Today's Fitness Question of the day comes from Becky from Houston, Texas. She asks, "I'm training for the MS 150. What's a good pre-ride meal? I'm not a morning person and I have a sensitive stomach."

Thanks for your question Becky! I'd like to start by saying that this doesn't just apply to long bike rides, but any athletic event or workout that takes place in the morning and its duration exceeds 90 minutes. 

I know it can be challenging to consume enough calories in the morning and to time the amount of calories properly before beginning your routine so you don't experience any gastrointestinal (GI) distress during your ride. Before you decide what  you're going to eat the morning of your long bike ride you should first consider what you're eating the evening before.

Carb Up the Last Meal 

It's more important to eat a high carbohydrate meal the last meal before you go to sleep than in the morning. The reason for this is eating this last meal before you go to bed will give your body an opportunity to store those carbohydrates as glycogen in your muscle. You need your glycogen stores to be as full as possible for your long ride, especially since your body is going to fast for the next 6-10 hours when you go to sleep before you wake up the next morning. 

 Related: Top 3 Carbohydrate Loading Methods for Endurance Events

I recommend at least a 2:1 (or 3:1) carbohydrates to protein ratio for your last meal of the day. It's important to consume a variety a vegetable carbohydrates but don't skimp on the complex carbohydrates during this time especially. The best complex carbohydrate sources include the following: 

  • Quinoa
  • Gluten-free oats
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Brown rice
  • Sweet potatoes/ yams
  • Sprouted grain bread


Stay Hydrated My Friends

With all this talk of food, don't forget about hydrating properly as well. Drinking the proper amount of water helps all of your body functions operate smoothly and efficiently, including your digestion processes. I suspect that, if you have a sensitive stomach, you may not be drinking enough water or too much of the  wrong type of fluids (sugary beverages, alcohol, etc...). 

Determining how much water is really easy to do. Just follow these 3 steps:

  1. Determine your weight
  2. Multiply your weight by 2/3 (or 67%)
  3. Account for activity level by adding 12 additional ounces per 30 minutes of activity 

I don't know you're weight, but let's say you weigh 120 pounds, you workout 3 days a week for an hour per day and your long ride is 2 hours . Your water intake would be the following:

  • Non-workout days: 80 ounces
  • Workout days: 104 ounces
  • Long ride day: 128 ounces 

Now that you have your water intake figured out, I'm also going to recommend that you drink sources of artesian water or filtered water with squeezed lemon. Artesian water contains micronutrients not present in conventional sources of water. These micronutrients alkalize the water and help counteract the typical American diet that's full of high acid foods (soda, fried foods, alcohol, dairy, red meat, caffeine). Filtered watered is also alkalized by squeezed lemon. 


Don't You Dare Skip Breakfast  

The following morning, the amount of time you wake up before your ride will determine approximately how many calories you should consume. Ideally you want to eat 3 hours prior to your long bike ride so your body has enough time to assimilate the calories you consumed and you have adequate time to prepare your gear and bike to ride. 

  • For Women:  200-300 calories, 2:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio
  • For Men: 400-600 calories, 2:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio

If you're unable to eat 3 hours before your long ride, then adjust by subtracting approximately 100 calories for every hour closer to your ride. 

When selecting your carbohydrate sources, you don't want to eat anything too sugary, obviously, but you also don't want to any carbohydrates that are too high in fiber. Foods too high in soluble fiber can cause constipation and foods too high in insoluble fiber can cause diarrhea. In this case, you actually want to focus on white processed carbohydrates like:

  • White bread
  • Plain bagels
  • Regular pasta
  • White rice  
  • White potatoes 

It's also ideal to include some healthy fats before your long bike ride as well. Fat, more than carbohydrates and protein can maintain satiety levels and also gives your body a long-term fuel source to sustain your ride. High saturated fats can cause inflammation in the GI system, so focus more on unsaturated fats such as:

  • Almond butter
  • Coconut oil
  • Extra Virgin olive oil
  • Avocados  

Protein Shakes are Fast and Convenient 

Now that I've mentioned some whole food choices, and given you're not a morning person and have a sensitive stomach (which we've addressed in a few ways thus far), you may also want to consider consuming a meal replacement shake. Select a high quality protein powder, such as hydrolyzed whey protein isolate and a low fiber carbohydrate powder such as rilose (made from white rice), and make sure the ratio is still 2:1 carbohydrates to protein and follow the calorie guidelines I mentioned above. Protein bars with similar specifications can fit the bill as well.

So that basically covers what you should eat before a long ride, but I'd be remiss if I didn't offer some nutritional strategies you should consider while you're on the actual ride and recovery post ride. 


Eat Light on Your Bike

When you're on your ride, working hard, and  enjoying the outdoors, during the first hour,  if you prepared properly, you should have enough energy stored as glycogen to fuel your ride. As you progress into your second hour and 3 plus hours, replacing carbohydrates and electrolytes will definitely become a necessity so that you can perform at your best. 

Remember that your body can only consume 1 to 1.7 grams of carbohydrate per minute no matter how much is consumed, so be aware of not overdoing it. When you're starting to replace your carbohydrates, focus on more solid foods such as energy/protein bars as you enter hour 2 of your ride and consume more sports gels and sports drinks as you progress into 3 plus hours. 


Recovery is Key

Upon completing your ride try to weigh yourself if you can after and compare your weight from before your ride. You want to drink 20 ounces of water for every pound of body weight lost during the ride. The best scenario would be to start with a protein shake just like a mentioned above to not only replace your fluids, but to replace your carbohydrate stores and repair any muscle damage sustained from the long ride. 

I hope these tips gives you some ideas on how to manage your sensitive stomach, how to nutritionally prepare for your long ride, how to sustain your body during your ride, and how to adequately recover after. Thank you Becky for your question and  I hope your next ride is your best ride!

If you or any of my readers out there need some assistance on how to create a structured eating plan to maximize your performance in cycling or any other sport, we are here to assist you. Contact us today! 


To your health!

DMP Fitness

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Darryl Perrilloux

Owner/Master Trainer
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