Participants in a big cycling event need to be prepared, both mentally and physically. Such an event will place a fair amount of stress on your body, but many of the participants consider it life changing and very rewarding in the end. If you decide to accept the challenge, this is what you should be prepared for:
You’ll use up energy
No, really... The main source of energy for intense exercise is carbohydrates and therefore this is the nutrient you need to pay closest attention to. Embark on a casual 20-miler, and you’ll be fine — no snacks necessary. But once you’ve surpassed two hours of cycling, it’s recommended that you refuel. And if you’re out there for 4–5 hours, nutrition requirements become serious. In addition to water and electrolyte beverages, you’ll want to eat simple, easily-digestible carbs like energy gels to avoid getting sick.
Barfing is quite possible
To avoid barfing you should be eating something small every 20-30 minutes starting about 60-75 minutes into the event. The signs of barfing include dizziness, shaking, feelings of extreme fatigue or weakness, nausea, and blurred vision. If you notice any of these, be sure to take on some fast digesting carbohydrates as soon as you can – for example via an energy gel.
You’ll lose fluid
Sweating intensely makes you rapidly lose fluid and these fluids must be replaced. Set a timer to remind yourself to drink 12-16 ounces of fluid per hour. If the weather is hot, you should drink more because of the higher sweat rate.
You sweat out useful electrolytes
This is the time when salt is really what you need. When you sweat you not only lose fluid, but you also lose key electrolytes. Consider replacing electrolyte losses by having an electrolyte tab or isotonic drink. Isotonic drinks also contain carbohydrates which help provide fuel as well. You could also include a little bit of salty food into your fueling strategy to help replace sodium losses. Spreads like marmite and peanut butter are great options and these can also be a very welcomed alternative to lots of sweet and sugary carbohydrate-based foods.
You might get a cramp
Cramps are involuntary muscle spasms that can make pedaling momentarily impossible, because of their intensity. So what causes muscle cramps? The scientific community doesn't have a definitive answer. There are theories on what causes cramping, but no certainties. The current theories on muscle cramping include muscular fatigue, low electrolyte levels (sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium, magnesium), hyper-hydration, dehydration, and personal susceptibility. Solutions? One is to make sure you stay properly hydrated and replace lost electrolytes. Second, is to consider taking a magnesium supplement before your event. Magnesium has been found to regulate muscle contraction. Third, if you do experience a cramp, stretching will bring immediate relief.
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