I had a recreational rider ask me today what he should drink while riding. My answer wasn’t what he expected.
Basically, I believe recreational athletes don’t need nearly as much sugar while working out as they have been led to believe. Their biggest problem is not fading or bonking while on a workout, but rather trying to lose excess weight. All of that sugar is not helping. They need to train their bodies to use more fat for fuel. Pouring down sugar from the start of a workout doesn’t help that at all.
I told him what he should use depended on two things: how long and how intense and the workout is. For workouts of an hour or less regardless of how hard they are water is all that is needed for even moderately fit people. For very fit athletes that may be extended to 90 minutes or even two hours. Beyond these durations, as the workout intensity increases, the need for sugar also increases.
For these long and intense workouts how much sugar you need depends once again on how fit you are. Some people, especially those who eat a diet composed largely of high-glycemic-load and high-glycemic-index carbohydrates (this is mainly starch) will need more sugar than the athlete who eats a diet that is more vegetable, fruit and protein focused. I see this every winter when we test the athletes I coach. Some are obviously sugar burners while others are fat burners. The fat burners have a definite advantage when it comes to endurance in long events.
He also wanted to know what he should take in right after a workout. If it was an hour or so easy nothing out of the ordinary is needed. If it was long or highly intense and there is another important workout coming up soon then some sugar and perhaps some protein may prove beneficial. But this doesn’t have to be anything complicated or expensive. Real food will work quite nicely. I drink some fruit juice cut with ice tea, a couple of handfuls of crackers, a banana and perhaps leftovers from a recent meal.
I’m afraid we have been led to believe that we must use exotic food and drink products because we’re athletes. That may be good for the manufacturers’ bottom line, but it really isn’t necessary for most athletes’ training and performance.
Of course, I also told him that if he was training like pro endurance athletes and putting in 20 to 35 hours of training a week including lots of high intensity he’d need a lot more sugar coming in at all times of the day including during workouts, post-workout and until the next workout. But he rides about 8 hours per week, in a good week. All of this expensive stuff he’s been led to believe he needs really will have no positive effect on his riding or his fitness. In fact, I think it might prove a hindrance.