A Note from Fatty About Today’s Post: A week ago or so I posted an interview with Levi Leipheimer. I was interested in the rice cakes he mentioned as one of his favorite riding foods, so I contacted Dr. Allen Lim, asking if he’d share that recipe, along with some tips on how cyclists can avoid “gut rot” — the lousy feeling you get when the food you’re eating during a ride decides it wants out.
Dr. Lim was awesome enough to say yes.
Even more awesomely, Dr. Lim said he’d swing by at 4pm (ET) / 1pm (PT) today for a live Q&A, to take questions and give advice on biking and eating. This may be the most useful thing to ever happen on this blog, so be sure to come back to this page this afternoon, and bring your questions!
Avoid Gut Rot on Long Rides
An upset, bloated, or irritable stomach (aka “Gut Rot”) is one of the one of the most common things I hear professional and recreational cyclists complain about on their long rides or races. Though, the triggers for gut rot are different for everyone, one thing is definitive – that no matter how fit you are, a bad belly can stop you dead in your tracks. This is one of the main reasons why Chef Biju Thomas and I wrote The Feed Zone Cookbook and why Dr. Stacy Sims and I developed a secret drink mix for our athletes. With that in mind, here are some tips to help avoid the dreaded gut rot on your long rides.
Listen to Yourself
Because everyone is different the most important piece of advice I give to athletes is to experiment with a wide variety of foods both on and off the bike and to not be afraid to try foods that might buck the trends of today’s sports nutrition marketing.
Something that might really upset one person’s stomach may be the only thing that works for another. For this reason, people often become fervent about their diet or diet system, waving the flag for their favorite gluten free, protein rich, or vegan diet. The contradictions are so stark that it’s easy to be confused by all of the conflicting and seemingly hypocritical advice out there.
But if hypocrisy is the first step to change, then perhaps the most important thing to realize is that if something makes you feel like crap, then change and stop eating or drinking it. So stop overthinking the process and the marketing claims and just listen to your gut.
Make Sure Your Tank is Full
For almost everyone out there, we’ve got plenty of fat on board to literally ride thousands of miles. But without muscle glycogen we can’t easily burn that fat, regulate our blood glucose, or get too far down the road without bonking. So one of the easiest things you can do to avoid a bad stomach on a long ride is to make sure to eat enough carbohydrate in the week leading up to an event to make sure there’s enough glycogen on board so that you don’t have to overload your stomach on the ride just to survive.
Get the Timing Right
Begin eating your pre-ride meal at least 3 hours before start time. For the pre-ride meal, I recommend very simple foods that are filling but not too heavy. A big bowl of oatmeal with a little bit of fresh fruit, nuts, yogurt and eggs works great. Also, try to avoid a lot of fiber before your ride. Chef Biju and I like using a masticating juicer (The Omega 8006 is my favorite) to make fresh squeezed juice using everything from beets to kale in the morning. This helps to increase the nutrient density of the foods we serve without creating a lot of bulk that can fester later in the day.
While on the ride, it’s important to start eating early and consistently. If your ride is longer than 3 hours, try to consume about half the calories you are burning per hour eating something every 20 to 30 minutes and drinking every 15 minutes. That might mean consuming between 200 to 400 Calories an hour depending on your fitness and size and drinking 20 to 60 ounces of fluid per hour. In the end, it’s a lot easier to trickle the fuel and hydration in than to try and shove it all down when you’re starting to hit the wall.
Use Real Food
It has been my experience that most of the pre-packaged energy bars and foods marketed for riding are filled with excess ingredients that end up doing more harm than good. In particular, I find that artificial colors, flavors, and especially artificial sweeteners are absolutely terrible when consumed in excess and during exercise, often causing flavor fatigue, an irritable stomach, and sometimes even acting as a laxative. With that in mind, I advise sticking to simple and real foods. That is, make the effort to prepare some (if not all) of your ride food from scratch, if only to balance the pre-packaged foods that can be hard to avoid because of their convenience and ubiquitous availability.
For many riders I know, this literally means taking a little rice cooker, an electric pan and a few cooking utensils with them when travelling to rides or race events. With these simple tools and a nice paper foil like Martha Wrap™ (available from Amazon or at Safeway) to wrap your food, you can make a host of ride foods like sushi rice cakes mixed with eggs and bacon (recipe at the bottom of this post), or little boiled potatoes drizzled with a little olive oil, salt, and Parmesan cheese. Other real food ride favorites include waffle sandwiches filled with cream cheese and jam or little Hawaii rolls filled with a piece of salty meat and jam, or a tortilla with a sweet and salty almond butter and honey spread.
Stay Hydrated First
For many riders, a lot of the stomach problems they have are solely caused by a lack of fluid intake. One of the easiest ways to make sure that you are getting enough fluid is to weigh yourself before and after a ride to learn how effort and environment affect your fluid needs. Make it a goal not to lose more than 3% of your body weight over the course of a ride.
Beyond fluid intake, it is also imperative that you replace sodium while exercising. Since we can lose a lot of sodium during exercise (300 to 700 mg per hour depending on sweat rate) if all we drank was water to replace the fluid loss, we would be diluting the sodium in our body. Since, sodium plays a critical role in our bodily function, a decrease in sodium or hyponatremia can do more it than hurt our performance – it can kill us.
To that end, a simple sports drink with a plenty of sodium (300 to 400 mg per 16 ounces) and little bit of sugar (e.g., 70 to 80 Calories per 16 ounces) to help with absorption and to stabilize blood sugar is critical. Because it was almost impossible to find a very simple sports drink that fit these needs while not being laden with artificial flavors, colors, or sweeteners, we developed our own all natural exercise mix for riders competing in the Tour de France that they secretly replaced their sponsors drink with and that helped them alleviate race debilitating gut rot (www.secretdrinkmix.com).
Separate Hydration and Fuel
In my experience the one absolute recipe for gut rot is when athletes try and drink their calories. Anything more than 80 to 100 calories in a standard small water bottle and you’re asking for trouble. This also means avoiding gels if possible or having at least one bottle of water to drink with the gel if you’re going to use it and/or only using gels when you’re close to the finish. I think that one of the biggest misnomers is that our fuel needs to be pulverized like baby food for it to be easily absorbed. The reality is that eating solid foods that form a bolus in your stomach makes it easier for fluid to pass around that food assuring that the fluid in your stomach empties while the fuel slowly digests and absorbs without impeding hydration and causing the dreaded stomach bloating.
Savory Sushi Rice Cakes
These rice cakes are one of Levi Leipheimer’s favorite ride foods.
They’ve become a staple for the riders I work for and a great balance to all the sweet foods that are normally available during training camps and long stage races. At the Tour de France, I’d make about 40 or so cakes every morning in my hotel room using a rice cooker and an electric frying pan. They’re tasty, easy to eat and, most importantly, they’re easy on the stomach.
- 2 cups uncooked calrose or other medium-grain “sticky” or sushi rice (never use Basmati as it won’t stick.
- 3 cups Water
- 8 ounces of bacon (prosciutto or sausage or even roasted chicken also works great)
- 4 eggs
- 4 tablespoons (or flavor to taste) of Braggs liquid Aminos (all natural soy sauce) or a low-sodium soy sauce
- 4 tablespoons (or flavor to taste) of brown sugar
- Salt and grated Parmesan (optional)
- Combine rice and water in a rice cooker. Start rice cooker. If using a standard pot, combine rice and water, bring to a boil, then let simmer on low for about 20 minutes.
- While rice is cooking, chop up bacon before frying, then fry in a medium sauté pan. When crispy, drain off fat and soak up excess fat with paper towels.
- Beat the eggs in a small bowl and tehn scramble on high heat in the sauté pan. Don’t worry about overcooking the eggs as they’ll break up easily when mixed with the rice.
- In a large bowl or in the rice cooker bowl, combine the cooked rice, bacon, and scrambled eggs. Add liquid aminos or soy sauce and sugar to taste. After mixing, press into an 8- or 9-inch square baking pan to about 1 ½ inch thickness. Top with more sugar, salt, and grated Parmesan if desired.
- Cut and wrap individual cakes in a paper foil like Martha Wrap™. Makes about 10 cakes.
Nutrition Information Per Serving (1 Cake):
Energy – 225 Cal
Fat – 8 g
Sodium – 321 mg
Carbs – 30 g
Fiber – 1 g
Protein – 9 g
About Dr. Allen Lim: Born in the Philippines to Chinese parents, Dr. Allen Lim grew up in Los Angeles where he learned how to ride at the age of 4 on a pink tasseled bicycle he called “Snow White.” At the age of 13, he earned a Boy Scout Merit badge in Bicycling, riding his bike from LA to San Diego with his brother Almerick and cousin Sean. Soon after, he watched the movie American Flyers and decided that he’d base his future career on Kevin Costner’s character by racing bikes and learning everything he could about sport science. Almost 17 years later he received his doctorate from the Applied Exercise Science Laboratory in the Department of Integrative Physiology at the University of Colorado at Boulder and has been working with professional cyclists ever since. Most recently, with riders like Levi Leipheimer and Lance Armstrong as the director of Sport Science for Team Radio Shack.
About The Feed Zone Cookbook: Chef Biju and Dr. Lim vetted countless meals with the world’s best endurance athletes in the most demanding test kitchens. Now, in The Feed Zone Cookbook: Fast and Flavorful Food for Athletes, Thomas and Lim share their energy-packed, wholesome recipes to make meals easy to prepare, delicious to eat, and better for performance.
The Feed Zone Cookbook provides 150 delicious recipes that even the busiest athletes can prepare in less time than it takes to warm up for a workout. With simple recipes requiring just a handful of ingredients, Biju and Lim show how easy it is for athletes to prepare their own food, whether at home or on the go.
The Feed Zone Cookbook strikes the perfect balance between science and practice so that athletes will change the way they think about food, replacing highly processed food substitutes with real, nourishing foods that will satisfy every athlete’s cravings.