From a fitness pro's perspective, cycling is particularly interesting because it's the rare sport that can offer an intense, sustained workout of the largest muscle groups – glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calfs – at the same time as a robust cardio workout. (No wonder bikers tend to develop a great balance of strength and endurance.) Physiologists who study cycling have found that pedaling at about 90 rotations per minute is the ideal workout pace, because it evenly distributes the burden of work between cardiovascular and musculature systems.
So when looking for the best foods to fuel a biking workout, one needs to take both systems into account. There's also the matter of intensity to consider. The harder you push, the more your body burns glycogen (the stored carbohydrate in the muscles), while lower-intensity workouts use fat as the prime fuel source. The ideal is to fuel the body with the right amount of easily burned glucose (not too much) as well as fats so that your engine runs smoothly, powerfully, and efficiently. Here are a few simple and healthy natural foods that are easy to introduce into a regular diet.
Coconut water has become popular and is even billed by some as a sports drink, but that's not the whole story. In reality, coconut water is basically just sugar water with some naturally occurring electrolytes. (If you're sedentary, that means it's a great way to bulk up with fat easily!) But that's actually okay for cyclists, who burn though sugar and expel electrolytes quickly. Coconut water's naturally occurring sugar will replenish your muscle's glycogen and help you go farther before reaching exhaustion. And, of course, the naturally occurring electrolytes will replace what is lost in sweat, thereby allowing for better hydration and a reduced chance of cramping.
I suggest drinking about two cups (1/2 liter) each hour of warm-weather cycling. While coconut water is an excellent choice during cycling, I would not suggest drinking it throughout the day due to its high sugar content.
To learn more about fueling for cycling, check out Clean Sports Nutrition 101, as part of my Thrive Forward Web series.
See also: Six Simple Nutritional Shifts That Will Improve Your Health
Brendan Brazier is a former professional Ironman triathlete, a two-time Canadian 50km Ultra Marathon Champion, the creator of an award-winning line of whole-food nutritional products called VEGA, and the best-selling author of the 'Thrive' book series. He is also the developer of the acclaimed ZoN Thrive Fitness program and the creator of the Thrive Foods Direct national meal-delivery service. He also just launched 'Thrive Forward,' an online video series on wellness.
Recognized as one of the world's foremost authorities on plant-based performance nutrition, Brendan works with NFL, MLB, NHL, UFC, PGA, Tour de France, and Olympic athletes and is a guest lecturer at Cornell University, where he presents an eCornell module entitled "The Plant-Based Diet and Elite Athleticism."
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