Carbs, carbs, carbs

There is plenty of time to obsess as we cycle our way across the Nevada basin-and-range landscape (up a mountain, down a mountain, across a valley, rinse and repeat). One key obsession is food. This is hardly a new obsession, but the irony is that the obsession is reversed from business as usual.

For the past 3.5 years I’ve been watching my calories very carefully. For the past year I’ve focused on limiting carbohydrates. Of course, I didn’t always follow the strict diet as well as I should, but I was at least paying attention to “servings” of carbs, where a serving was measured in 10g increments (e.g. 1/2 an apple or a reasonable quantity of broccoli). Bread and other grains, of course, were simply forbidden.

My expertise in the carb content of foods is now coming in handy, in the opposite direction. Our experienced cycling friends have always said that you have to eat while you ride. But being told that and really, truly, internalizing the information are not the same thing. Tony and I have each “bonked” (run out of gas) several times already. We have learned the lesson well and truly. Eat, eat, eat. Eat whatever we can find. Our bikes don’t run on gasoline; they run on calories. Especially carbs.

We are settling into a regimen:

  • Eat a solid breakfast but not crazy big. The rancher’s breakfast of 3 eggs, bacon, hash browns, and french toast does not make for a pleasant morning cycling. Even if we do burn those calories.
  • Within 1-2 hours, start nibbling.
  • Keep nibbling every half hour, or more often if we’re working really hard.
  • Stopping for a quick break every 30 minutes also lets us stand up and stretch.
  • Lunch is similar to breakfast. Take a real break and real food (if possible), but don’t overdo.
  • Don’t let ourselves get hungry! Then it’s too late.
  • Google tells us to consume 30-60 grams of carbohydrates an hour. My strict diet limited me to 50 grams a day!

A good day’s consumption might be:

  • Breakfast sandwich (1-2 eggs and sausage on an english muffin)
  • Nibbles on almonds / raisins / other dried fruit (carbs and fiber)
  • 1-2 bottles of gatorade (calories, salts, electrolytes, etc.)
  • Some kind of granola bar or two. Or three. (I usually eat 1/3 to 1/4 of a bar at a time.)
  • Fresh fruit
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Lunch sandwich with a side salad or cole slaw. (One day we made the mistake of having a green salad for lunch. Ran out of gas an hour later.)
  • Chocolate milk

But we’ve learned it’s more important to consume than to consume well. Reasonably healthful options are not always available. I’m not terribly ashamed to confess that we’ve resorted to:

  • Muffins, pancakes, coffee cake, donuts
  • Reese’s cups, or other candy
  • Peanut butter filled pretzels
  • Fritos. (Salt! Calories!)
  • French fries. Lots of french fries.
  • Chocolate shakes, on the rare times we can get them. Usually at the end of the day. Beyond wonderful.

We ran across a solo cyclist who is subsisting almost entirely on tortillas and peanut butter. I know peanut butter is a pretty amazing food, but that is just horrid.

You might wonder why we didn’t figure out this food thing before now. I’ve had plenty of time to think about that too. Most of our training rides were in the 3-4 hour range, and we’d often stop for lunch mid-ride. Now we’re riding much longer days. Also, we lived at sea level so most of our rides started uphill and ended downhill. Finally, we did sort of know, but now we most sincerely know. Eat early and often!

By the way, despite consuming a ridiculous quantity of food, our clothes are getting looser. TransAm: A weight loss plan for the loony.


5 thoughts on “Carbs, carbs, carbs

  1. Sounds awesome. I like eating. Too bad the food options are not always in the delightful range. It will be interesting to hear if you get tired of eating. I’ve heard that happens with serious body builders and athletes who have to consume thousands and thousands of calories per day to maintain their training and weight. Eventually it can just become awful to have to put more food in your mouth.


    1. We are far from the point of dreading food. But we do need to remind each other to nibble. There’s a downward spiral when you start to run low, we need to watch for each other and be persistent.



  2. We’ve eaten a LOT of hamburgers in the first three weeks of this trip. Mostly because that is all there is to eat at bars — we’ve had a lot of meals at bars (often the only place to eat in some of these small towns). I’ve probably eaten more hamburgers on this trip than I normally do in 18 months. On the other hand, I’ve really been enjoying all the fries. And our knowledge of all the Gatorade flavors has really skyrocketed.


  3. I remember reading about an ultra-endurance racing cyclist who, in addition to the camel back for water, carried a water bottle on the bike full of salad oil. Yep, just chugged down vegetable oil, straight from the bottle!


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