Eating right for long distance bicycle rides isn’t as difficult as you might think. Pay attention to just three fairly simple nutritional guidelines, and your body should be ready to perform its best come race day.

Nutritional guidelines for distance cyclists fall into three categories:

  1. Hydration
  2. Plate organization
  3. Recovery

1. H2O Matters

Most athletes say they are well-hydrated, but studies consistently show they usually aren’t.

The easiest way to tell whether you’re getting enough liquids is to check the color of your first morning urine. If your urine is dark, say the color of apple juice or darker, then you need to consume more fluids.

People will often ask, "What if my urine is dark in the morning, but I drink a lot and then it is clear the next time I go to the bathroom?" The answer is that your kidneys are probably seeing most of the water, but your muscles could still be dry.

Guidelines for daily water consumption are just that – guides. People sweat and lose water at different rates, so don’t be alarmed if you need more or less water than the standard eight, 8-ounce glasses.

Also, don’t forget hidden sources of fluids, such as fruit, vegetables, milk and yogurt. Some of these foods can be made of 80% water.

2. Good Carbs Are Good

Carbohydrates get a bad rap, but distance cyclists should aim for each meal to feature a plate two-thirds to three-quarters filled with plant-based foods.

Carbs are the fuel of exercising muscle. she said. It’s the gas in your tank. Someone who eats lots of protein may look good, but they’re not prepared for distance exercise.

Still, not all carbohydrates are created equal. High-quality carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables, milk and whole-grain breads and pasta. With plenty of high-quality carbs, you may not need vitamin supplements.

You don’t have to weigh and measure all your food, just make sure your plate is two-thirds to three-quarters plant-based foods and remember that quality counts.

This guideline works for coach potatoes and amateur athletes as well since this type of diet is recommended by several organizations, including the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association.

Reload During Recovery

New to many athletes is research that recommends eating a snack of protein and carbohydrate immediately after exercise of more than 45 minutes to an hour.

Muscles are better at utilizing carbohydrates and protein within the first 15 minutes after exercise than at any other time. Your muscles need to reload, so eat something immediately.

Appropriate snacks include Ensure, Carnation Instant Breakfast, half a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich on whole-grain bread or a sports drink with protein and carbs.

3. Recharge On Race Day

Come race day, don’t forget to recharge throughout the day. Depending on your pace, you probably need a source of carbohydrates every hour of the race.

Nothing big, but something. You can’t drive to Denver on one tank of gas, so put some fuel back in your tank at every rest stop. Examples of such fuels are a banana or potato, a carbohydrate-based gel or a sports drink with protein.

These three simple guidelines work equally well for professional and collegiate athletes, endurance athletes of all kinds, as well as amateur athletes.

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