Loving the BITE: Build-Your-Own Pre-Ride Smoothie
The pre-ride ritual. Most every cyclist has one, whether strategic or not. At the top of the list is what to eat. Some ride on nothing, even after fasting through the night. Some swear by oatmeal, energy bars, or baked potatoes. For me, when it comes to my favorite pre-ride fuel, it’s gotta be a smoothie. Why? Mostly because I’ve never been willing to wake up 3 hours before race-time to eat. I always feel “light” within an hour of drinking a smoothie. I can pack in everything I need, into a small volume, without risking a bloated stomach or extra bathroom trips during the ride. If made ahead of time, I have nothing to figure out, or even chew, in the morning. You can just relax, sip, and get your game-face on.
Recipe of the Week: Build-Your-Own Pre-Ride Smoothie
- 1 cup frozen or fresh berries
- 1/2 cup cooked oatmeal
- 1/2 cup plain yogurt (can be dairy or soy)
- 1 Tbsp organic honey
- 1/2-1 Tbsp organic coconut oil
- water/ice as needed for consistency
(280 calories, 50 grams carbs, 5 gm fiber, 8 gm protein)
15 gram carbohydrate add-ons:
- 1/2 medium banana (15 grams carbs, 0 grams protein)
- 1 Tbsp organic honey, organic agave syrup, or organic maple syrup (15 grams carbohydrates, 0 grams protein)
- ½ cup orange juice (or other 100% juice) (15 grams carbs, 0 grams protein)
- ½ cup cooked oatmeal (15 grams carbs, 3 grams protein)
- 1/3 cup cooked rice (15 grams carbs, 3 grams protein)
*For every carb add-on added, increase plain yogurt by ¼ cup
- Determine your pre-ride carb needs below. Place all base-smoothie ingredients in a blender. Add in carb add-ons and extra yogurt if needed.
- Blend well, adding water and/or ice to achieve desired consistency. Be careful to not over-process or allow too much air to incorporate into the smoothie (usually occurs when left to blend too long or on too high a speed). If you see a lot of air bubbles, allow the smoothie to “rest” a few minutes to reduce the air trapped inside.
- Drink immediately, refrigerate for up to 48 hours, or freeze (allow 24-36 hours to thaw in refrigerator). If refrigerated, shake well before drinking. For best results, drink 60-90 minutes before riding.
Determining Carbohydrate Needs:
There are fuel components that are vitally important for performance and those that are marginally important. For an athlete whose main goal is optimal performance, carbohydrates are vital. Here are some recommendations for determining carb needs before a 2+ hour ride:
If your primary goal is to lose weight OR you’re riding a short, easy, or recovery ride OR doing math in order to make a pre-ride smoothie seems ridiculous to you, stick with the base-ingredient smoothie and do not add smoothie add-ons.
If your primary goal is optimal performance on a moderate to high intensity ride (without regard of weight loss), use 0.45 – 0.68 grams of carbs per pound of weight. This is a big range, so use your discretion with approximately 0.45 grams/lb weight for moderate intensity rides 2-4 hours, and closer to 0.68 grams of carbs/lb weight for an intense 4+ hour ride. So, if you weigh 180 lbs, and your riding 5 hours at high intensity, you can use ~108 grams of carbs and would need to add ~ 4 carb add-ons.
If you are riding at a very high level and are at a “race weight” (generally underweight compared to conventional ideal-weights), consume up to 0.9 grams of carbs per pound of weight. So, if you weigh 130 lbs, aim for ~117 grams of carbs and 4-5 add-ons. Also, increase the time before the ride to 2-3 hours.
Of note: These calculations are based on 1-2 grams carbohydrate per kilogram of weight.
Many factors play a large role in optimizing your pre-ride fuel. You don’t have to pay attention to every factor on every ride. But, I use this smoothie’s ingredients to satisfy these nutrition needs:
Carbohydrates: It’s important to use carbohydrates that are appropriate for the “timing” of your ride. For example, it can take many hours for a high-fiber meal to be absorbed and metabolized. If you eat a bowl of Fiber One before a 4 hour ride, it may well still be setting in your stomach when you’re showering afterwards. And, if it’s setting in your stomach, it will put you at risk of stomach issues. For my money, I go for moderately fast-acting carbs (which are accelerated in the liquid form of a smoothie) from a variety of sources (fruit, honey, oats, dairy).
Protein: Protein is also important before long rides. As long as you choose sources that are easy for you to digest, personally, they are a great compliment to carbohydrates. I choose plain dairy yogurt because it provides both a fast acting (whey) and a slow acting (casein) protein. If you have any issues digesting casein, you can substitute whey protein, or another protein for the yogurt, or you can use soy yogurt.
Probiotics: I’m a fan of consuming these healthy bacteria before and after training. Why? They can reduce gastro-intestinal issues even in the short-term, and they increase the absorption of antioxidants.
Enzymes: The natural enzymes found in live foods, such as fresh fruit and organic honey can aide digestion. Since many athletes experience digestion issues on the bike, the more enzyme help, the better.
Antioxidants: The more work your body’s doing, the more biochemical reactions are taking place. With more reactions, you can get more of a build-up of free radicals and oxidative stress. In both the short-term and the long-term, this can spell trouble at the cellular level. The antioxidants found in fruits and organic honey can neutralize these trouble makers.
Medium Chain Triglycerides: These special saturated fats are quickly digested and metabolized like carbs, bypassing the normal slow, bile-dependant digestive path of most fats. What’s more, they are used directly by the energy powerhouses of the cell, the mitochondria, and offer more than twice the calories (energy) of carbohydrates per gram. Organic coconut oil happens to be a great source of medium chain triglycerides.
Fluids: Although you don’t want to overload your body with fluid immediately before a ride, it’s still a good idea to consume 8-16 oz. within 2 hours, especially after a dehydrating night of sleep. By adding water to a smoothie, you can easily down some fluid with this breakfast.
Delivery: As I’ve stated, I’m a fan of the drinkability of a smoothie. I’m not a fan of waking up at 4am in order to race at 7am. To me, it’s easy, and it goes down fast and smooth. It doesn’t set in my stomach or make me feel too full when it’s time to ride.
Even though this is my preference, I’ve always worked with my clients to optimize the fuel they want to use. There are definitely dozens of pre-ride fuel options that will work well. Have you found your preference? If not, maybe it’s time to build-your-own smoothie.
Fuel Your Ride. Nourish Your Body.