By Jessica Loring, Lead Dietitian at Swedish Medical Center


Ride The Rockies is both a challenging and life changing experience. I know this first hand after completing twenty-four Ride the Rockies Bicycle Tours. In order to train for this ride and complete the full week, both time in the saddle and fueling your body correctly are essential. Use the following information as a general guide to help meet your nutritional needs while training for the 2017 Ride the Rockies Bicycle Tour.

Two Schools of Thought – Low Carb vs. High Carb
Carbohydrates are not only the fuel choice for the brain, they are also the primary fuel for muscle contraction. What is the right mix? It depends on who you ask. Over the years, there have been numerous studies to determine the perfect amounts of carbohydrates that an athlete should consume. Below are a few facts on low carbohydrate verses high carbohydrate diets.

Low Carbohydrate
In the past decade, the 40-30-30 diet has become more popular with cyclists and athletes. This diet, also known as the ZONE, is a diet that consists of 40% of calories from carbohydrates, 30% from protein, and 30% from fat. This diet has been suggested as a way for athletes to reduce body fat while increasing muscle mass. When we eat, blood sugar (glucose) rises; insulin is then produced in the body as a response to carbohydrate intake. Although insulin is essential to utilize and process the foods you eat, it has also been shown to inhibit fat usage or metabolism. Researchers of the Zone diet state that with lower carbohydrate intake, the body is able to maintain stable levels of blood insulin and burn more fat. The bottom line is, individuals may loose weight or fat from this diet, but weight loss most likely occurs by monitoring what you eat and counting calories. If your goal is to get in shape and burn fat, this will come from burning more calories than are consumed at meals – not a “magic” ratio of 40-30-30. The fact remains that the majority of scientific research supports a diet higher in carbohydrate for athletes. Remember that carbohydrates, not fat, are the favored energy source during moderate to intense cycling.

High Carbohydrate
Your body does not use carbohydrates as building blocks, it uses them as straight up fuel! It is essential to eat a variety of carbohydrates to provide approximately 55-65% of your total daily calories to avoid using stored fat as the main source of energy. So while you may not be a rider that is counting all of your daily consumed carbohydrates, it is helpful to know general guidelines for carbohydrate consumption while you are training for the ride.

Exercise Level Recommended Daily Carbohydrate Intake*
Low/Easy – Less than 1 hour of training per day 205 – 275 grams
Moderate – About 1 hour of training per day 275 – 340 grams
Very Active – 1 to 3 hours of training per day 410 – 475 grams
Extremely Active – 4 to 5 hours or more per day 550 – 600 grams

*For a 150 pound rider

If you do not already do so, use this time to start reading food labels and become more aware of what you are putting into your body. While most of us grasp the importance of adequate “fuel” for optimal performance, we might not always be reaching for the best forms.  Have you ever stopped to think about where your carbohydrates should come from? Pasta, bagels, and chips are all carbohydrates, but are they the cleanest and most efficient fuel for your tank? The more processed a food is, the less your body has to do to digest it. Basically, this tells me it may not be a long lasting fuel. Here is a side by side comparison of how carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables stack up to carbs from pastas and bread. It may surprise you!

Fruits & Vegetables Serving Size Carbs (grams) Pasta & Grains Carbs (grams)
Raspberries (1 cup) 14 grams Rye Bread – 1 slice 15 grams
Pears – 1 medium 25 grams Sourdough Bread  - 1 slice 18 grams
Pomegranates, raw (1 med) 26 grams Oatmeal – 1 cup 22 grams
Banana – 1 medium 30 grams Pita Bread, white (6” diameter) 33 grams
Mango (1 regular) 35 grams Macaroni, whole wheat – 1cup cooked 37 grams
Sweet potato  - 1 large baked 45 grams Long grain rice, brown –1 cup cooked 45 grams

One big benefit from consuming carbohydrates in the form of fruits and veggies is these foods are loaded in vitamins, minerals and immune boosting properties.

Top Off Your Tank
"Bonk" or "Hitting the Wall" occurs when your body has depleted all of its carbohydrate stores and starts to use stored fat as the main source of energy. Carbohydrates are stored in the muscle as glycogen; in the normal diet there is enough stored to support two hours of vigorous exercise before you may feel the "bonk". In a 2005 study, researchers found that the cyclists (performing a 1 hour time trial) that carb loaded paced themselves at a higher power outlet and sustained that output. On the other hand, the cyclists that had fewer carb stores, started off equally as strong but their power outlet declined after just 60 seconds. If you plan to cycle longer than one and a half to two hours on a training ride, consume carbohydrates at the start of the ride. Topping off your tank while your ride can make a significant difference. Once you have "hit the wall", the carbs you consume may be less effective.

In order to avoid running out of energy too quickly and to maximize your body's glycogen stores, consider the following tips:

  • Consume a higher carbohydrate diet in the days before you ride
  • Eat a carbohydrate fueled meal 2 hours before you ride.
  • Consume carbohydrate containing foods while riding such as energy gels, fresh fruit or bars.
  • Consuming an electrolyte drink, with carbohydrates, while riding can be beneficial over water alone by helping maintain blood glucose levels.
  • In the first thirty minutes after the ride, make it a priority to consume foods with both carbohydrates and protein - this will help you start the re-fueling process and re-build glycogen storage. During this time try to consume 0.5 grams of carbohydrate and 0.25 grams of protein per pound of body weight. For a 150lb rider this would be 75 grams of carbohydrate and 30 grams of protein.

After seeing a similar recipe in Bicycling magazine, I decided to put a spin on this ride fuel. Not only do these fruit leathers taste great (my kids love them), they contain less sugar and a few “hidden” superfoods!

  • 3 cups fresh raspberries or blueberries
  • 2 Tbsp. honey
  • 2 tsp orange juice
  • ¼ cup coconut milk
  • 2 Tbsp. Chia seeds

Preheat oven to 180 degrees and line a baking pan with a silicone mat. Puree the raspberries until smooth – there will be seeds in the puree which will help “mask” the chia seeds. Add the honey, orange juice and coconut milk to the puree. Finally stir in the chia seeds. Pour the puree onto the silicone mat and spread to a 1/8 inch leaving the edges a bit thicker. Bake in the oven until the fruit is firm (not dry or brittle) about 5-6 hours. Turn the oven off, prop open the door until it is cool, and then shut the door and let sit overnight inside. Place parchment paper over the silicone mat and flip over and peel off the mat – cut into 2 inch wide and 5 inch strips. These rolls ups pack about 10 grams of carb per strip and store for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container. One added benefit is chia seeds bulk up when consumed. The gel they create is an excellent barrier between digestive enzymes and carbs, which slows the conversion of carbs to sugar. This action will keep you riding longer. Also, coconut contains medium chain triglycerides (MCT) that digest quickly and convert to ketones for an immediate source of energy.

While carbohydrates remain the key nutrient and foundation for your daily meals, it is important to incorporate all food groups for a healthy balanced diet. Look for upcoming tips on fluids, fats, and protein that will help you maximize your energy stores and make your training rides the best they can be. While spinning over the next several months, remember that by changing a few daily dietary habits it can make a big difference in your overall energy level.

Pedal Fuel

Recipes brought to you by Skratch Labs
skratch_logo_blackA hardy recovery meal is key to rebuilding and strengthening muscles you just exhausted during your bike ride. Our friends and the authors of the Feed Zone Cookbooks, Biju Thomas and Dr. Allen Lim have done it again! They returned to the kitchen to champion dinner, the most social meal of the day. We have pulled a couple recipes from their latest and greatest book, Tables, as a way to help you recover from that next ride ahead. We also included one of our favorite waffle recipes. They are the perfect pre-ride meal or toss a few in a bag and bring them along for the trip. Enjoy!