Food for energy
A guide to eating right for exercise is presented. The basic point to keep in mind is to eat a carbohydrate-rich diet on the day’s ride. Complex carbohydrates such as rice, pasta and bread best meet the body’s daily needs.
Here’s a guide to eating right for exercise: start with complex carbohydrates such as rice, pasta and bread
No matter what type of activity you do, food can help or hinder the outcome: it affects your starting disposition, your level of energy – whether you’re active for a few hours or the entire day – and the aftermath (how tired you feel the next day!).
Your body is always burning food for energy. Fats and protein provide some energy, but most of your body’s daily energy needs are best met with complex carbohydrates. They provide 40 to 50 percent of the body’s energy needs at rest and low levels of activity. Increase your level of activity, and your carbohydrate needs rise too.
Complex carbohydrates are starchy foods of plant origin, e.g., potatoes, bread, rice, pasta, grains, beans, corn and other vegetables and fruits. These foods are usually low in fat, high in other nutrients – vitamins, minerals, some protein and fiber – and are perfect fuel for you.
The body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, which is burned as needed for energy. Excess glucose is stored primarily in the liver and muscles in the form of glycogen. And its glycogen you can thank when you make it up that last big hill with breath and pedal power to spare! Your body converts glycogen back to glucose when needed. During endurance activities, such as cycling, glycogen is essential.
First piece of advice: eat a carbohydrate-rich diet on the day’s ride. Start with breakfast: juice, cereal with milk, one or two pieces of whole-wheat toast with jam and coffee. If you’re feeling really hungry, opt for pancakes with jam, apple butter or maple syrup.
Keep feeding your body “fuel” food throughout the day. Desserts notwithstanding, try to minimize the amount of fat you eat. One way to do this is by choosing low-fat protein sources at lunchtime and dinner. It’s easy to fill your dinner plate with such complex carbohydrates as potatoes, rice or pasta. Make protein (e.g., meat) the smaller portion (three to four ounces), and be sure to include a vegetable and salad.
You do need a protein source that contains iron. This important mineral has many roles, including the transportation of oxygen, which is necessary to break down carbohydrates.
Avoid overeating after exercise. You’re tired, and it can take a long time for excess food (and fat) to digest. You want to replenish with carbohydrates to recoup energy loss.
On the other hand, don’t cut back altogether. If you’ve started working out in order to drop a few pounds, make the most of the activity, but don’t starve yourself: that kind of weight loss is ineffective and unhealthy. Fat is the last thing your body breaks down when it needs energy to pedal the bike. Carbohydrates (e.g., breads, cereals, fruits) are the fuel of choice for your body, rather than fat, because they are easier to break down. It takes a lot of work for your body to break down fat and cycle at the same time. If you ride on an empty stomach, you’re not going to feel very good – or get very far!
In the short term, aerobic exercise alone won’t make you lose weight. That’s a matter of exercise in combination with nutritional choices, e.g., lowering the fat in your diet. In the long term, cardiovascular exercise will speed up your metabolism, i.e., the rate your body burns calories. After six to eight weeks of good cardiovascular exercise, your metabolism will be working much more efficiently. That’s when you’ll start to see weight loss, because your body won’t store fat as easily and it will burn fat more easily.
In the meantime, give your body the fuel it needs to perform. And remember: if you increase your aerobic exercise but don’t cut back the fat in your diet, you won’t lose a significant amount of weight.
If you start to feel tired during your bike ride, we suggest high-energy foods, such as dried fruits, raisins and apricots. Mix your own trail mix by combining one part almonds, nuts and seeds to four parts dried fruit. You can pedal and chew on handfuls as you go along. You can also carry fresh fruit (e.g., oranges and apples), bagels or crusty rolls, cookies or muffins to snack on.
If you’re interested in pretrip preparation, eating more complex carbohydrates during the week or two leading up to the ride. We recommend five to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables and five to 12 servings of starchy grain products per day, depending on your body’s needs. Eat the upper limit of grains and try to decrease the amount of fat in your diet. This way, you’ll have lots of hill-climbing glycogen on hand.