Coach Hughes: Homemade Cycling Nutrition
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Intelligent Cycling Training—Nutrition

Eating & Drinking Like the Cycling Pros

How to Make Your Own Sports Food & Drink — Nutritional Insight from Pro Cycling Teams.

Although sports bars, gels and drinks comprise part of a racer’s cycling nutrition, you may be surprised by what they eat during a stage race.

by John Hughes
© John Hughes 2011, All Rights Reserved

John Hughes is the author of Distance Cycling and many articles on training, nutrition, psychology and medical issues for RoadBikeRider.com. He is the the former director of the UltraMarathon Cycling Association and editor of UltraCycling, has been certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association as a personal trainer and by USA Cycling as a coach.

I surveyed what racers on the Garmin Cérvelo, Sky and Radioshack teams eat during stage races. A racer burns 3,500 to 4,000 calories on an average day in the Tour de France and 5,000 to 5,500 on a big day. Here’s what I learned.

  • Breakfast is big. Racers eat a big breakfast so they start off with a full load of fuel and eat several hours before the race to allow time for the meal to digest.
  • Riders drink a lot. Depending on conditions, riders down 1-3 16 fl. oz. (0.5 L) bottles every hour.
  • Riders eat a lot. Even though they are racing hard, racers consume 300 or more calories an hour.
  • Fuel sources. At race paces, riders are burning almost exclusively glycogen (from carbohydrates) for energy.
  • Carbohydrates. Racers eat primarily carbohydrates with a high glycemic index for instant energy.
  • Glycemic Index (GI). GI measures how fast a food causes your blood glucose to rise. Glucose has a GI of 100. Sushi rice, favored by the pros, has a GI of 85.
  • Variety counts. To keep eating and drinking hour after hour, racers have a lot of choices so that they can find something palatable.
  • Recovery begins immediately. Riders start drinking and eating as soon as they get in the team bus; they don’t wait until they are back at the hotel.

I used what I learned to develop recipes for sports food that we can make at home that is:

  • more nutritious
  • tastier
  • less expensive
than commercial products.

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For example, this homemade sports drink costs just $0.11 per 100 calories compared to $0.75 for pre-mixed commercial drink:

  • 1/3 cup (80 ml) orange juice
  • 12 teaspoons (50 g) sucrose (table sugar), glucose or maltodextrin (a starch)
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.2 ml) salt
  • water to make 1 quart (0.95 L)

The homemade drink is also closer to the American College of Sports Medicine’s recommendations:

Per 8 fl. oz. (240 ml)
   ACSM Coach Hughes Gatorade
Calories 48-96 56 60
Sodium 120-170 mg 148 mg 110 mg
Potassium 19-46 mg 36 mg 30 mg

Here are a couple more recipes. Racers often eat panini:

  • ½ croissant or soft roll (so it’s easy to chew) sliced and filled with:
  • a slice of ham or Canadian bacon
  • cream cheese
  • jam

Boiled potatoes are easy to make, tastier than an energy bar and cheaper:

  • boil 1 lb. (1/2 kg) small new red potatoes, about 15
  • while warm, roll around in a pan with:
  • 1 cup (90 g) grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) olive oil
  • salt

For more information see:

  • Nutrition for 100K and Beyond: Cycling nutrition, hydration and electrolytes —my 16-page eArticle available for $4.99 from RoadBikeRider.com.
  • Eating & Drinking Like The Pros: Expert advice on cycling nutrition and how to make your own healthy nutrition at lower cost —my 15-page eArticle available for $4.99 from RoadBikeRider.com.
  • Optimal Hydration: What to drink riding in the heat. —my 21-page eArticle available for $4.99 from RoadBikeRider.com.
  • Other articles by Coach Hughes