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Eating for Endurance Cycling, Part 1: Training Diet

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Eating for Endurance Cycling, Part 1: Training Diet
by Heather Nakamura, MPE, MS, RD

Congratulations! You’ve registered for your first endurance cycling event. You’ve tuned up your bike, bought new cycling clothes, and started a training program. Now what about your training diet? Many recreational cyclists experience challenges as they transition to longer distance cycling. They report low energy on longer rides, cravings for carbohydrates and sweets, binge eating during the evening hours, or poor recovery from workouts. If you’ve begun to experience some of these challenges, you’re not alone. Optimal nutrition is a missing piece from many endurance training programs.

A high-carbohydrate diet is the key to optimizing endurance training and performance. However, many cyclists limit their carbohydrate intake in an effort to lose weight.  This can limit energy on long rides and impair recovery, making workouts more difficult as the week progresses.  Endurance cyclists need to consume about 55-65% of their total calories from carbohydrate.  This means ating more whole grains, beans, peas and lentils, fruits and vegetables, and low-fat dairy products.  The following strategies will help you learn to “Eat for Endurance Cycling”.

Pump up the Whole Grains

A diet containing whole grains has been shown to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease, and lower the risks of several types of cancer.  Eating whole grains can also help to regulate blood sugar, and people consuming more whole grains have consistently been shown to weigh less than those who don’t.  If weight loss is one of your goals, make sure to substitute whole grain products for excess protein or fat. Depending upon your training load, aim to consume at least 2-3 servings of whole grains at each meal.  A serving of whole grains or starches is equal to:

  • 1 slice whole grain bread or 6″ tortilla; 1 small pancake or waffle
  • 4-6 whole grain crackers; 3/4 oz pretzels; 2 medium rice cakes
  • 1/2 pita or whole wheat English muffin; 1/4 whole grain bagel                    
  • 3/4 cup dry flaked cereal; 1/4 cup granola                     
  • 1/2 cup cooked cereal, grits, or bulgur wheat
  • 1/2 cup mashed potatoes or sweet potato
  • 1/3 cup cooked brown rice, whole grain pasta, quinoa, or couscous
  • 1/2 cup cooked beans or peas
  • 3 cups plain popcorn

Up the Fruits and Veggies

Eating more fruits and vegetables is another great way to boost your energy, as well as your health.  Fruits and vegetables contain important vitamins, minerals, and fiber which can lower your risk for diseases like stroke, heart disease, and certain cancers. Fruits and vegetables also contain a variety of antioxidants, important for recovery from hard activity. Athletes should aim for 6-11 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.  One serving of fruit is equal to:

  • 1 medium fresh fruit (apple, banana, orange, peach)
  • 1 cup grapes, berries, melon, cherries, pineapple
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened, canned fruit
  • 1/2 cup 100% fruit juice
  • 1/4 cup dried fruit or 2 T raisins

One serving of vegetables is equal to:

  • 1/2 cup cooked vegetables
  • 1 cup raw vegetables
  • 1/2 cup tomato or vegetable juice

Don’t forget the Dairy

Low-fat dairy products are a great source of both carbohydrates and protein. They also contain important vitamins and minerals like calcium and vitamin D, which can help to maintain bone health, lower blood pressure, and may play a role in regulating body weight and lowering risk for certain chronic diseases.  Dairy products like chocolate milk, containing whey protein, have also been shown to promote recovery from hard activity.  Active women should aim to consume 3-4 servings of low-fat dairy products per day.  This is equal to:

  • 1 cup nonfat or low-fat milk, chocolate milk, or buttermilk
  • 2/3 cup nonfat or low-fat yogurt

Finishing strong…

Most cyclists realize an effective training program can help them get to the finish line. But including an optimal sports nutrition plan can fuel your workouts, promote better recovery, improve performance, and help you finish strong.  With benefits like that, don’t you think it’s time you started “Eating for Endurance Cycling?”

Heather Nakamura, MPE, MS, RD is a registered dietitian with Masters Degrees in both Nutrition and Exercise Physiology.  She works as a “Personal Wellness Coach”, to help active individuals develop nutrition and training programs that focus on improving performance, maximizing energy, and achieving optimal body composition and health. For information on personal health coaching or upcoming seminars, call (206) 595-2688 or visit her website at www.targetgoodhealth.com.


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