However, you can’t just belly up to any old meal and expect great results on your ride. What you eat, how you eat it, and when you eat it can all impact how well your body is able to convert food into fuel. Anyone who has been around endurance sports for more than a few months has probably heard the saying “carbo-loading” in relation to fueling before a workout or event. But is a heaping plate of chicken alfredo really the way to go? Let’s find out!
Turns out that the old saying is true--to an extent. Carbohydrates are the body’s primary energy source during strenuous exercise like cycling, so any pre-ride meal should definitely be carb-centric. However, all carbohydrates are not created equal, so it’s critically important to eat the right kind. A key first step is to choose carbohydrate foods that sit well in your stomach. Examples include pasta, cereal, fruits, vegetables, breads, and energy bars. If your meal is within an hour of your ride, favor simple carbs that are easier and faster to digest. If you eat more than an hour ahead of time, you can consume larger meals with more complex carbs (pasta, cereal, etc.) This is because simple carbohydrates are easier for the body to digest and absorb, and the easier a food is to digest and absorb, the quicker the body can turn it into fuel. Furthermore, powering digestion requires blood flow, and any blood that is directed to the stomach is not going to the muscles, which may negatively impact performance. Finally, foods that take longer to digest will “sit” in the stomach for longer, which can lead to gastrointestinal distress out on the road. The same is true of foods with a high fiber content.
When preparing a pre-ride meal, it’s important to make sure the foods you plan on consuming are familiar and enjoyable for you. Similar to the adage that you shouldn’t try out new equipment on race day, you shouldn’t eat food you don’t like or haven’t tried before in the hours leading up to a workout. If you do, trying that delicious new Thai recipe you saw on Pinterest might be a recipe for disaster!
Good vs. Bad Fats
While carbohydrates should definitely be the primary focus of your pre-ride meals, healthful fats pack an added punch that can take your pre-ride fueling to the next level. “Good” fats include Omega-3, Omega-6, Omega-9, all of which are abundant in nuts, seeds, oily fish, and avocados. Adding healthful fats to your pre-ride meal provides an extra kick of energy alongside an abundance of muscle-friendly nutrients--not to mention a delicious pop of flavor!
While many people might not think about it, hitting the road with a sufficient base of hydration is equally important to replenishing your body’s glycogen stores before your ride. The more hydrated you are at the beginning of a ride the easier it will be for you to stay that way throughout your workout. The most powerful step you can take to protect your performance is to make sure you’re replenishing a good portion of the fluids and electrolytes you lose during your ride.
All that being said, we’re sure you’re wondering what a few examples of well-rounded pre-ride meals might look like. For those looking for a simple guide to work from, you can choose from the following list of Stage approved pre-ride foods:
Quinoa, Cereal, or Pasta
Porridge, Oatmeal, or Overnight Oats
Bagel with Cream Cheese
Banana with Peanut Butter
So eat up and happy hammering!