What's Eating Dave!

Dave is here to help you reach your goals!

Q. I can't ride with no hands, but know I should eat on the bike. Do you have any tips on how to make it easier, aside from stopping every time I want to eat? 

A. Thanks for the question! Eating on the bike is indeed very important, especially if you are working up to a long distance event like the RBC GranFondo Whistler. However, learning to eat on the bike takes practice, just like any skill. The great thing is that you are asking this question early in the season!

Here are my suggestions for learning to eat on the bike like a pro:

  1. Use easy to open packaging - such as loosely wrapped tinfoil - for your ride food. If you are eating an energy bar, think about opening it before the ride, so that it's ready to be eaten with one hand.
  2. Figure out how to open things with one hand, or with one hand and your teeth. Another option is to place both hands in the middle of the handlebar and unwrap food while balancing on the meaty heel of your hands. This last option is more difficult if you have small hands.
  3. This should really be #1: Practice, practice, practice! Start by riding with one hand on your rear pockets for a few minutes. Then work on taking something out of your pockets with ease. Finding a quiet stretch of road to practice will help improve your confidence without worrying too much about traffic or other riders.
  4. Reserve your side two jersey pockets for food only. The middle pocket can hold a cell phone and credit card, but keep tools and other necessities ina seat bag on your bike. This makes it easier to find the food you want without having your hands off the bars for long.

Still not sure if you can eat while rolling along on a ride? In that case I would recommend stopping every 20-30 minutes for a few seconds, taking a bite of your ride food, and then rolling again. Eating 250 calories per hour on training rides will do a lot to improve your endurance and enjoyment of the sport of cycling!

Good luck!

- Dave

Dave Vukets is a nutrition coach with Performa Nutrition Solutions and the founder of Prima Food for Sport. A former elite cyclist, he has a simple, real food take on sports nutrition that is informed by his own experiences and education. 

Don't be shy, if you have questions or an idea for an article, email him at dave(at)eatprima.com

Q. I've been struggling with nutrition during my ride on a gluten free diet (Celiac). Any ideas? I was going to try rice wraps with Sun butter (sunflower seed butter) with banana.

A. Being Celiac poses a special challenge for sports nutrition, since many "go-to" carbohydrate foods contain gluten. But don't worry, you can make a great ride food plan with tasty gluten-free foods.
Your rice wraps with sunflower seed butter and banana will work as snack number one on the bike. 
You can also try: 

  • Dried fruit such as figs, pineapple, or mango.
  • Gluten-free energy bars
  • Almond based cookies or brownies (Thomas Haas Sparkle Cookies are a personal favourite!)
  • Homemade rice cakes from The Feed Zone Cookbook

You should aim for one substantial snack per hour, and at least 30 grams of carbohydrate. Also remember that sports drink provides a valuable source of energy on the bike, so choose one that contains sugar and electrolytes, not just electrolytes. 

Bring more food than you think you'll need, start eating early and often, and you'll have a great day! Enjoy the ride. 

Q. I have heard about carbo loading from friends and magazines. What’s the story, and is it something I should do before the RBC GranFondo Whistler?

A. Somewhere along the line, the carbohydrate loading bandwagon has picked up enough steam that even endurance sport newbies are hopping on for the ride.  Is it something you need to worry about? Probably not. 

Your main focus should be on ensuring your daily diet contains enough carbohydrate. I wrote one article on that already, so I won’t go over the details again (See Below).

I would encourage everyone to eat their normal, balanced diet in the days leading up to the RBC GranFondo Whistler. The day prior to the event, make sure you are eating enough of everything, not just carbohydrate. A meal plan that you are comfortable with will guarantee you feel great on the morning of the ride, whereas a magazine-recommended carb frenzy may confuse your system. 

That’s my advice, however you asked for the story, so I will give you the Cole’s Notes.  Carbohydrate loading is a tactic that is used to attempt to increase the amount of energy stored in the body as the carbohydrate glycogen.  The practice is a lot more complex than just eating a couple of big plates of pasta. There is a “depletion” or low-carbohydrate phase of a few days, where the athlete purposely restricts carbohydrate in the diet and reduces training. The depletion phase is followed by a big increase in the daily carbohydrate intake in the few days before the event. Some studies suggesting up to 80% of daily calories or 7-10 grams of carb per kilogram of body mass. To put those numbers in perspective, that is… a lot! 

Carbohydrate loading is an interesting and potentially useful topic. But, like many nutrition strategies, it needs to be fully understood before it’s put into action. With a dialed-in daily diet and proper eating on the bike, your nutrition will be more than sufficient for the 122 km ride to Whistler.

Q.  I always hear different things about eating carbs. How many carbs should I be eating now that I have started cycling a lot more?

A. Thanks for the question about carbohydrates. Before I answer your question though, I should define what we’re talking about. Carbohydrates are one of the three major types of food molecules that give us energy, known as the macronutrients. The other two macronutrients are fat and protein. Carbohydrates can be further classified as complex, such as starches, and simple, such as sugars.

Carbohydrates have been the topic of many popular fad diets over the last decade or so, leaving many people confused about their role in a balanced diet. In fact, calories from carbohydrate should make up a majority of the energy in any healthy diet, but are even more essential for cyclists. For all endurance athletes, I usually recommend nutrition plans that include 60% of energy from carbohydrate. Studies of some of the best marathon runners in the world found that their diets are often made up of close to 70% carbohydrate. Although that would be extreme for most people, it’s definitely not low-carb, is my point here!

So why are carbs so important for athletes? Muscles rely heavily on carbohydrates as a source of fuel. Especially in higher intensity workouts, carbohydrate is the effectively the only energy source for muscles that are working anaerobically (without oxygen). Fat fuels muscle activity efficiently in the lower intensity - or aerobic - zones, and protein is hardly utilized as a fuel for muscles at all.

In a practical sense, there are a few things you can do to make sure you are eating enough carbohydrate. Make sure each meal and snack contains at least some carbohydrate, along with protein and a small amount of fat. Keep lots of healthy carbohydrate foods handy in your fridge and pantry. The best carbohydrates to keep you fuelled are whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. Stay away from any carbohydrates that are overly refined or processed, as much as possible.

Before, during, and immediately after training are the times when low carbohydrate intake will most affect your performance. Keeping fuelled on the bike, with a minimum 30 grams of carbohydrate per hour, might be one of the easiest boosts to your performance in the RBC GranFondo Whistler.

Q. I have trouble eating in the morning, and the early start time of the RBC GranFondo Whistler has me wondering, “What should I try to eat for breakfast?”

A. Breakfast before the GranFondo, that’s an important question! And don’t worry, you aren’t the only cyclist with this situation. Lots of athletes that I meet tell me that they don’t have a big appetite first thing in the morning.

Breakfast before a big ride should be mostly carbohydrate, as it provides the most usable energy for your muscles, and is easier to digest. Including some protein and fat is important for feeling full and providing slow-burning calories, respectively.

For an early start time, you may end up eating breakfast as close as 45 minutes before your start, as opposed to the recommended 2-3 hours. This is fine, but some adjustments are needed:

  1. Reduce the size of your breakfast slightly so you don’t have as much to digest before the start.
  2. Limit foods that are higher in fibre, like bran cereal, or protein, like eggs and breakfast meat.
  3. Shift calories from breakfast into a “start line snack” and eat more during the first hour on the bike than you would if you had eaten a larger breakfast.

Either of the following breakfasts should be easy to digest, yet provide a great start on the day’s nutrition.

Example Breakfast #1:

- Multigrain hot cereal with dried cranberries, chopped almonds, and 1% milk

- Small glass of fruit juice

- Glass of iced black tea, brewed the night before

Example Breakfast #2

- 2 pieces of sprouted whole grain bread with almond butter + honey

- 1 orange

-  Double espresso

What you should do now is begin practicing your morning eating routine. That means between now and September 7th, when you go for a morning ride, eat the same meal as you plan to before the event. You can also make the timing the same, even if your rides start a little bit later.  This will let you know if your breakfast is too big, or too hard to digest. Finding the best breakfast for you is all about experimenting and getting comfortable with your options.  Start the day off right and you will enjoy the whole RBC GranFondo Whislter experience!

Q. I am fitting more cycling into my already-busy schedule this summer. I tend to rely on a lot of smoothies for quick snacks and meals. Is this okay?

A. Fitting proper nutrition into the hectic lifestyles we live today is one of the biggest challenges. Especially given the increased energy requirements for cycling, and the need to time nutrients around your workouts, Nutrition for Busy Cyclists could be a new best seller!

The great thing about smoothies is that, when done right, they give you all the nutrients of a balanced meal or snack, with portability. They can also be easier to digest for those of us who have a lower appetite first thing in the morning, or immediately following a workout. I am a big smoothie fan myself, and have a few guidelines that I will share to help you make the most of your blender.

  1. Always use real food in your smoothie! If you are relying on multiple “shakes” consisting of a liquid base + powder, this is problematic. However smoothies with fresh or frozen fruits, vegetables, and other ingredients (read below) are just as nutritious as if you were to eat those foods whole.
  2. Keep mixing up your smoothies… no pun intended! If you are having the same smoothie a few times a day, you are getting less variety than if you had different meals and snacks. Variety is your best friend, so experiment with different smoothies and build a recipe book in your head of quick options, using ingredients you keep on hand.
  3. Make sure it is balanced in macronutrients, including carbohydrate (45-65% of energy,) protein (15-30%) and fat (20-30%). If you aren’t sure what nutrients your smoothie recipes contain, try plugging the ingredients into a diet tracking app.

Below is a quick list of smoothie ingredients, that is by no means all inclusive!

  • Dairy, almond, soy, or light coconut milk
  • Fresh or frozen berries, melon, banana, peaches… any kind of fruit!
  • Fresh or frozen leafy greens like spinach, kale, chard, collards
  • Hemp, chia, or ground flax seeds
  • Avocado
  • Peanut, almond, or sunflower seed butter
  • Raw, quick cooking oats
  • Cooked quinoa or rice
  • Pasteurized egg
  • Tofu

Many of the ingredients depend on personal tastes, calorie needs, and your desired macronutrient profiles. Just remember the few principles above, and you will be well fed with smoothies to fuel your RBC GranFondo training!

Q. What is the best thing to eat after a 50 - 100 km ride?

A. Ah, recovery nutrition, one of my favourite topics! The food and drink you consume following a ride play a big role in your recovery process, and the right ones will help you become a stronger cyclist. Timing is also very important in post-ride nutrition.

By eating a recovery meal, you will give your body the nutrients it needs to repair muscles and fill up its depleted energy and nutrient stores. The body absorbs nutrients like carbohydrate and protein more efficiently post-workout, which is why it is important to eat soon after a ride. A good recovery meal routine will also help reduce hunger and cravings later in the day.

There is a single important concept that I will start with: anything you eat or drink will be better than nothing at all, so make sure you eat something. Of course, some foods and drinks are better than others, which I detail below. In general, we look for food combinations that give a carbohydrate to protein ratio of about 3:1.

The first thirty minutes immediately after your ride is known as the “glycogen window”, which is the time when your body is most efficient at storing sugars as glycogen. Glycogen is a main fuel source that the muscles use for exercise, and keeping it stocked is integral for performance. As soon as I come in the door after a ride, I will have a drink that gets some sugars back into the system to replenish glycogen burned during the ride. Examples are plain or flavoured milk, fruit juice, or a smoothie. Including some protein at this time is a good thing, but if you are using a recovery supplement, make sure it fits the 3:1 carbohydrate : protein rule, and are not all protein. Something in the ballpark of 100-250 calories is about right for this recovery kick-starter. As always, get these sugars and protein from natural, real food sources if possible.

Your “glycogen window drink” will buy you a bit of time, so that you can take care of other needs like stretching, showering, and so on. However the recovery meal has a second component! Within an hour, you should aim to eat a well-balanced meal to fill up what you spent during the ride. This can be any healthy meal that has a good dose of both carbohydrate, protein, and a little bit of fat.

Examples include:

  • Turkey sandwich on whole grain bread.
  • Muesli with yogurt and fruit. 
  • Smoothie with almond milk, banana, berries, spinach, and tofu. 
  • A roasted sweet potato with scrambled eggs and cherry tomatoes.

Your body craves real, nutrient dense foods, and these are the ones that best support your training. Having a recovery meal in mind for the end of the workout can be a great motivator for the second half of a long ride. In fact, I can remember training days on the bike when I started thinking about my recovery meal before even getting out on the road! Remembering these few key points about nutrient ratios, timing, and balance will help you to get the most enjoyment and improvement out of your training rides.

Q. I am new to cycling, and my friends tell me I should eat while riding. How much and what should I eat during a bike ride?

A. Right off the bat, your friend is giving you good advice! Cycling performance and endurance can be greatly improved by consuming some calories during the course of a ride. Our bodies have a finite store of carbohydrates, which our muscles use as a fuel for both endurance and high intensity exercise. I like to encourage people to think of their nutrient stores as being like a fuel tank. On rides that are over 1 or 2 hours, the tank needs to be refilled if we want to maintain our ability to ride during training, or the Gran Fondo itself.

The amount of food and drink, and what types, can be an individual discussion, but I will give some guidelines to help you decide on some ride food options. Calories can come in either liquid form, such as sports drinks, or in regular, solid food. Despite the array of sports supplements out there, your best options are usually real foods!

Things like bananas, dried figs, granola bars, and jam sandwiches all make great ride food. And if you come across any of the Dutch stroopwafels, know that they are the favourite snack of many a professional cyclist! The main points to consider are that the food should be simple to eat on the bike, primarily carbohydrate based, and easy to digest. In terms of quantity, 250 calories per hour of riding is a good average for most people. Of course, this depends on the ride intensity, body weight and metabolic factors.

Like all nutrition questions, the challenge of eating on the bike is a personal one. Try out different food and drink combinations during your rides, and note what works best for you. The ultimate solution is the one that makes you feel good, ride well, and enjoy yourself.

Q. Canada's Food Guide is the second most requested government publication next to income tax forms. Tell me, are the four food groups a bunch of malarkey?

A. Absolutely not! Canada’s Food Guide is a really valuable resource that we can all learn from. The most important thing that the Food Guide tells us is that we should eat a balanced diet made up of a variety of fresh foods.

As cyclists, we need to make sure we are eating foods that contain all of the nutrients we need, and in the right ratios. These include the macronutrients protein, carbohydrate, and fat, as well as vitamins and minerals, known as micronutrients. Canada’s Food Guide gives a straightforward way to meet our needs. Does it need to be followed like it’s set in stone? No, but the core principles of the Food Guide - balance, variety, and moderation – make up the foundation of of any healthy diet.

If you are embarking on a new training program, have a look at Canada’s Food Guide and think about how your diet corresponds. Are you getting lots of fruits and vegetables every day? Next, are you eating enough carbohydrates through sources like grains and starchy vegetables? And finally, is there a sufficient amount of protein in your diet through meat, fish, legumes, and dairy? Also take note of what is not on the Guide, like processed foods, refined sugars, or alcohol.

Remember that the Food Guide is just that: a guide. The best nutrition plan is the one the one that works best for you. It should be made up of real food, represent a great balance of nutrients, plus make you feel good and ride fast!