How to take the training wheels off

One of the most common complaints Rochez O’Grady gets from sportsmen (recreational or professional) is that they experience some form of stomach discomfort during or after a long cycle. So this month’s column is dedicated to eating right on your bike.

Why does this happen? An easy way to fi nd out why you experienced stomach discomfort is to do a quick recall of what you consumed on the bike. In my experience it usually goes something like this: “I started with an energy bar, one gel, a sports drink and then a bottle of water”. How do you know if this is too much or not? It doesn’t sound like very much, especially when it doesn’t feel like you’re getting full. Remember bars, gels and sports drinks are carb rich – they are designed to fuel your performance. This is why you just can’t eat as much as you like, even if it doesn’t seem like you’re eating very much. It comes down to that nutrition label on the back of the product. This is where you can use it as a tool to guide you.

The proven recommendation is 30-60g of carbs per hour of exercise, no exceptions. Why? The average person can only process about 1g of carbs a minute. If you load more carbs into your stomach, your intestines won’t transport glucose into your bloodstream any faster. It just increases the risk of an upset tummy and, by implication, an upset rider.

Now let’s work out how many carbs were eaten in the recall:

– An energy bar: 46g of carbs

– A bottle of sports drink: 50g of carbs

– One gel: 27g of carbs

And it comes to a grand whopping total of 123g of carbs every hour. So it’s pretty easy to overload on the carbs. The problem with excess carbs will probably only become evident after the first hour and can manifest as nausea, bloating and or feeling ill.

A simple solution would be to reduce the carb intake. Here’s a suggestion – drink water while eating carb-rich foods (like gels and bars) and then drink the sports drink later on its own. This will also guarantee sufficient intake of sodium and fluids.

Two energy gels and one bottle of water equates to the same amount of energy and electrolytes as a bottle of sports drink. This is why separating sports drinks and energy foods will help keep you within the 30 – 60g carb per hour safe zone. Another interesting point is to consume energy foods that contain a mixture of sugars. Here’s an example: glucose and fructose, or glucose and maltodextrin, research has shown the mixture of sugars improves the absorption of carbs to 1.7g per minute. In order to fuel your body consistently, drink or refuel every 15 minutes rather than drinking an entire bottle or eating a whole bar all at once.

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