More Wisdom from Experts – Bike Nutrition and WeightPosted: January 24, 2013
Despite taking 2012 off the bike, I maintained an e-subscription to RoadBikeRider.com/. Good thing, because I continue to learn from this great newsletter. Here’s a relevant column on riding and nutrition. My main takeaway? The importance of starting a ride feeling fueled. I will often start a little hungry already, and figure that I will just eat on the bike. According to Diane Stibbart, I’m setting myself up to be even more hungry upon finishing the ride.
9. CADENCE: Women on Wheels
How to Avoid Weight Gain While Training
Question: I am preparing for a 600km ride, and I find that I’m so confused about my diet
that I have been putting on weight instead of getting leaner. My problem is that I still can’t
stop myself from eating a lot after a ride. Any hints for getting the body leaner while staying
healthy? Some say I’m overtraining, and others say I’m overeating because I know that I
can burn the calories.
Diane Stibbard Replies: Nutrition for cycling is confusing: there’s a lot of unclear and
conflicting information. Most cyclists are interested not only in getting fit, riding faster and
being more efficient, but also in using cycling as a way of staying lean and in shape.
Muscle weighs more than body fat, but you can tell if you’re putting on fat versus muscle by
how your clothes fit. If you see the scale moving up, but your clothes are fitting looser, then
you are changing your body fat to lean muscle mass. That’s good. The more lean muscle
tissue you have, the more calories your body will burn at rest. Lean muscle mass burns
calories. Body fat does not.
However, total body weight does affect how effectively you can climb hills. The more you
weigh (whether it’s muscle or fat weight), the harder it is for you to climb, because you are
fighting gravity against mass (weight). So weight becomes a balancing act. To be strong
you need a certain amount of mass, but the lighter you are, the easier it is to climb. (It’s
the power-to-weight ratio at work; and that’s another topic for another day.)
Today, I’ll give you some tips and pointers on riding strong while maintaining a lean and
1. Always go into your rides well-fueled. Most of the calories should come from
carbohydrates, a small amount from protein, and few to no calories from fat.
Starting the ride well-fueled will prevent you from being too hungry when you finish. That, in turn, will help keep you from overeating.
2. If your rides are longer than 60 minutes, you’ll need to eat some food while on the
bike. In the first 45 to 50 minutes, eat a small amount. Do this every 45 to 50
minutes after that until the end of the ride. Eat energy bars, a banana or anything
that you can easily digest (100–120 calories, minimum, up to 200 calories). This will
continue to supply you with the energy you need to complete the ride, and prevent
you from getting too hungry at the end of the ride.
3. After finishing the ride, it’s important to have a recovery drink or some food within
15 minutes to top off your stores of glycogen (energy stored in the muscle). Again,
this will prevent you from becoming over-hungry, and overeating. The biggest
mistake I see cyclists make is thinking that they shouldn’t eat after their ride if they
want to lose weight.
To prevent weight gain and to set yourself up for tomorrow’s ride, eat a small recovery
snack after your rides. The following are examples of good post-ride-recovery nutrition.
Commercial Recovery Drink — Commercially available powders that are mixed with water
and stored in a sport bottle are a good and easy option.
Homemade Recovery Shake — Made from 2 cups of water, 1 scoop of protein powder (of
your choice), 1 cup of berries or 1 piece of fruit, and 1 teaspoon of nut butter. Blend until
An energy bar OR yogurt, fruit, and half a bagel.
The question of gaining weight and overtraining also comes up frequently, but the two don’t
necessarily go hand in hand. If you lack energy because you are overtraining (doing too
much without adequate rest), then you’ll reach for more food to compensate to offset the
lack of energy.
To determine if you are overeating because you are overtraining instead of being calorically
deficient, keep track of your morning resting heart rate (RHR). Your morning resting heart
rate is a gauge of your fitness level, as well as a fatigue monitor. If your morning RHR is
consistently 5 to 10 beats higher than normal, this could indicate that you’re overtraining,
or it could be a sign that you’re getting sick.
To establish your morning resting heart rate (RHR) upon waking, before you get out of bed
take your pulse for 10 seconds and multiply it by 6 (to give you beats per minute). Resting
heart rates vary for many different reasons, so track it daily for two weeks to get a baseline
The other way to ensure you aren’t overtraining is to periodize your training: allow for
recovery rides and recovery weeks. This structure will help you become fit and strong,
without getting sick or fatigued.
To summarize: Stay fueled, get lots of rest, and ride strong.
Diane Stibbard is a world-class duathlete who writes for www.WomensCycling.ca, which
contributes the Women on Wheels column that runs each month in RBR Newsletter.