Basic Riding and Race Nutrition guidelines for Women

Talitha Vogt

by Talitha Vogt, Tough Girl Cycling

Generally speaking, in our society, women often have a lot of pressure on their shoulders in regards to body image and weight. This can have an impact on us in cycling
performance because we are often cutting calories in the wrong places to try to shave off those few extra pounds we always want to lose. For some of us, this is why we ride bikes in the first place. If you want to lose weight but still ride and/or train, it is imperative to eat “really well” before, during, and after your bike rides. You can, in turn, eat lighter meals at other times of the day. If you don’t give your body proper fuel surrounding your bike rides, you will end up losing lean muscle and sacrificing performance gains. Some basic guidelines are soon to follow.

When I remember back to some of my earliest bike rides, I snicker to myself and wonder how I ever had enough energy to get through any of them. Riding clothes went on, bike
went in the car, and bottle full of plain water was shoved into the bag. I might have taken a backpack with a water reservoir and sometimes even a granola bar. That being said, it is probably fine to do that occasionally, but if you’re looking for sustainable, consistent energy, especially on your longer rides, you have to plan your ride nutrition a little more carefully. Nutrition can really come into play if you are: trying to beat your previous finish time in an event, looking to hang on to the fast group in a training ride, going out for some hard intervals, and especially if you are looking to take a podium spot at a race!

Before heading out for rides or races longer than 2 hours, be sure to fuel up properly. If you have time, getting in a hearty meal 3-4 hours beforehand is ideal. But if you only end up having an hour to eat before your event, you may find that you need to keep your meal smaller and plan to eat bars and gels while riding. Most people have a difficult time digesting a large meal in an hour. This meal should be mostly carbs with a little protein, although some people prefer to load up a little heavier on the protein than others. Just make sure the carb content also goes up if you eat more protein in this meal or you may find yourself feeing overly heavy and sluggish for your event. For rides that are under 2 hours, it is usually okay to rely mostly on the meal you eat beforehand to fuel you, as long as you take an electrolyte beverage along.

Nutrition is an extremely individual concept. What works really well for one, may cause another to produce only mediocre results. Most people find that trial and error seem to work best in this regard. The criteria for good on-the-bike nutrition products come down to taste, digestibility, and willingness/ability to drink or eat the product during hard efforts, especially race-type efforts. Occasionally, a product that you train with and drink or eat with no problems can suddenly wreak havoc on your intestines during a race or hard ride. Just pay attention to how your body reacts to different beverages, gels and bars. One other tip: Never, ever try a new product on your “event” day, because this nearly always ends up being a bad decision. Since you didn’t give your body a chance to get used to the product, it often reacts with shock (i.e.: indigestion) while you are trying to compete, which can cause you to be unable to finish your event at all, let alone, competitively.

While nutrition is individual, it is best to try to follow some basic guidelines for your rides or events. Try to start consuming an electrolyte beverage in the hour before your event when possible. Most hydration guidelines are based on a person’s size and weight.
A tiny lady can get away with consuming less because her body requires fewer calories than a larger male rider. Keep in mind that most standard nutrition guidelines are usually based on the average male, which are often way too many calories for the average female. As a rule, you should try to consume between 3-12 fl oz of an electrolyte-type beverage every 15 minutes during a ride. Obviously, larger people are more in the 12 oz range and average people are more in the 8 oz range. A good way to ensure that you drink enough is to take a drink every time you see someone else do it. You can also try to take a drink before you feel the urge to drink, which helps with warding off dehydration and nutrient depletion before it happens. Remember, if you feel thirsty, it
usually means that you are already slightly dehydrated. In regards to gels and bars, gels tend to be easier to consume during race-type events because they require no chewing. Trying to chew something (including gelatin “block” chews) during a race can be nearly impossible, which causes you to take in less, which causes your blood sugar to drop and in turn, you lose power, endurance, and stamina. Generally, try to consume 1 gel every 30 minutes of intense exercise.

After your workout or event, get food in your body as soon as you are able to stomach it, and that often means you need to eat before you are ready. Sometimes it’s best just to drink a “recovery” drink that is designed specifically for maximal nutrient uptake after exercising. Typically, there is an hour-long “window” following exercise that your body is primed and ready for recovering and preparing your body for the next hard effort. This is why some scientists advise taking in a good deal of carbs just after exercise, because your body is able to refill those glycogen stores (needed for hard efforts) optimally, right after your workout. Eat some protein as well right away if you are able, because protein takes the longest time to digest and your muscles are going to need it later on in the rebuilding process.

Again, nutrition is an individual thing. There are a myriad of books, internet sites, magazine articles, etc. out there with plenty of theories on the different types of sports nutrition plans you should follow. The only way to know what works for you is to start trying them. Play around with the quantities and timing of nutrition while on routine training rides- that way you’re minimizing the guesswork at your events, which is where it really counts. Many of our local coaches offer nutritional counseling and full meal plans, which are often designed specifically around a rider’s weight and training goals. I certainly have acquired many great nutrition ideas this way. Good luck, ride hard, and hope to see you at the next race!

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