. Nutrition and hydration before, during, and following an event are very personal requirements; if you stick to my 3 simple rules, you will be “ready to rock.”

  1. Experiment during training. Try a variety of sports drinks, gels, energy bars, or other high carbohydrate food to find out what helps you kick a**, thus maximizing your performance and endurance.
  2. Establish a nutritional plan and stick to it.
  3. Be careful about trying new things while you are riding a race or longer event that you haven’t tried during your training.  Save your nutrition experiments for early training, and for after you are done with your big events!




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