I never really paid attention to the calories burned during cycling until recently, and it’s still somewhat shocking when I look at it. With my love of cycling rekindled by AIDS/LifeCycle I have spent a lot more time in the saddle this year. Between short criterium races, my longest at 140mi, or the most elevation with the Death Ride, I have needed to be very mindful of my nutrition before, during, and after these rides. In short, cycling can burn a lot of calories.
The “nutrition facts” panel on commercially sold food typically accounts for a 2,000 calorie daily allocation. This is a rough approximation of what the average American should eat. Reasonable I suppose, but let me share some of the calorie expenditures estimated on my recent rides:
- Patterson Pass Road Race, 43mi, 4,400ft elevation: 2,400 calories
- Sonoma Parks tour, 140mi, 6,700ft elevation: 5,122 calories
- Death ride, 103mi, 14,000ft elevation: 7,557 calories
The numbers are insane! I expect that I need almost 3,000 calories a day just to keep my weight and activity levels normal. That means for these more significant rides my body requires 3-4x the average daily suggested intake.
“I wish I could eat like you!”
I will frequently get comments about my appetite. Eating 3-5k calories a day is quite the challenge! Are you sure you’re up to it? 😄
Because I have no idea what a thousand calories look like, I have had to enlist the help of a calorie tracker. In doing so I have learned a few things:
- Making each meal ~1k calories is hard, especially challenging when eating vegetarian.
- The day needs four meals, not three.
- Feeling hungry during the day is a sign that I’m behind.
- “Palate Fatigue” is a thing.
Nutrition science is something I am learning more serious athletes spend a lot of time thinking about and experimenting with. Logically it makes sense: if your body is the engine, food is the fuel and something you should be optimizing to improve performance. As a lay person it is still surprising to me how rudimentary my own nutrition education was, remember the food pyramid?
There’s still a lot to learn and tune with my own nutrition as it relates to my weight and performance. I wish I had useful tips to share, but the experience is so individualized that I think you may be best suited exploring what works best for you. Keeping track of calories, macronutrients, and expenditures is a start, but there’s a lot worth exploring!