Margaret and Dick   


Pyrenees - Food!

This is so cool.  One of the most attractive aspects of cycling is that cyclists can -- nay, must -- consume vast quantities of food.  This is great fun. 

The down side is that appetite always seems to exceed expenditure.  I joined WeightWatchers with an aim to get rid of those last 15 pounds.  The beauty of the WeightWatchers system is that it is not a diet, but rather a system that helps each person make appropriate choices based on other things going on in their lives.  The long-term problem becomes immediately obvious when food is faithfully weighed and recorded. 

A rigorous training schedule requires an average of 2,500+ calories per day.  When riding at a comfortable and sustainable pace, I typically burn 525 calories/hour, or over 2,000 calories for a long training ride, in addition to the 2,000 calories that are burned by normal daily metabolism.  In a day of strenuous cycling, daily expenditure can approach 7,000 calories, which is generally considered to be the maximum amount that a body can absorb in a day.  Fans of the Tour de France are familiar with seeing their favorite riders lose weight, despite their huge daily intakes, as the three-week tour progresses.  While this can be a problem for elite athletes who begin a race at 5% body fat, I still have plenty to burn.  Sigh.

Two excellent sources of nutritional information for all types of endurance sports are:

  • "Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes" by Monique Ryan ($19.95, Velo Press, available at Amazon), my bible. 
  • "Training Nutrition:  The Diet and Nutrition Guide for Peak Performance" by Ed Burke and Jacqueline R. Berning (Cooper Publishing, available at Amazon).

Food:  The balance of macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) are the major focus of dietary design for the endurance athlete.  The necessary micronutrients -- vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, etc. -- are easily obtained by a diet that includes a broad variety and huge quantities of fruits and vegetables and an adequate supply of protein. 

  • Carbohydrates are the basic fuel of endurance sports, and they typically comprise 60% of an endurance athlete's diet.  (At the risk of stating the obvious, our bodies need exercise, exercise requires carbohydrates, and weight-loss diets that seek to eliminate carbs will always be deeply flawed!)  Fast and slow carbohydrates both have a place in the diet.
  • Proteins are an important component in the maintenance and growth of muscles.  They may comprise 15%-20% of the endurance athlete's diet.  While it is possible to consume adequate quantities of protein from vegetarian sources alone, a strict vegetarian diet demands very careful attention to protein and micronutrient consumption.
  • Fats should comprise 20%-25% of the diet.  High-quality unsaturated fats are ideal.

Hydration:  Adequate hydration can be the greatest challenge in ultra distance cycling.  A target of 16 glasses per day is reasonable.  Isotonic sports drinks direct more water to the muscles rather than a short route to the kidneys.  Besides improving muscular performance, this can significantly reduce the number of stops in a long ride.  I've had best results using 1 1/2 scoops of EnduroxR4 in a 20-oz bottle every 90 minutes.

Recovery:  The end of each ride is the beginning of the next.  During a short window following exercise, muscle glycogen stores can be replenished at a significantly higher rate than normal.  Immediately after a workout, it's best to guzzle a recovery drink that includes the optimum ratio of carbohydrates to proteins and the optimum concentration to facilitate absorption and glycogen replacement.  Allow a little time for the recovery drink to work its magic, and voila! it's time for a real meal.