Fast Bike – Empty Tank. Exploring the Benefits of Carbohydrate Feeding

Introducing our esteemed author, Dr. Todd Backes. He is a renowned Biology and Exercise Science professor at SUNY Fredonia and a dedicated competitive cyclist. As the director of the Human Performance and Stress Lab, he brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the topic of carbohydrate feeding and its profound impact on cycling performance.

Get ready for an enlightening journey through our comprehensive series on the pivotal role of carbohydrate feeding. This series will explore how it can significantly enhance your training and competition performance, making it a game-changer in your cycling journey.  

Do you own a high-performance bike? Are you striving for every weight and aerodynamic advantage? Do you utilize scientifically supported carbohydrate gels on your rides? Remember, cycling is not just a sport; it’s a commitment. Your nutrition is a crucial part of this commitment. It’s not about using any nutritional options because they are ‘all the same.’ It’s about valuing the time, money, and effort you invest in your bike and training by choosing the right nutrition.  

Glucose, a carbohydrate, is not just any fuel for human bioenergetics. It’s the keystone fuel that powers your body’s performance during training and competition. 

Glucose is the primary fuel for high-intensity aerobic efforts; it spares muscle protein, permits fatty acids to be used for energy, and is the primary fuel source for the brain. We can store glucose as glycogen in our liver and skeletal muscle. However, we can only store about 2000 calories of energy in the form of glycogen. Your body can convert some amino acids into glucose. Still, the limited amount of stored glucose makes it imperative to take in carbohydrates throughout the day, even without considering training or racing.  

When training and racing, your body’s energy output is higher, and so is the glucose requirement. Consuming inadequate amounts of glucose can lead to metabolic fatigue, potential loss of muscle mass, cognitive dysfunction, and even central fatigue. These are serious consequences that can significantly impact your performance. 

Each of those outcomes alone is bad for performance, but cumulatively, they are disastrous. Thus, to optimize performance and racing, it becomes essential for an athlete to take in supplemental carbohydrates in the form of easily digestible bars or gels for any training session lasting longer than 60 minutes. 

However, acknowledging the need to take in supplemental carbohydrates during training and competition is not enough. Careful consideration needs to be given to the nutritional makeup of the gels or bars to deliver the glucose into the blood effectively. The rapid absorption of the carbohydrate in the gel or bar, its palatable qualities, and its ability to reduce or eliminate gastrointestinal distress are factors that cyclists need to consider when selecting bike fuel.  

Carbohydrate gels and bars have existed for several decades. The newest generation of gels has a different formulation and structure; they are called hydrogels. Hydrogels are used in medicine in various situations, and their use has recently expanded into carbohydrate supplements. Hydrogels have the benefit of being water-rich. This hydrated gel can hold a lot of glucose, deliver it in a way that does not require water consumption, and generally does not lead to gastrointestinal upset.

My next post will discuss how carbohydrate supplementation can prevent central fatigue.