Tend to your nutritional needs while winter biking
I can hardly wait for the rivers, lakes and swamps to freeze thick enough to support two fat tires and a winter biker eager to explore expanded riding territory. Frozen water permits endless miles of travel into the Alaskan wilderness to places inaccessible to mountain bikes during summer.
While warm clothing, tools and an extra tube are staples for winter biking adventures to remote areas, tending to your nutrition needs is essential for a safe and successful ride.
The legendary extreme winter bike racer Mike Curiak champions the simple phrase “sweet, salt and substance” as the three rules of thumb when considering what to carry for a winter bike ride.
The shorter the distance the more the body relies on carbohydrates (sweet) to fuel the ride. If I am just out for a ride around the trail systems in town I tend to carry something high glycemic, meaning food items containing simple sugars such as Aussie licorice bites and cookies.
I could pack the goodie bag attached to the top tube of my bike with expensive gels and bars, but I find that I am more inclined to dig into foods that I find particularly tasty. Give me a homemade cookie or a brownie any day over something in a wrapper.
Aim to eat about 250 calories per hour (more or less depending on body size) of high-glycemic carbs on your short rides, which are generally faster paced than daylong adventures. High-intensity exercise burns carbohydrates preferentially over fat.
Whether you’re riding a short distance around town or racing in the Iditarod Trail Invitational, sodium (salt) is essential to keep all systems normal. Even though winter riding is cold, your body still sweats from the exertion. Sodium ensures that water and nutrients pass efficiently from your digestive tract to the bloodstream.
Inadequate sodium intake can also lead to a dangerous medical condition known as hyponatremia, which occurs when you drink too much water, diluting the normal level of sodium in your body. In order to make sure that you are consuming enough sodium, pack salty foods such as pretzels when you ride.
To make extra sure that I get the sodium I need, I use a high-quality sport drink such as Osmo or Skratch, available at local bike shops. Electrolyte beverages are formulated to optimize sodium concentration. I get the calories that I need through solid food.
But I can only ride so far on sugary carbohydrates, especially on long rides and endurance adventures. For these, the body requires what Curiak refers to as substance – protein and fat – to keep you moving down the trail.
Prolonged exercise at low intensity or slow speed burns fat. A long-distance ride of many hours or even days also requires protein to rebuild muscle tissue.
Competitors in long-distance snow bike races such as the Susitna 100, Trio and Homer Epic know that a variety of foods in large quantity is the key. White Mountains 100 racer Ethan Kopacz has his nutrition plan dialed in.
“I take Shot Blocks, but I also like eating real food,” he said. A cheese sandwich is my primary one. Mustard and Tillamook Special Reserve Extra Sharp Cheddar is my favorite. I also take Snickers bars. Dave’s Killer Bread Sin Dawg has a lot of calories. I’ll do a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, too. Foods that don’t freeze solid when it’s 10 below.”
Kopacz’s buddy Jon Wieringa agrees.
“A Snickers bar at 10 at night is the best Snickers bar I’ve ever had,” he said. “It gets crispy and crunchy when it’s frozen.”
Snickers bars are packed with carbs, sodium, fat, and protein.
Mark Davis, a 24-hour racer and Iditasport finisher offers his nutrition secret. “Costco peanut butter pretzels are my favorites. They have everything. And they’re pretty tasty.”
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