Nutrition: Avoiding your own fuel crisis

Plan your dietary requirements in advance says nutritionist Chris Fenn

With a big ride ahead, you’ve probably spent time checking your bike and equipment. But your body needs fuelling and fettling too. 

At the very least, this is possible by carrying a sports snack, chocolate bar, or even dried fruit in your pocket. But ideally, having a nutritional plan as well as a route map will help you get the best from your ride.

Breakfast

The best big-ride breakfast should provide plenty of quality carbohydrate that’s easy to digest and won’t sit in your stomach feeling uncomfortable until lunchtime. Porridge is a fabulous source of complex carbohydrate. Choose organic rolled oats or porridge, rather than the instant porridge that takes seconds to cook in a microwave.

The latter has been highly processed – in order to cook quickly. What you gain in convenience is lost in nutritional value. It’s worth standing over a pan of porridge for five minutes to cook something that’s worth eating. Add in some chopped dates or raisins during the cooking process. These provide another source of carbohydrate in the form of fruit sugars.

Dates also contain niacin (vitamin B3) which is involved (with the other B vitamins) in the process of energy release within your muscles. For some people, porridge “stays with you” for several hours, giving a feeling of fullness. However, for those who tend to feel hungry soon after eating porridge, try eating it with a little single cream. If you don’t like porridge, don’t eat it. Life is too short to force yourself to eat something that you don’t enjoy.

Another good alternative is unsweetened muesli. Again, choose the real thing rather than some of the over processed versions, which are mainly sugar. Real, unprocessed muesli takes a lot of chewing – so leave time to do this thoroughly! If you don’t like oats, try Cornflakes and add your own raisins, chopped dates, flaked almonds, Brazil nuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds.

Elevenses

If you can stop at a café for a mid-morning snack, a good choice would be vegetable soup with lentils, peas or beans, and a chunk of wholemeal bread with a little butter. This will provide a range of carbohydrates to top up your flagging glycogen stores.

Alternatively, good old baked beans on toast. The beans are not only a source of carbohydrate but are particularly high in calcium. They also contain a range of other minerals – potassium, iron, magnesium and manganese which are involved with muscle function and blood circulation.

Afternoon tea

There’s usually no shortage of sticky buns, cakes or biscuits to choose from at the mid-afternoon cake stop. But some choices are better than others. At this stage of your ride, your glycogen stores are low and you need a good dose of carbohydrate to get you over the last few hills and back to base safely.

A couple of scones or pancakes with jam and a little cream or butter is an ideal choice. Also, fruit cake, ginger or carrot cake. It’s best to avoid heavy gateaux, cheesecake or pies with pastry. These contain a high proportion of fat that’ll delay the digestion of carbohydrate.

Post-ride

After a long ride, you’re likely to feel tired, and not ready to eat a big meal. But your muscle and glycogen levels will probably be low and your muscles will need to begin the process of repair. A good recovery snack needs to contain mostly carbohydrate but also some protein. A fig smoothie is easy to make and will provide a good mixture of fruit and milk sugar with some protein from yogurt or soya milk.

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