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Pre-ride nutrition question

posted Jul 24, 2011, 10:54 AM by Marci Titus Hall   [ updated Jul 25, 2011, 5:50 AM ]

Can you give some good advice on Pre-formance drinks? Which ones are good, when to take them and how long before taking another? Another thing I struggle with is good food to eat before a ride. Whats the most bang for you buck? I try to take Cytomax before I ride to help with energy levels. There are others ACCELERADE and I believe Hammer makes one as well. They are listed as Pre-Formance, pre-workout drinks. Are these any good, do they work?

Many of us ride either first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon, long after consuming a meal.  For optimal performance, or even to make it to the trail head, you will need to get your blood sugar up before heading out on that ride; to do that you just need to consume calories. 

Sports or performance drinks are created to drink while riding to aid in absorption during exercise when the body is physically stressed.  While exercising your body shunts blood away from the gut and toward working muscles, for this reason eating a complex and heavy meal during a ride will likely cause serious abdominal cramping.  The meal will sit heavy in your stomach and very little actual digestion will occur.  Not good!  The more intense the exercise the more blood shunting will occur and you will be limited to absorption of simple carbohydrates (sugars) and electrolytes.  But again, this is during exercise. 

Before exercise your best bet is to ensure that throughout the day you are eating a balanced diet of 65% carbohydrates, 15-20% protein, and the remainder in healthy fats; divided roughly among 3 meals and 2 snacks per day.  Dividing your allotment of calories evenly throughout the day will ensure that your blood sugar never drops too low.  If and when it does drop you will crave sugar which is your body’s way of getting quick, easy to digest, calories into your system.  By not letting yourself get too hungry or depleted you will stay at an even keel throughout the day and typically find that you are more energetic.  But I digress: one of those snacks can and should be your pre-ride snack.  Should this snack be a performance drink?  Probably not.  In this situation it isn’t just about getting calories in but about sustainable calorie consumption.  The easily digestible sports drink won't give you lasting energy but a quick burst of energy (which is also why you need to keep drinking them throughout your ride – great for during your ride, not so hot for before your ride). 

For your pre-ride snack I suggest something rich in complex carbohydrates and low, but not devoid of protein and fats.  It is up to you and your constitution exactly what you consume but think whole grains as their slow digestibility will give you a longer lasting energy source.  Ideally you are getting ~100-200 calories about an hour before your ride; plenty of time to start but not end the digestion process.  A few examples are PB&J on whole grain bread, oatmeal with fruit and milk, or a granola bar.  Test out different foods to figure out what works best for you.  Now that you have consumed your snack you can start drinking your performance drink ~15min before your ride.  Of course you should be hydrating all day so this is just the topping off your energy and hydration stores. 

The next best thing you can do to get an edge is to consume calories post ride.  You have a 1-2 hour window of opportunity to replace the muscle glycogen that you used up during your ride.  Not only can you replace those stored calories but after a ride your muscles are ready to store even more glycogen, called super glycogen compensation.  This means that after each long ride you can replenish more so that you can work longer at a lower cost during your next ride.  This is the time when you can either use a slightly more concentrated sports drink, recovery drink, or a carbohydrate rich, low protein, low fat snack (same as during exercise you don’t want a heavy meal that will slow digestion/absorption).  Whichever is easiest for you, just make sure you consume something - anything.  If you miss this window it could take 24-48 hours to replenish those stores of glycogen.  Like I mentioned in the last answer you need to keep your blood sugar up to utilize your energy stores but once those stores are gone you will begin the fatigue cascade and your ride time will quickly become limited.

Remember this: energy in = energy out.  Eat well to perform well!