Eat real food
Regardless of diet, preference, or theme what separates a good diet from a great diet are the ingredients you start with. Begin with fresh, whole foods that come in their own wrapper with as many of their parts intact as possible—foods that are minimally processed, grown locally by real farmers.
Don’t ride on empty
Most athletes find that eating about three hours before competition or two hours before training works very well. You’ll need ample time to digest your food. Sometimes athletes will have a little snack, like one of my portable rice cakes or an energy drink, about 30 minutes before competition to keep their blood sugar normal.
One thing to realize, though, is that eating too close to beginning a ride can lead to a pretty rough first hour because of how your insulin levels react to eating. If you are stuck beginning a ride with an empty fuel tank, consider waiting to eat until you have started exercising. It’s not an optimal approach, but it’s better than nothing.
When exercising, it’s recommend that athletes replace about half of the calories they burn per hour with solid food and a sports drink.
After riding more than four hours, it’s critical that you eat carbs within 30 minutes of getting off the bike. After the 30-minute window, your body will be reluctant to refuel as quickly and completely as if you can take in a few hundred calories right away. Don’t dally around the stage finish – get eating as soon as you can and then have a real meal within two hours.
Hydration: what to drink and how much
A surprisingly small loss of body fluids can have a outsized effect on performance. Just as we advocate eating real food, we think cyclists will hydrate best by avoiding artificial drinks. Yet there is no situation when water alone is superior to a sports drink with about a 4 percent carbohydrate solution and some sodium.
It’s difficult to find a sports drink that is not full of artificial colors, artificial sweeteners, and synthetic flavoring agents. Skratch Labs, the official energy drink of Pedal The Plains, makes a hydration mix that is all natural, tastes great, and balances electrolytes and sugars to minimimize digestion problems.
You’ll want to hydrate enough to limit your water losses to no more than 3 percent of your body weight. The best and easiest way to tune your hydration is to practice. In the weeks before Pedal The Plains, weigh yourself before and after rides during which you’ve drunk but not eaten. Your goal is to take in enough fluids that you weigh about the same before and after. Get familiar with how much you sweat in different types of weather and adjust your fluid intake so you stay hydrated.
Many recreational cyclists ride not just because they enjoy it, but also because they want to lose weight and get in shape. If you are interested in losing weight, it’s recommended that you make it your goal to lose one pound per week using this simple rule of thumb about being hungry.
One pound of fat is equivalent to 3,500 Calories. For many riders, this amounts to a 500-Calorie deficit each day, which means you will be going to bed a little hungry.
When you’re not riding much, it’s okay to be hungry. When you are training, be a little hungry.
But during Pedal The Plains or during any event or race, you want to make sure that you aren’t hungry while riding or before you hit the sack. You need to fuel for your ride, so eat enough that you aren’t hungry before turning in for the night yet not so much that you reach full-blown food coma.
Some examples dishes
- Cinnamon Almond Pancakes will fuel you all morning with a mix of carbs, proteins, and fats that are ideal for long-distance riders.
- Sweet Rice Porridge will top off the tank. High glycemic white rice will push fuel into muscle cells, making this dish an excellent way to start the morning after yesterday’s long ride.
- Chicken Fried Rice is the favorite post-ride recovery meal of pro cyclists at the Tour de France. Savory, salty, and packed with the ideal mix of carbs, proteins, and fats, Allen Lim’s signature dish will rejuvenate tired legs and weary souls.
- Allen Lim’s famous Rice Cakes are the portable snack that will agree with your belly. Over many days of riding, eating real food is far healthier and more satisfying than cramming highly processed foods again and again.
- Fig and Honey Rice Cakes are a sweet and savory portable snack that are simply delicious morning or afternoon.
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BORN IN SOUTH INDIA, BIJU THOMAS first came to the United States at the age of three. Part of a large extended family, including five siblings and several cousins, he learned to love food by watching his mother and grandmother cook for and feed large groups with ease. The entire family found joy and camaraderie in cooking, constantly upstaging one another in the kitchen.
A self-taught chef, Biju soon discovered he had a deep passion for cooking. He began working in restaurants at age 15, moving quickly to the top of his field as an in-demand chef in Colorado, and then finally as an instructor and consultant to the industry, writing menus and helping to start restaurants around the country.
However, he had another great passion—cycling. Growing up in Colorado in the 1980s meant that he was surrounded by many of the greats of American cycling, including the 7-Eleven team and a generation of young cyclists who went on to define the sport.
In an attempt to marry his two greatest passions, Biju began to work with various cycling- and sports-related fund-raisers and events. This led him to Andy Hampsten, then to Jonathan Vaughters and an early Garmin pro cycling team, where he befriended Allen Lim.
Through those relationships, Biju has cooked and shared his love of food with many top cyclists, including Lance Armstrong; Levi Leipheimer; Tommy Danielson; Christian Vande Velde; and a new generation of riders, including Ben King and Matt Busche.
Biju contributes to MapMyRide and to other online media and various magazines while doing TV spots and heading up workshops and classes—all the while doing his best to remain a skinny chef on the roads around Boulder, Colorado.
BORN IN THE PHILIPPINES, DR. ALLEN LIM began watching and helping his parents (who are originally from China) cook in the kitchen at the age of four—the same age that he taught himself to ride a bicycle. By age eight, Lim’s affinity for food and cycling was in full bloom. He began spending hours on his dirt bike roaming the streets just outside of Los Angeles and teaching his parents classic Western recipes, like the Denver omelet, picked up at sleepover parties with his American friends.
This merging of cultures eventually led Lim to search for ways to turn his love for cycling and food into a legitimate career—a search that culminated with Lim earning his doctorate in 2004 in the Department of Integrative Physiology at CU Boulder. Having worked almost exclusively with professional cycling teams since 2004, Dr. Lim was the director of sport science for the RadioShack professional cycling team for the 2010 and 2011 seasons and formerly held the same title for the Garmin professional cycling team. He has the unique distinction of being the only American scientist to have worked and cooked at the Tour de France, guiding countless riders, including Floyd Landis and Lance Armstrong—controversial and inspiring winners of cycling’s most prestigious race.
Through these experiences, Lim has come to know firsthand the complexity of sport—an arena where ambition, emotion, and culture can both fuel and oppose the practice of science, innovation, and fair play. These dichotomies have led Lim to look for ways to redefine his love for cycling and food as a legitimate tool for social change—a conversation he is eager to discuss on a ride or at the dinner table.