Bicycling Nutrition – Rethinking Your Fuel on a Long Trip (Part 1 of 2) 9

Introducing Harvey Slater

I met Harvey when we were both introduced by a mutual friend in the Los Angeles bicycling community. He was planning a trip from Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo and was needing help planning it. Naturally, I reached out to him to give him a few pointers here and there and met with him to hand off some Adventure Cycling Maps.

I found out he is a certified Holistic Nutrition Coach, chef, blogger, as well as a fellow bicycle advocate. When he’s not commuting around town or going on his own bicycle trips, Harvey offers personal nutrition coaching services and blogs about food from both the aesthetic and nutritional perspectives.

Since nutrition is a huge part of bicycle touring, I thought I’d ask Harvey to guest blog here in a 2-part post explaining nutrition in the first part and then how to implement it in a bike tour in the second part.

You can find out more about Harvey at his website, or check out his recipe blog at

Without further adieu… Here’s Harvey!

Enter Harvey

Harvey Slater“Carbs, carbs and more carbs!” or “I can eat whatever since I am burning so many calories!” Those are typical responses when inquiring about fuel for your bicycle tour. It is true. Carbohydrates provide your body with easy to burn fuel in the form of glucose, kind of like priming the carburetor of your car with gasoline. A good long bicycle ride, and especially a bicycle tour, would provide plenty of demand from your body to burn just about anything you eat. So who would argue with this popular opinion that just eating lots of carbs will do the job? Well, I would, especially when it comes to how we fuel our bodies on a tour. Endurance bicycling requires special planning unique from a typical day ride. And therefore, endurance bicycling nutrition should also be looked at and planned from a unique point of view. Here are some concepts and practical meal planning ideas that can give you tools to take a more integrative approach to nutrition on your next bicycle tour. I suggest incorporating these into your training routine. Then, if it goes well, you can apply it to your touring meal plan and your body will already be adapted to a more efficient way of eating on your tour.

Concept #1: Burning Sugar Takes A Lot of Work & Is Unsustainable

When you load up on refined carbohydrates, like bagels, pasta, and sports drinks, you may be giving your body a quick fuel source, but once your body burns that fuel, you have to give it more or it will deplete your muscles of stored glycogen and run low. This is where the infamous expression among athletes called “bonking” comes from; when you run out of fuel and hit a wall on your ride or workout. Depending solely on broad varieties of carbs as fuel keeps us in a vicious cycle of needing to fuel ourselves repeatedly, kind of like a “carb addiction” for athletes. On top of that, eating simple carbohydrates (sugar, flour, sports drinks) then exercising for extended periods of time promotes a bit of a blood sugar roller coaster. When your body has to work to regulate your blood sugar, it takes up energy that can be used for muscle-building, focus, and smarter regulation of your hormones and fuel supply.

So the question is not whether to stop eating carbs, but knowing what kind to eat. By eating only complex, nutrient-dense carbohydrates, like whole grains (brown rice, oats), pseudo grains Heart of Rice(quinoa), low glycemic fruit (berries, green apples, under-ripe bananas), and vegetables, you still provide fuel to your body, but your body digests the fuel at a slower pace, giving you a more sustained supply of fuel with a lot more other micronutrients and phytochemicals. Not only is this a better way to get your carbs, it will also help improve your digestion and nutrient uptake. It is well-studied that gluten and processed foods irritate and bog down your digestive system, making it even harder to receive any good nutrients that you are eating. And, it is also known that simple sugar, which comes in many forms (raw sugar, cane sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave, etc.), actually depletes your body of nutrition. Did you know that carbohydrates are not even an essential nutrient? Yep, your body can make carbohydrates and can even turn excess protein into glucose for fuel. Our bodies are amazing!

So enjoy your carbohydrates, but understand the quality of the carbohydrates you are putting into your body, and what that will mean for you at mile 70 of a 90-mile day of your tour.

Concept #2: Our Bodies Contain Huge Fuel Reserves

Have you ever heard the word Ketosis or Ketogenic? Ketosis refers to a state when your body has adapted to burning fat as its primary source of fuel, instead of glucose (sugar). Ketogenic refers to the diet or lifestyle that if followed, helps your body become keto-adapted, or in an ongoing state of ketosis.

So why I am I telling you all this? Not to suggest that everyone run out and start a Ketogenic diet. The diet itself is a bit controversial due to its extremely high fat, low carb ratio. But we can learn a lot from studies and people who promote and live a Ketogenic lifestyle. For bicycle tourists, the most valuable lesson is the fact that you have more than sufficient reserves of fuel stored in your fat. The Ketogenic Diet basically teaches you how to live like Eskimos, who historically could survive long winters on just salmon and dried meats. So, what if you could switch over and burn that fuel on long bike rides, and never worry about sugar bonking or running out of fuel?

In this article, Dr. Loren Cordain points out that by maximizing your capacity to burn fat for fuel, you’ll also be sparing precious muscle glycogen, the carbohydrate stores in your muscle. You have approximately 500g of glycogen stored primarily in your muscles (and some in your liver) that can provide you with 2,000 calories of energy during your ride. In contrast, even lean individuals between 7-14% body-fat have 20,000-30,000 calories available for energy use in their fat stores. That’s a lot of fuel that could be used if you helped your body access that fuel.

Becoming fully keto-adapted can take people days, weeks, or even months. You can try going “keto” or you can make some adjustments to the way you start your day and fuel yourself on a ride. By limiting the quantity of, and improving the quality of your complex carbohydrates, reducing or eliminating simple carbohydrates, and intentionally adding more essential fats to your diet, your body can begin to burn some of your fat for energy. Once in this state, you free yourself of the insatiable sugar eating machine and blood sugar yo-yo, and replace it with a reliable and steady fuel supply that can sustain you for longer periods of time. If you want that morning jolt of energy, there are ways to get that without having to down a bunch of sugar, which will be discussed further along in this article.

Concept #3: Understand What Protein Actually Does

One of the most misguided comments I hear from my clients is, “I need protein for energy.” Whereas protein can play a role in your metabolism and can be used as energy in a pinch, it happens to be the most inefficient form of fuel. Your body will first use available glucose, then fat, then turn to protein. When it does use protein, the process is very inefficient and can use up energy just to make this happen. So why use up energy just to produce fuel?

Protein is very necessary, though. Protein provides the building blocks for your muscles to grow and recover from exercise. And, you can use protein to help manage your metabolism and energy flowSalmon throughout the day. You just have to know a few distinctions.

Eat clean, efficient, easy to digest protein sources. If you eat a cheeseburger for lunch, your body will rob you of needed bicycling energy just to digest your lunch! Switch it to a turkey burger with no bun. Make sure there are plenty of lettuce, tomato, and other vegetables (carbs and phytonutrients), or better yet, throw a turkey patty on top of a salad.; add some avocado or other healthy fats. By switching out beef for turkey and eliminating the cheese and processed bread, you make your lunch a lot easier to digest.

There is one caveat in that clean protein does help boost your metabolism. Due to the fact that it is the most inefficient form of energy, you can actually receive a metabolism boost as a result of the body having to work harder to metabolize the protein, kind of like “nutrition aerobics.” The key is to go there without bogging your body down too much. So, light, clean protein sources like turkey, chicken, fish, protein rich plants like seeds, nuts, legumes, and peas, in fact, most vegetables contain some protein. If you manage your fuel supply right, you will basically just use protein for the metabolism boost and to do its very important job of building your muscles.

Concept #4: Nurture Your Adrenal Glands

Adrenal burnout can be common among athletes, especially if your diet and eating habits are all over the place. In his book titled the Adrenal Reset Diet, Dr. Alan Christianson discusses carbohydrate cycling to support your body’s natural circadian rhythms and help you thrive the way nature intended.

When you load up on sugary cereal for breakfast, pop energy gels every hour, and drink beer and wine at the end of each ride, you keep your body in “fight or flight” mode. This causes stress, fatigue, adrenal burnout, and retention of unwanted body weight and toxins. But when you make some simple adjustments to your diet, you

support the proper release of cortisol in the morning, when you need it, and melatonin in the evening when it’s time to rest. Dr. Christianson has an almost too simple formula for achieving this, that entails moving your larger portions of carbohydrates to the end of the day, and also making sure you are eating resistant starches, or carbohydrates that digest slowly. If you were to have any refined carbohydrates like spaghetti, you would have it at the end of the day for dinner. An added benefit to this follows an idea called carb back loading, where you give your muscles some carbs at the end of the day to restore your glycogen reserves.

Part 2 will go through actual meal planning so stay tuned!

NOTICE: Harvey Slater holds an accredited certification as a Holistic Nutritionist with the American Fitness Professionals Association. A copy of the current certificate can be made available upon request. This article is intended for education and information purposes only and is not meant to prescribe any particular diet or protocol or to treat illness. State law allows any person to provide nutritional advice or give advice concerning proper nutrition–which is the giving of advice as to the role of food and food ingredients, including dietary supplements. This state law does NOT confer authority to practice medicine or to undertake the diagnosis, prevention, treatment, or cure of any disease, pain, deformity, injury, or physical or mental condition and specifically does not authorize any person other than one who is a licensed health practitioner to state that any product might cure any disease, disorder, or condition.

About Johnny Lam

Johnny is an avid cyclist who enjoys bicycle touring as well as anything bicycle related. Johnny has traveled the entire Pacific Coast by bike from Vancouver to the border of California and Mexico. He's also toured through-out locations in Southern California. Johnny is also a League of American Bicyclists League Certified Instructor (LCI) and also completed the Adventure Cycling Association's Leadership Training Course (LTC). He is an active member in Los Angeles bicycling community being involved in organizations like the Los Angeles County Bicycling Coalition (LACBC), C.I.C.L.E. (Cyclists Inciting Change through Live Exchange), and Bike San Gabriel Valley (Bike SGV) by taking part in ride marshaling, pedestrian & bike counts, and other volunteering opportunities.

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