Early Morning Fuel
What’s the best fuel for an early morning ride?
Question: Out of habit, I’ve always eaten cereal (granola) before my morning ride. For the last several weeks, I’ve been riding at 6am to avoid the heat, and eating at 5:30 am. I haven’t had any stomach issues, but I am not sure that this is the best pre-ride meal strategy. My legs have felt heavy since starting to ride earlier. My rides are 1.5-2 hours. Should I eat less, something different, or nothing at all? What do you think?
Kelli’s Answer: I think your pre-ride fuel strategy can be improved. The issue with eating a moderately high fiber breakfast within 30 minutes of beginning a ride is that it will likely take too long to digest, absorb, and metabolize to provide any energy to your muscles at all. And, what’s more, if the meal is setting in your stomach, you are increasing your risk of stomach cramps (but it sounds like you’ve been okay here) and a reduced bloodflow to your legs since your body is working at digesting.
Although many athletes feel like they need a full breakfast before a morning ride, I think you’ll have better result with less food, and ones that you can eat quickly and metabolize faster.
My first choice would be 2 Tablespoons organic honey + 0.5 – 1 Tbsp organic coconut oil (all straight off the spoon). Why? These are fast-acting, quick-metabolizing energy foods. The honey provides moderately fast carbs that act similarly to maltodextrin (moderately fast and longer lasting than glucose), natural enzymes to improve digestion, and antioxidants. The organic coconut oil provides fast-acting medium chain triglycerides which are used directly by the mitochondria of cells (energy producers) without the need for bile or slow digestion.
Another option would be a sports food with a moderate amount of protein – something like a Clif bar. Or, a smoothie with 1/4 cup yogurt, 1/2 banana, 1 Tbsp honey, and water. These foods will also digest quickly and provide energy during your ride.
And, don’t forget about 8 oz. of fluid.
During your ride, especially if high intensity and over 60 minutes, or moderate intensity and over 90 minutes, you’ll still need during-ride fuel as well. With all rides in heat, you’ll want fluids and lytes!