Review by Elizabeth McKinley
Fuel Your Ride: Complete Performance Nutrition for Cyclists
By Molly Hurford with Nanci Guest, MSc, RD, CSCS
240 pp. Rodale Books
As someone currently training to race 200 miles of Kansas gravel in June, reading this book could not have come at a better time. Anyone who has ever prepared for a major athletic event can affirm the importance of nutrition when training. It doesn’t matter the number of intervals completed or miles ridden, that hill is going to look a lot steeper and that gravel plenty deeper if you’re subsisting on a diet of leftover pizza, M&Ms, Cheeto Puffs, beer, and ice-cream (hello, all my vices). I know, that seems obvious, but knowing what to eat and when to eat is not always straightforward. This is where author, writer, and certified USA Cycling coach Molly Hurford and her team of contributing specialists (i.e. certified nutritionists and dietitians, coaches, and professional cyclists) come in to save the day.
Fuel Your Ride is a comprehensive guide to performance nutrition for cyclists that takes into account the different nutritional requirements for training rides, race performance, and recovery. It features chapters on food and hydration, supplements, and weight loss, and it places special attention on what to eat and the best time to eat. Hurford’s writing is not laden with unexplained scientific jargon; it’s accessible and caters to the amateur cyclist. Most importantly, Hurford recognizes her audience is human -- people have jobs and families and budgets and social lives, and she accounts for that. According to nutritionist Jordan Dubé, “one of the worst things athletes can do is alienate themselves from society and families based on their diet. If you’re constantly so regimented that you keep yourself from eating the things you want 100 percent of the time, you’re probably not going to be very happy or well-adjusted. Then you run the risk of a full-blown binge.” So, it’s possible to enjoy that beer after a CX race, but maybe drink some water and eat a few pretzels first.
At times, the amount of information presented can become overwhelming, even when put in layman’s terms. Wait, was it no fat before a ride or after? When are carbs OK to eat? How much protein is enough? What does the mitochondria do again? Fortunately, Hurford closes each chapter with bulleted summaries, listing the most important takeaways from the section – a Cliff Notes version, in a sense.
To summarize Hurford’s overall message, being a healthy cyclist is simple, as long as you keep the following things in mind:
Ride to eat, eat to ride - Preparedness and moderation are key. What you eat hours, days, weeks, and months before a ride matters, and it’s important to match your daily caloric intake with your planned ride. For example, your breakfast before riding a century should look a little different than what you eat before a normal morning commute or a rest day. Prepare for in-ride and post-ride fuel, too. If you’re like me, you may feel especially ravenous at the end of a long ride or interval workout, which means you’re apt to eat everything in sight. (Sometimes, I liken it to transforming into No-Face from Spirited Away). As Hurford explains, there are several ways to prevent this. Firstly, eat more in-ride. If you properly fuel while on the bike, you won’t be starving when you roll up to the cafe or restaurant or your front door. If you know you’ll be riding for more than an hour, slip some healthy snacks into your jersey pocket and be sure to drink water. After all, no one likes bonking, which Hurford appropriately defines as “the grumpy sensation that you hate everything – your ride partners, your bike, your helmet, your stupid socks.” Secondly, have a prepared meal ready and waiting after a ride. Think crockpots, i.e the magical kitchen appliance all busy (or lazy) people should own.
Eat whole foods - Stop demonizing macronutrients – eat carbs, eat fat, eat protein. (Demonize trans fats, though, as they might be the devil). Diet foods will not fulfill you because they are processed foods with added sugar. As Hurford points out, “anytime that a diet ignores one of the three essential macronutrients, it’s not a smart choice for your body, especially for athletes.” Most importantly, don’t skip protein. “Protein aids recovery and helps you grow mitochondria, which, in turn, leads to increased aerobic capacity.” This doesn’t mean you have to buy the expensive protein powder; Hurford offers simple alternatives that are equally effective (e.g. a glass of skim milk). Gels may be good during a race, especially if you don’t want to whip out your ham and cheese sandwich in the middle of the peloton, but when training, keep the whole food mentality. Test what works for your body. Eat what you know. Again, it’s OK to be simple. If you’re not feeling goat cheese and arugula on quinoa bread for an in-ride snack, just make yourself the true OG sandwich: PB&J. Sure, organic options mean less chemicals going into your body, but if it’s out of your price range, that’s OK, too. Buy the regular vegetables. Buy the cheaper fruit. Don’t make excuses.
Of course, the above advice is only a small glimpse into the book’s content. The detail and depth Hurford provides is invaluable, and her informal tone is inviting. Especially enjoyable are Hurford’s interviews with professional cyclists, excerpts of which are interspersed throughout the chapters. The input acts as a reminder that these cyclists are normal people – albeit extremely healthy and driven people. In most cases, they are not millionaires with personal chefs and a home juice bar. They’re often looking for the 2 for 1 deals in the grocery store just like everyone else. The advice from the pros also speaks to the book’s theme that everybody and every body is different. Katie Compton commits to a gluten-free diet, Ted King really, really loves salads, Jeremy Powers is an avid user of MyFitnessPal and a whole food enthusiast. You may find you connect to one athlete’s style more than another. For instance, road racer Janel Holcomb was especially relatable, if only because she often reiterated how much she loves to eat. (Not to mention, my affection for Holcomb doubled when I recently discovered she’ll also be racing DK200 this year).
In the end, Hurford’s book offers tips that could prove helpful to all types of cyclists. So, if you’re looking to know more about macronutrients; what to eat before, after, and during a ride; how to lose weight in a responsible and healthy manner that doesn’t interfere with your training or performance; and/or how to care for your body when you’re ill or injured, then I recommend this book. It’s the perfect tool to get your nutrition on track.
Elizabeth McKinley riding gravel at Night Bison. Photo by Kayci Sterzer
Elizabeth McKinley. Although fond of bikes from a young age, Elizabeth's love of cycling blossomed in 2012 when she moved to the city after college and began commuting to work. In 2014, she decided to explore the competitive side of cycling and never looked back. A proud member of BFF Bikes Racing Team, Elizabeth races cyclocross and road, and, this year, she has plans to tackle the grueling world of endurance gravel grinding. When not biking, Elizabeth can be found working as a high school librarian and daydreaming about obscure historical trivia, her next outdoor adventure, and the day she'll finally learn how to bunny hop. Elizabeth is a Chainlink Ambassador.