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I work ~15 miles from home and have made the decision to make the commute via bike. This is for a couple reasons. First of which being I don't actually have my license yet, second being that taking the bus actually takes longer, and third, that I'm getting my exercise AND commuting done at the same time.

I was initially doing this on a 45lb+ mountain bike with large tires and no pedal clips, but I recently bought a nice $700 road bike and have cut half an hour off the trip so that it only takes about an hour each way.

I don't so much mind the time it takes, even though it leaves me with little when I get back, as much as I do how tired I get afterwards. At work isn't too bad because I'm sitting most of the time anyway, but after I get home I've spent 8 hours at work, and two hours riding 30 miles on my bike, and I don't have much energy left to enjoy what remains of my time.

Diet is, of course, what I'm asking about here. I'm earning a modest pay and trying to put every penny towards college, so I'm not looking to reinvent how I eat, just make some switches or additions here and there. I've tried eating large amounts of pasta the day before, but still didn't see much improvement (I get the feeling I've misunderstood something about carb loading). I would drink more gatorade or other electrolyte-replenishing drinks, but I'm not sure where or how to buy them cheap and in bulk so the cost doesn't add up too much. The other thing I'm concerned about is protein. I'm probably not getting as much of it as I should be, but don't really know what to do about it. I've heard that people who weight train use whey protein - is that something bikers should do as well? If so, how would I go about taking it?

I'm relatively new to biking, so even the simplest advice would be appreciated.

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Great advice below. One thing not focused on though - You don't need to spend mega-$$$ to get the right food. Plain Water is sufficient on the rides provided you eat well between rides and start out well hydrated. Modern mass market "sports drinks" are a marketing stunt aimed at making lolly-water seem healthy. They contain too much sugar to be ISO-tonic. –  mattnz Aug 13 '12 at 23:00
    
All of the advice below is decent, but is just generic advice. If you were to edit your answer to add what your current diet is, then you might get more specific answers. As it is, just being tired could be the commute, poor diet, poor sleep, lack of fitness, any/all of the above, etc. –  JohnP Aug 14 '12 at 20:29
    
+1 on the Nuun tabs recommended below. Get them online-- shop around-- and know there are many equivalents (tabs that supply electrolytes without added sugar). Chocolate milk, believe it or leave it, is also a great recovery beverage. Regarding your situation, you did not indicate how long you have been doing this. If you are consistent with your riding, you should see fairly rapid improvement in your strength and stamina over the first three to four months of riding. After that, progress will be slower. –  Zippy The Pinhead Aug 15 '12 at 3:21

6 Answers 6

up vote 14 down vote accepted

The simplest advice is: just keep it up. Give your body time to adapt to the new workload you're putting on it, and it will get easier and easier.

For drinks, you can buy gatorade powder and mix it yourself at home. $19.49 for 9 gallons of gatorade is way better than paying retail price for a quart at a time.

As I understand carb loading, it's not something you can do for a repeated effort like a daily commute. The idea is to deprive your body of carbohydrates for a period of time, then binge shortly before an endurance effort. You can't really achieve a level that would be useful inside a repeating 24-hour period.

Lastly, don't sweat protein. It probably wouldn't hurt, but any benefit would be extremely minor for the workloads you're doing, and isn't worth significant effort or attention. Again, just keep up with the cycling and your body will quickly begin to adapt automatically.

Edit: Oh, and one thing that will help is to consume carbohydrates immediately after your commute. The human body absorbs carbs significantly more quickly after a workout, and uses them to replenish any lost stores. Waiting even a half hour greatly diminishes this effect, so the sooner the better. It doesn't have to be a full meal or anything; anything is better than nothing.

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The powdered gatorade sounds like a great option. I'll try that! Thanks! –  mowwwalker Aug 12 '12 at 4:45
    
Chocolate milk is a great post workout drink. (Regular milk with chocolate powder works fine). It is available most everywhere, lots of carbs and protein and most people enjoy the taste. –  geoffc Aug 12 '12 at 11:15
    
Beer is a great post-workout drink, too, but might be frowned upon by his boss. :) –  Stephen Touset Aug 12 '12 at 14:11
    
Is Gatorade that much better than say a glass of orange juice + 2 glasses of water? –  mgb Aug 12 '12 at 17:36
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Sports drinks are way over priced for what they really are (water,flavouring,sugar(carb),salt). I've been making my own for years at pennies a litre. Do a web search for homemade sports drinks and you'll get lots of recipes and it'll save you a heap of cash. The easiest is to do something like 3:1 water:OJ with a pinch of salt. You'll get your fluids back with a slight amount of sugar for energy and the salt is to replace what you loose from sweat. It could be argued though that you don't really need a sports drink for 2 hours of activity but that's another thread. –  Chef Flambe Aug 13 '12 at 17:58

I would drink more gatorade or other electrolyte-replenishing drinks, but I'm not sure where or how to buy them cheap and in bulk so the cost doesn't add up too much.

  • I've been using Nuun tablets - 12 to a container, but breaking the tablet in 1/2 works fine too in the water bottle.

  • For a 1 hour ride, Gu gel (normal or Roctane) might be worth considering. One at least, to get to work.

There's too little information to say much about your diet, and it's not the sort of thing anyone can definitively recommend without having seen you in person and having more detail. Your doctor would be a good place to start, there are numerous diet strategies you can research.

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There's a couple of things you need to pay attention to. One is bonking, that's where you don't have the carbs needed by the liver to process fat. Generally you need to worry about this only for "endurance" activities, which was defined by the dietitian that was giving the lecture I attended as "more than 90 minutes of exercise" at one time. You've been working all day and then doing a hard ride so it may apply anyway. Easy way to tell if you are bonking is if you feel fatigued (sounds right from your description) especially if combined with being irritable (don't know from your description). This is a fairly easy fix - about 50-100 cals from carbs every 40 minutes of exercise. If you can drink the sweet stuff, you can get plenty of carbs in your drink. I prefer to chew something now and again.

Next importance is your recovery "drink". Turns out timing matters. You need to get 150-300 calories into your system within 15 minutes of the end of exercising. Ideally this should be in the ratio of 4 carbs : 1 protein. Chocolate milk makes a good ratio here and is yummy. I'm not supper picky about what I do for a recovery a lot of time and more often than not my recovery "drink" is a PB&J sandwich...I also don't pay too much attention to the ratio...I do pay attention to how quick I eat it. I've noticed a big difference if I eat/drink something right after I get off the bike compared to after I've showered and changed.

If you are saving for college, spending a lot of money on gels and what not probably won't fit the plan. I've seen at least one study where bagels were compared to gels and the bottom line was the number of carbs mattered but it didn't much matter how you consumed them, so my two cents is get some decent carbs, but go cheaper. Bagels, fig newtons, PB&J are some of my favorites. We have a good bagel place nearby and I can get a mix of flavors without breaking the bank. For bike nutrition you can get the "day-old" and freeze them.

My $0.02 on the whey protein...better ways to spend your money. Decent food at the right times.

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tbh, I wasn't sure if you were serious about chocolate milk, but now that I've heard two people say it, I'm starting to wonder.. What brand of chocolate milk, and should I drink it while, or after riding? –  mowwwalker Aug 12 '12 at 18:05
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Just about any brand. 2% has the "right" ratios, but I like to mix my own with non-fat. This should be a recovery drink - right after your finish, ideally within 15 minutes. –  Ken Hiatt Aug 13 '12 at 17:31

A couple of potential quick fixes:

Slow Down A Little

If you cycle a bit slower (5-10%) you should find that takes a lot less out of you and it will only add a few minutes to your commute.

Take The Bus One Day A Week

If you exercise 5 days in a row you're going to feel tired, particularly on the 4th and 5th days. If you work Monday to Friday then try taking the bus on a Wednesday. It'll give your body a chance to recover.

Diet

I'd suggest keeping a log of everything you eat for a couple of weeks. Work out how much carbohydrate, protein and fat you consume as well as the total number of calories. Packaged food should say on it, there are databases for other food (e.g. this one). As far as your diet goes the 2 most likely issues are:

Not Eating Enough Carbohydrate

About 50-60% of your calorie intake should be in the form of carbohydrate (ref), about 25% fat and the remainder protein. If you don't eat enough carbohydrate then you'll struggle when you cycle as your body will run out of easily obtainable forms of energy.

Not Eating At The Right Time

Eating some high carbohydrate food about 2 hours before you cycle should help. Go for something that will be slowly absorbed rather than sweets. I normally eat a banana or a cereal bar. You may need to experiment with the timing and what you eat a little.

Consuming carbohydrate while cycling may also help. You want something that will be quickly absorbed. Sports drinks work well, you can also make your own - they're basically water and sugar with a pinch of salt. I eat jelly babies, so go with whatever works for you. Somewhere in the region of 100 calories ought to be enough for an hour of cycling.

Eating after exercise is also a good idea. I usually time my exercise so that I'm eating my normal meal shortly afterwards, but if there's going to be more than an hour then I'll have a snack - usually a banana or a cereal bar.

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It should be noted that bananas are one of the food which moves through you the fastest because it is basically all simple sugars. It's great for active people (like on this question and site in general) but it is a quick sugar spike more than something substantial . –  Brad Aug 15 '12 at 20:19

Yep:

  1. Keep doing it. When I commuted regularly (10 miles each way but with a 25 mile "shortcut" in the morning) I had more energy than I do now (though admittedly that's in part because of several medical problems).
  2. Get a decent amount of carbs, especially in the PM, somewhere between noon and 2 hours before you depart.
  3. Don't try to break any records, especially on the home-bound trip. Just keep a steady pace, and may be every few days, when you're feeling a bit more "perky", see if you can improve your pace a little.
  4. Take every 2nd or 3rd day off. The body needs a little time to recover, especially early on.
  5. Expect to be a little tired. If your schedule permits it, take a catnap right after you get home, for 30 minutes or so.
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I really doubt that this is a diet issue. I think it is a volume issue, and it will go away if you keep at it. Taking off one day - maybe midweek - would be a good idea if you are feeling tired.

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