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5 Ways to Optimize Carbohydrates While Training

I’ve had many athletes ask me for creative ways to fuel during cycling training rides. Fueling well can be more challenging on a bike. It’s important to figure out how to fuel well so you can also optimize performance.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour of exercise. Many athletes fail to understand the importance or the reason why we need this amount. Here’s the “why.” The average person can process only about one gram of carbohydrates per minute, regardless of how much is consumed. The challenge with digesting these carbs isn’t your muscles but your intestines, which transport glucose from food you eat into your bloodstream. And it can only do it so fast. Eating more carbs doesn’t necessarily mean the absorption rate increases. What it can increase is the risk of an upset stomach. It is very easy to overload carbs, especially when you’re doing an activity for a long period of time. The accumulation of the carbs can cause a bottleneck and a very upset digestive system.

Here are 5 tips to optimize your carbohydrates when training and avoid the stomach ache:

1. Drink a low-carb, electrolyte liquid. This will ensure you’re getting adequate liquids.

2. Combine light eating with the fluids. Eat fig bars or a banana.

3. Consume energy foods that contain a mix of sugars (such as glucose and fructose, or glucose and maltodextrin) instead of just one type of sugar. This allows your body to increase oxidation. This means the sugar leaves your gut and enters your bloodstream faster so you’ll have more readily-available energy when you need it most.

4. Don’t wait until you’re hungry or thirsty to eat and drink. Take small nibbles and sips from the start of your ride.

5. Supplement bars and gels with carb-rich, low-protein, moderate-fat "real" foods. Don't worry about specific amounts of protein or fat; just eat what tastes good so you keep eating.

Spending hours on the bike is just one way to increase your performance. Learning to eat well while riding is another great way to increase performance.

Vanessa Spiller is a Certified Nutritionist with a strong interest and passion for the every day athlete. Have a specific question for Vanessa? Email her at

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