By: Laura McQueen, NTP
While you may have just started to chip away at your fundraising, chances are you are probably going to start chipping away at your training too. During these next few months while you are ramping up your training I want to share with you my nutritional recommendations to help you have your best Obliteride yet.
So, what are the best ways to fuel yourself when you are on your bike?
Our bodies need nutrients for many functions such as energy, growth, normal bodily functions, and riding our bike. Some nutrients we need in larger quantities than others. These larger quantities of nutrients are called macronutrients. Maybe you’ve heard of these.
As humans and athletes, the macronutrients we need in our diet are protein, fat, and carbohydrates. (1)
It’s two of these macronutrients that I swear by when training.
Fat and Carbohydrates. Ta da!
Carbohydrates are sugars (also called glucose) that are stored in our liver, our muscles, and our adipose tissue in the form of glycogen.
When we exercise, our body breaks down stored glycogen to create glucose (sugar) that we end up using for energy and fuel. This is also where the term “glycogen stores” comes from.
Nutritional carbohydrates, as in the foods we ingest, can really be a great source of fuel for the body during times of exercise, but just because they are a great source of fuel doesn’t mean that we need to be consuming large quantities of carbs in our diet on the daily.
Being sedentary at work will not see many benefits from carbohydrate intake because the body is not exerting an intense amount of effort. I don’t care how many words per minute you think can type or how many trips up and down the stairs you take; it’s just not enough effort to tap into your glycogen stores.
On average, our bodies are able to store 400g – 500g of glycogen at a time. If we break that down, that is roughly 1600 – 2,000 calories (1g carbohydrate = 4kcal) of energy that we have stored in our liver and muscles at one time. Let’s call this our carbohydrate fuel tank. (3)
When we train at high intensities we see the greatest benefits of carbs used for fuel. It is in these moments that we tap into our carbohydrate fuel tank for our energy needs. Think hill climbing, interval training, and sprinting for the finish line.
How to use carbohydrates in your training:
Let’s use the analogy of a bonfire.
Now I want you to think of carbohydrates as the kindling on the fire.
What does kindling do?
It burns QUICK and FAST!
Carbs will do just that. They will serve as an immediate, quick and fast fuel that you can use to keep going during hard and high intensity efforts.
Healthy carbohydrate recommendations:
- Tubers and squash *(sweet potatoes, plantains, cassava, yams, beets, carrots, parsnips, pumpkin, spaghetti squash, butternut squash)
- Vegetables *(especially leafy greens)
- Fresh fruit *(always in it’s whole form and lower on the GI scale)
- Properly prepared grains and legumes, if you can tolerate them *(soaked, sprouted, fermented are best)
Organic and local varieties of in-season produce are always best, especially if you are going to eat the skin. The Dirty Dozen & Clean Fifteen are great resources for knowing what to buy organic and when you are okay to buy conventionally grown produce. (insert the link to dirty dozen here: https://www.produceretailer.com/article/news-article/2017-dirty-dozen-and-clean-15-lists-released)
Healthy quick burning sugars:
- Dates, raw honey, maple syrup *(organic and local varieties)
Now let me clarify one thing about carbohydrates. When I talk about healthy carbohydrates I mean unrefined, unprocessed, grain-free, complex carbs, as well as healthy quick burning sugars (honey, dates, and maple syrup).
Basically, the foods that exist in nature.
To some of the more serious athletes I’ve worked with who want to make great gains, I recommend they try and eliminate grains for a period of time to see how they feel. More times than not I will receive emails and texts saying how much energy they have and how good they feel. However, if you are over there in the corner, shaking your head while reading this, and thinking there is no way I am going to convince you to give up your grains and gluten, that’s ok too. I’d encourage you to switch up the type of grains you are eating. Look for sprouted grains, and soaked and fermented grains. These are going to give the most bang for your buck nutritionally. These types of grains are more nutrient dense and because they are properly prepared (soaked, sprouted, fermented) your body will have a much easier time digesting them.
It’s important that as athletes you understand how consuming improperly prepared grains, refined carbs, and processed sugars can create inflammation in the body and can actually impair your performance and recovery. (2)
I don’t know about you but I think I’d rather eat foods that support my body and my training efforts, and that DO NOT CAUSE INFLAMMATION IN THE BODY.
Can I get a high-5 and an AMEN to that?!
So to wrap it up on carbohydrates, when your glycogen stores are topped off you have at most 2,000 calories of fuel on hand. When we talk about nutritional carbs, these are the ones that will give you a quick instant burst of energy in your time of need, but remember, they burn fast and quick!
Unless you want to keep eating snacks every hour on the hour to maintain your energy on the bike, I highly suggest pairing your carbohydrates with another great source of super fuel…FAT.
Fats are the building blocks for every cell membrane in our body, and fats play numerous roles in our body, such as:
- Providing a great source of energy (hello!)
- Aiding in the absorption of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, K,
- Regulating blood sugar levels
- And well, fat tastes great!
When we exercise at lower intensities we have the ability to tap into fat stores in the body. This is how we use fat as a fuel source, aka being fat-adapted.
But tapping into fat stores isn’t as easy as it sounds. Would you believe me if I told you this is something you have to teach your body to do? It’s true. In fact, if you are eating too many processed and refined foods in your diet you aren’t even giving your body a chance to use it’s own fat stores as fuel.
You see, our bodies release the hormone insulin anytime we eat sugar, unrefined carbohydrates, and processed foods. These foods cause our blood sugar to spike and over time can lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Insulin’s job is to bring our blood sugar back down to a stable level. However, if we are constantly consuming foods that spike our blood sugar on a daily basis we put our pancreas through the ringer as it is constantly pumping out insulin to help regulate our blood sugar. This can also lead to unhealthy amounts of cortisol in the body, and when our body is stressed and flooded by cortisol there is no chance of tapping into our fat stores.
Insulin, the fat storage hormone, will always rule the roost if unrefined carbs are on the menu. If you can part ways with soda, cereals, breads, pasta, and candy you can really set yourself up for fat burning success! It really is only a matter of dietary changes, and let me tell you, the results are worth it!
Bonking is a clear sign of not being fat adapted. Remember, you have about 2,000 calories of glycogen on hand when you’re all topped off. Now say you go out for a 50 mile training ride with about 4500’ of climbing, and at the same time you decide to sprint it out in some friendly competition with your friends. Chances are you are going to blow through the 2,000 kcal of glycogen on hand, but if you are fat-adapted you now have access to over 40,000 kcal of energy to keep you going for the rest of your ride. Fat packs in a hefty 9 kcal per 1g of fat. That’s more than double the calories of a single gram of carbohydrates and protein.
So when you eat the right foods and you train your body to burn fat for fuel you won’t have to worry about low energy or bonking.
While eating fat as a source of fuel might be a new concept to some of you I really want you to understand how it is beneficial. I also don’t want you to fear fat.
If you are training and exercising multiple days per week you will need to eat a lot of calories. Please do not be afraid of FAT. Fat will keep you full and balance your blood sugar levels. It’s absolutely necessary for your energy supply and the production of hormones used during exercise. It will help you on your journey to becoming fat-adapted, and well, it tastes amazing!!
How to use fat in your training:
Let’s go back to the analogy of the bonfire.
This time I want you to think of fat as the logs of wood on the fire.
What do the logs do?
They burn LONG and SLOW!
And that is exactly what fats will do. They will provide a slow and steady source of fuel to your body and your muscles so that you can train at a lower intensity for a much longer time. As long as you are maintaining a steady pace with a low heart rate and you don’t put yourself into the red zone, fat (nutritionally and stored fat) will serve as a great source of fuel.
Healthy essential fat recommendations:
- MCT’s (mct oil and organic extra virgin coconut oil)
- Wild caught cold water fish
- Eggs, butter, raw dairy
- Red meat and organ meats from grass-fed animals
- Avocado, avocado oil, extra virgin olive oil, sesame oil
- Hemp, walnut, flax seed oil, fish oil
There are many ways to incorporate healthy fats and healthy carbohydrates into your ride fuel. The best thing you can do early on is to experiment and try things out. You want to make sure that when Obliteride weekend is here you know what fuel is going to work best for you, and you stick to that.
One of the most important things to keep in mind when training and fueling for your sport, or even just a day at the office, is that your needs are bio-individual.
Bio-individuality means that there is no one perfect way of eating that works for everybody. Each person has very specific needs for his or her own health according to age, constitution, gender, size, lifestyle and ancestry.
Foods and fuel that might taste good to you and be very beneficial for you and your energy needs could potentially be harmful or less effective for someone else (i.e., food allergies, inflammation, blood sugar imbalance, genetics). It’s important to be aware of bio-individuality, as there are so many diet trends and fads out there that just don’t work for everyone because of this very thing.
Here is a list of my top favorite training fuels. While there are so many brands and so many products available these days, these just happen to be a few of my go-to’s.
Laura’s top fueling recommendations for on the bike training:
- Lara bars – these are super simple and made with real ingredients like fruit, nuts, and dates. No extra additives. Stick to the bars without sugar or chocolate.
- RX bars – another great bar that is made of real ingredients like nuts, dates, and egg whites. This bar has a little bit of everything!
- Bulletproof chocolate fudge collagen protein bar – Packed full of healthy fats like coconut oil, and cashew butter, this bar in particular is a favorite because it also contains collagen and it’s chocolate, duh!
- Raw nuts – grab a Ziploc bag and pack it full of your favorite nuts. My favorites to take on rides are macadamia nuts and pecans. Both are full of healthy fats and vitamins and they keep me full and fueled when I’m putting in long base miles.
- Nut butters – Artisana and Justin’s Nut Butters make single serving packs of yummy nut butters. This is a perfect way to pack some healthy fats into your jersey pockets. Look for nut butters without added oils or sugar.
- Epic bars and jerky – It’s always a good idea to add protein to the mix especially when putting in miles and riding longer than 2 hours at a time. I love adding a handful of jerky to my Ziploc full of nuts, or bringing an Epic bar on my ride. It’s the perfect mix for extra miles. Look for jerky without added sugar.
- Dates – another accoutrement to add to the Ziploc. Dates provide an easier to digest sugar that will keep you going on days you are putting in a lot of intensity.
- Homemade ride food – I love to make my own ride food, everything from turmeric curry Lara bar bites, paleo almond joy bites, gluten-free sweet potato brownies, homemade GU’s, and super food rice bars. I love to get creative with my ride fuel and what I know works for me and my bio-individuality.
Laura McQueen, NTP
Founder of The Good Repair
As founder of The Good Repair, functional sports nutrition, I help athletes fuel their sports performance with real, whole foods in order to train smarter, race faster, and recover quickly. Whether this is your first Obliteride or you’ve been joining us for 6 years now, I want you to feel strong and confident on the bike.
(3) Phinney and Volek. The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance. Pg 10