I need an edge.
July 25, 2014 9:37 AM   Subscribe

I need suggestions for what I should eat/drink prior to a very short but intense cycling workout.

I am currently involved in a competition to see who can churn 10 miles on a sationary bike in the fastest time. I have given it a go a couple of times but cant quite top the current record holder (off by a few seconds). We all do some type of warm up prior to each attempt. I am not looking for an unfair advantage (a type of stimulant), just a basic good energy source (and timing on when to eat/drink) for this type of workout. Thanks for any suggestions.
posted by repoman to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Depending on how your body utilises energy, results will vary. For me, roughly one hour prior to workout a shake of easily digestible fats, like coconut milk, and 30 or so grams of protein, (whey powder) works for me. Avoid carbs pre-workout as these tell your body to store energy. What's your time for 10m on the bike?
posted by IfIShouldEverComeBack at 9:46 AM on July 25, 2014

For me, what would help would be to load up on electrolytes beforehand so I don't run out of energy from sweating out salt and other electrolytes. So something like Gatorade or a salty snack with either orange juice or a banana .
posted by Michele in California at 9:49 AM on July 25, 2014

I would avoid anything solid and drink a cup of Gatorade about 15 min before getting on the bike.
posted by pintapicasso at 9:54 AM on July 25, 2014

Response by poster: Currently 23:38 on a pretty old Nautilus. I know I can get 22:00, just want to rule out energy and focus on strategy.
posted by repoman at 9:56 AM on July 25, 2014

Banana and an energy gel.

You don't want to eat anything that's gonna suck puking up in an hour.
posted by carsonb at 10:01 AM on July 25, 2014

How much time do you have before the competition? Is there enough time for you to try out each of these suggestions maybe every other day beforehand?
posted by elizardbits at 10:04 AM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

For a short time trial like that, I would focus on getting lots of carbohydrates for the couple days before the event, and make sure I was well hydrated. On the day, eat normally until about 3 hours before the event, and get lots of liquid. An hour or so before starting, have some sports drink or gel, and 30 minutes before starting, have a cup of coffee.

Most of your energy is going to come from glycogen stored in the muscles (hence modified carb loading), while your brain will function on blood glucose (hence the sports drink/gel). There's no need to eat or drink during the event itself, since it's so short.
posted by brianogilvie at 10:05 AM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: It's an ongoing competition, so yeah, not a bad idea to give some a try.
posted by repoman at 10:06 AM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Cytomax. Tropical Fruit Cytomax is my personal favorite. It'll make a difference in energy and recovery. Never Gatorade, maybe add a cup of coffee earlier in the day.
posted by tumble at 10:06 AM on July 25, 2014

Don't know what you consider unfair, but caffeine is an effective stimulant. If you do want to use it, just make sure that the form you use won't upset your stomach - e.g., chugging a Starbuck grande 5 minutes before biking probably won't work.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 10:06 AM on July 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


It's a stimulant but I don't see it as giving you an "unfair advantage", as coffee is ubiquitous in the sports world.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 10:06 AM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Check out the blog Sweat Science, which evaluates the science behind this kind of thing. There's a ton on pre-exercise nutrition and the science behind those choices.

Some other thoughts:

Are you stretching beforehand? If so, you could rethink that (although note that the current research has been in running, not cycling)

Increase the nitrate in your diet (from beets, or from other sources)

Think positive thoughts.
posted by pie ninja at 10:06 AM on July 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would take an energy gel 5-10 minutes before starting. I would also take exactly the one you're planning on using before another workout beforehand to make sure your stomach does not have problems.
posted by carolr at 10:07 AM on July 25, 2014

I know it's not the same sport, but Matt Fitzgerald's "New Rules for Marathon and Half Marathon Nutrition" has a bunch of information that may be applicable, and references a number of cycling time trials. Specifically, one of the studies researched a 10-day fat loading diet (70+% of calories from fat) followed by a 3-day carb loading diet and found that cyclists completed a 20K (~12 mile) time trial an average of 4.5% faster. (here is the part in the book, if this link works)

Shortly before competition, carbs, for sure, especially simple ones like an energy gel, and caffeine, especially after a 7-10 day caffeine fast (though this may not work if it's an ongoing competition).

The research on nitrates (and specifically beets) is fairly new but I think they're worth trying-- I drink at least 16 oz beet juice in the week before a big race.
posted by matcha action at 10:10 AM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

NB all the coffee suggestions should be taken with a grain of salt as only you yourself know your body's reaction to a jolt of caffeine after potentially carbloading a few hours earlier.

Obvsly don't drink coffee for energy right before the contest if you're the kind of person who needs a bathroom break right after drinking coffee.
posted by elizardbits at 10:17 AM on July 25, 2014

You're doing a short blast. It not a sprint and not an endurance event. Most advice you'll find is for either sprinting or marathons - you're looking of 5k nutrition plans.

In 5K conditions:

‣ Hydrate the days before the event. Hydrate like you mean it. Grabbing the water bottle is time lost so if you can prevent thirst on the bike that's good. Make sure you get an electrolyte replacement post ride. (If this was a longer event, then you'd absolutely need to hydrate seriously within the event itself, but at 20ish minutes, I wouldn't grab my bottle if I could avoid it.)

‣ My body isn't a big carb user even in endurance conditions- I know, everyone says carby-carb-carb but my body says no, no, no. I'd do a protein shake two hours pre-event which is both hydration and nutrition. Probably whey and peanut butter mixed with coffee. (Coffee is a personal variable and you should test it out several times before your big ride.)

‣ I'd drink a bottle of Nuun about 30 minutes before the ride to get some extra electrolytes on board.
posted by 26.2 at 10:24 AM on July 25, 2014

I've always loved the work of Allen Lim, who promotes fresh-made, DIY snacks that are high in energy, and awesomely delicious.

posted by noonday at 10:42 AM on July 25, 2014

So 22 minutes huh? Would definitely look into the different energy systems involved in exercise. You'll have 3-4 energy systems running in tandem during this event.

For your short term/high intensity sprints you'll be tapping into your phospho-creatine stores.

For your middle intensity stuff you'll be hitting fast and slow glycolytic.

For the long term and lower intensity work you'll generally use your oxidative system and start tapping into stored fats or carbs or sugars etc.

This answer really depends on what sort of intensity you're hitting. This will be relative to you. We've got a couple ways to think about it. (HRR, VO2 max, OBLA)

In terms of timing, this will be oxidative/cardio dominant. You'll probably do some sprinting towards the end, but will hit a steady state for the most part. Depending on whether or not you've got the metabolic flexibility to handle fats then either some carbs or coconut oil would work for fuel. For 22 minutes though, you're just not going to worry about it.

What's your anaerobic threshold? Are you experienced in exercise? Eventually your body won't be able to flush out the lactate or hydrogen ions and you'll feel that burn. I'd look into lactate threshold as this may be a limiting factor for you.

I wouldn't really worry about carb loading on this one. You're not going to hit a carb wall like marathon runners do. You'll want to ensure fully stored glycogen in the muscles, but carb loading is specious at best. Eat some sweet potatoes or rice or something the night before. Don't overdo it.

Look, we're talking about 22 minutes of exercise here. It's intense, and it's hard, but you're body isn't going to run out of much. I wouldn't worry too much about things like protein, electrolytes or even excessive carb loading.

The best advice would be to not eat anything weird that is going to upset your stomach or cause you to pee during the competition.

Ensure the ambient temperature is low. Hot temperature will negatively affect your lactate threshold.

Some people might suggest you take some baking soda. While this might have a small positive effect on acid buffering, it could lead to stomach discomfort.

Caffeine is one of the only really effective ergogenic aids we have. It's good and works well across the board.

Creatine might help, but you'd need a few weeks to see the benefits.

Short answer: Any difference from nutrition will be largely mental. Don't do anything weird and avoid creating stomach issues. If you can handle coffee, it will have the most positive effects. If that's too much like cheating then just get a night's sleep and hit it hard.
posted by Telf at 11:16 AM on July 25, 2014

MCT oil, baby! But ease into it over time. Add it in small amounts to your daily regimen, and then once you are used to it, start taking it before you hit the bike hardcore. (If you jump into it full-bore without easing into it, you risk bikeshort sharts.)

I prefer cold-brewed yerba mate vs. coffee for pre-burst activity. You could mix the MCT into the yerba mate (I add a pinch of potassium, magnesium, and sodium). It's a much better alternative to Gatorade.
posted by nacho fries at 11:29 AM on July 25, 2014

Of course you should be well-fed and hydrated chronically regardless of any specific workout.

Other than that, I would (and do) drink a mix of glucose (like Gatorade) and electrolytes (e.g. pedialyte) starting 30 minutes before and continuing throughout my workouts. I also have coffee or another stimulant about 30 minutes prior. This is the practice of most athletes I know and follow.

On another note, people whose metabolisms function well on fat are outliers, most people need carbs for energy. If you are not one of those people, disregard the advice telling you to consume fat immediately before and during your workout. Fat slows the absorption of other nutrients consumed with it, which is the opposite of what you want.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 12:04 PM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I spin a lot and perform best with peanut butter on banana and a little caffeine.
posted by sweetkid at 8:45 PM on July 25, 2014

I don't think anything you would drink before hand is going to make a difference for a 20 minute sprint, other than hydrating. I mean caffeine, a banana, and some form of sugar (sorry I fucking hate those gels, drink half a coke or something instead) are the obvious ones but I don't think you need to make this complicated. If you want to get faster there are not shortcuts, go ride some hills.
posted by bradbane at 9:24 PM on July 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

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