Here’s a poorly kept secret: When you write about cycling, you don’t always practice what you preach. That means there are some weeks where I barely touch a bike (those are sad weeks, but they happen). Sure, I train most days, but that might mean strength training, yoga, running, even swimming in the mix. But that’s not the dirty secret I’m talking about.
My new book is out next month—Fuel Your Ride—and writing it taught me a ton about properly, well, fueling my ride. I’m the first to admit that my nutrition isn’t always spot on (but as my book will tell you, you don’t have to be perfect all the time!). But in general, it’s pretty good: solid sources of protein, lots of fruit and veggies, healthy grains when needed. Admittedly, my ride nutrition was terrible for years, alternating between gel overload to nothing but water to not even water and back again, but it finally landed at a point that I thought was pretty solid: a decent amount of food (of the whole food and gel/bar variety) plus a good amount of water.
But in the past two weeks, I had a major epiphany. I’ve been co-coaching a cycling camp for some elite juniors, and that has meant huge ride days with tons of miles and meters of climbing. We’re talking a rest day being 60 kilometers and 1000 meters of climbing. It’s been crazy awesome for me.
It also gave me a new attitude about food. Before this, I’ve raced and ridden largely solo, so I was always eating to fuel my efforts, my way. If I was a little low energy and dreaming of my recovery meal with an hour to go, that was fine. It was my ride, my way. But at this camp, it wasn’t about me. I couldn’t afford to bonk.
So I ate. And ate. And ate. I crushed rice bars, I pounded water, I slammed through gels when the climbing got too tough for whole foods. I probably upped my intake by between 150 and 200 percent in-ride in the last two weeks.
And you know what?
I feel freaking amazing.
I’ve been rolling in from rides feeling hungry but not starving, my stomach has actually stopped getting bloated on rides and right after, my digestion has improved, my power on the bike feels infinitely better (and the numbers are trending upwards), and my legs just aren’t sore the next morning. I’ve actually lost weight instead of holding on to extra pounds that I used to pack on during big training blocks.
I know I write about this stuff and I should know better, but the more I think about it, the more I realize I was likely undereating on the bike by a bit. Not a lot, but by adjusting it upward a little, my riding has completely changed.
Moral of the story? You might think you’re eating enough on the bike, but every once in a while, count your calories and compare to what you’re burning. I talk about this in Fuel Your Ride in a lot more detail, but to bring it back to the basic point: you might be surprised at how much you’re burning versus how much you’re eating. (The opposite is also true: you may be eating more than you really need, which might be why you’re plateaued, if weight loss is a goal.)
Weirdly, it was thinking about other people’s riding that changed my own riding—in the best way possible.