WE BIKE, etc. 2019 Bicycle Adventure: Nutrition in the Extreme
Where the Chocolate-Covered Mini Donuts Fit In
By: Peter Flucke and Lee Hyrkas, RD, CDE
You’ve heard the sayings, “You are what you eat” and “Food is fuel.” Well, they are true!
Never thought much about nutrition
Tracy and I have been athletes all of our lives but never gave nutrition much thought. Sure, we ate our fruits and veggies like our Moms told us. We even knew carbohydrates give us quick energy and protein rebuilds muscle, but that was about it. Our nutrition had always seemed sufficient.
What’s wrong with this picture
We started bicycle touring in the early 90s and never had any significant nutritional issues. So we thought. Then we did our first unsupported cross-country bicycle trip in 2014 and the, figurative, “wheels” almost came off.
Bicycle touring is a joy for us, but it certainly isn’t without significant efforts. There are headwinds and hills, not to mention the toll that riding “fully-loaded” day after day can take on your body.
Forty-one days into our self-supported, 4,362-mile, 72-day tandem bicycle trip across the Northern Tier of the USA, we stopped home in Green Bay, Wisconsin and weighed ourselves for the first time. We had both lost about five pounds. We were lean when we started the trip and were concerned that any more weight loss would affect our strength and, ultimately, our ability to ride. We started to eat everything in sight. In my case, that included large amounts of chocolate-covered mini donuts. Mmmm.
By the time we reached New York State on day 56, we were struggling. We were hungry all the time, or not at all, couldn’t get enough food, and were craving sugar and fat. What really scared us though was having trouble getting up in the morning, losing our ability to concentrate, less power in our legs, and fatiguing more easily. On top of that, I was getting cranky and starting to lose my nerve. Not good for the guy driving a fully-loaded tandem. What the Hell was wrong with us!
(Our near nutritional catastrophe is chronicled in our book, “Coast to Coast on a Tandem: Our Adventure Crossing the USA on a Bicycle Built for Two.”)
In 2015 we bicycle the length of the Mississippi River. Although we completed the trip, we experienced many of the same issues we had the year before. We started to suspect that our problem might be partially nutritional.
What we didn’t understand at the time was that extreme efforts require extreme nutrition.
We needed professional help
Before our trip along Historic Route 66, in 2016, we contacted Performance Nutrition Specialist Lee Hyrkas RD, CDE for help.
Q: Lee, what is your background as a Nutritionist?
I’m a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, and performance nutrition specialist. I’ve been working in the field for five years. My average week entails working with a variety of different clientele, including athletes, fitness enthusiast, weight loss focused clients, and individuals with diabetes. My passion for sports nutrition developed during my years as an athlete and my time in college. I was fortunate enough to be a student assistant strength coach at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. This experience enabled me to apply my knowledge of nutrition to high-level athletes.
Q: What nutritional evaluation did you do with us?
Peter and Tracy both went through a comprehensive assessment of their training routine, nutrition regimen and overall goals. A food diary analysis and determination of caloric needs was also completed. We discussed food preferences and food habits at home versus on tour. The comprehensive assessment provided Peter and Tracy with details on nutritional deficits and missed fueling opportunities.
Q: What were the results of our nutritional evaluation and what did that tell you about our nutritional needs?
The most concerning finding from Peter’s and Tracy’s evaluations were their foods journals revealing a 400-500 calorie deficit most days of the week. This equates to roughly a 3500 deficit for the week! Peter and Tracy were spending a lot of time on the bike and cross training, but their fueling plan wasn’t matching that workload. Additionally, we discovered that protein needs were likely inadequate, leading to longer recovery times. I also noticed a heavy reliance on sport bars for snacks and exercise fueling. We discussed energy bar alternatives (energy bites, trail mixes, smoothies, etc.) to keep their meal plan balanced and taste buds satisfied.
Q: How do the nutritional need for a recreational rider, racer, bicycle tourist differ?
Depending on the client’s goals, nutrition considerations will vary greatly between a recreational rider, racer and tourist rider. Recreational riders often need fewer calories and carbs compared to racing and tourist cyclists. The main goal for a recreational rider is to keep things balanced. Due to the intensity of racing events, it’s best for these athletes to focus on more simple carbs (sports drinks, gels, dried fruit, gummy bears, etc.) during events. Simple carbs tend to digest more easily and produce quick bursts of energy. In contrast, tourist cyclists tend to perform better with a mix of simple and complex carbs (bread, bagels, oatmeal, potatoes, noodles, etc.). Since tourist cyclists are often riding at a more moderate pace, their stomachs can tolerate protein and fat better than racing cyclists.
Q: How do Tracy’s nutritional needs differ from mine?
Due to Tracy’s body size, gender, and hormonal differences, her calorie and protein needs were lower than Peter’s. Also, females tend to burn more fat during submaximal exercise. On a day to day basis, I find that certain females perform better with slightly lower carb intake and higher fat intake. Experimentation is key.
Q: What were the strategies you recommended for us during training? While on a tour?
As Peter and Tracy started to ramp up their training, our number one goal was to trial new fueling strategies. Experimenting during training helps ensure that the body will react well during an event or tour. As for hydration, Peter and Tracy have done an excellent job at having a generous amount of water bottle holders on their tandem. I recommended developing a consistent hydrating pattern on the bike and alternating between water and sports drinks. It’s best to take sips of fluid every 10-15 minutes of moderate to intense exercise. Most individuals can tolerate a maximum of 33 oz. of fluid per hour of exercise. Over consuming electrolyte rich beverages can lead to GI issues (gas, bloating, nausea, etc.). This is why alternating with water is key. After workouts or during breaks on the road, I encouraged Peter and Tracy to hydrate with nutrient rich fluids such as chocolate milk, 100% juice or smoothies. Warm chicken broth can also make a nice treat along the way.
Peter and Tracy just needed to find the right food pairings to unlock their bodies’ athletic potential.
Another key area that we worked on was creating a mental checklist of food groups that should be included at meals and snacks. I guided Peter and Tracy on setting up sample meal and snack ideas that included the proper mix of protein, carbs and fats for performance and recovery. We discussed food combinations that might be more accessible on the road (energy bites, trail mixes, string cheese with fruit, bagels with nut butter, etc.). Peter and Tracy just needed to find the right food pairings to unlock their bodies’ athletic potential.
As I mentioned earlier, both Peter and Tracy had some work to do on adding in protein rich foods more consistently. Endurance athletes often require 0.5 – 1 gram per pound of protein per body weight per day. For example, a 170 lb. rider would need at least 85 grams of protein per day. I often find ~0.7 grams to be a sweet spot for a lot of athletes. We worked on spreading their protein intake over 4-6 meals/snacks in a day. This spacing aids in proper protein utilization, reduced muscle wasting and enhanced recovery from exercise. We also worked on scheduling protein rich meals before and after their workouts. On tour, we discussed simple protein options to grab from convenience stores (string cheese, Greek yogurt cups, cottage cheese cups, chocolate milk, boiled eggs, nuts, jerky, etc.).
A benefit of Peter and Tracy focusing on their calorie intake and meal composition, was ensuring adequate amounts of vitamins (A, D, C, E, K, B vitamins, etc.) and minerals (sodium, iron, potassium, magnesium, calcium, etc.) were consumed. Under-fueling and unbalanced meals are precursors for nutrient deficiencies. Although a multivitamin can help in this area, it shouldn’t replace a well-balanced fueling plan. Instead, think of a multivitamin as an insurance policy for days that your fueling plan isn’t perfect. Remember to check off those fruit and veggies frequently at meals. The vitamins and phytochemicals in produce may improve your recovery time and fight unwanted illness. Whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats will provide the rest of the essential micronutrients.
I believe one of the most successful pieces that Peter and Tracy implemented, was consistency in meal timing. Peter and Tracy began fueling their bodies’ every 2-4 hours. We also focused on scaling meal portions up or down depending on their training demands week to week. This helped Peter and Tracy recover faster and maintain their goal weights more easily. Many active individuals miss this piece of the puzzle.
One major issue that many endurance athletes run into is taste fatigue. Taste fatigue occurs when an individual eats the same food/beverage over and over again. This can happen at meals or during a long tour. My number one piece of advice to prevent this is to find food pairings that stimulate different taste buds. For example, sweet and salty combinations often work well (fruit with cheese, dates filled with salted almonds, jerky with dried fruit, etc.). Further, I encouraged Peter and Tracy to keep a variety of protein, carb and healthy fat options around the house. This helps prevent eating the same meal/snack over and over again. We want our taste buds to look forward to our next eating opportunity.
On tour, Peter’s energy needs ranged from ~5000-7000 calories per day. Tracy in the stoker position, had an impressive output of ~4000-6000 calories per day.
After we reviewed the findings of their food diaries, Peter and Tracy realized that we needed to calculate their energy needs more accurately to prevent declines in performance and mental fatigue during their upcoming tour. On tour, Peter’s energy needs ranged from ~5000-7000 calories per day. Tracy in the stoker position, had an impressive output of ~4000-6000 calories per day. You can see why it’s so easy to unintentionally lose weight on tour.
Estimating Calorie Needs
A simple technique to estimate your calorie needs is to take your body weight in pounds and multiply it by 11. This will provide you with your resting metabolic rate (RMR). Now we will take our RMR and multiply it by an activity factor. Below, are guidelines. Again, this is an estimate and will need to be adjusted to each individual.
|Weekly Activity Level||Multiply RMR by This |
|Desk Job + sedentary lifestyle||1.2|
|Desk job + 1-3 days of moderate activity||1.4|
|Sedentary Job + 3-5 days of hard training||1.6|
|Active job + 4-6 days of hard training||1.8|
|Very active job + 7 days of hard training||2.0|
170 lb. individual x 11 = 1870 calories x 1.8 = 3,366 calories per day.
One of the most challenging aspects of working with Peter and Tracy was the availability of nutrition on their tour. Peter and Tracy could only pack so many items on their tandem, so they were at the mercy of what the convenience stores or restaurants had to offer. This is where you have to have the mindset of doing your best with what you’re given. We discussed several on the go options for each food category. This knowledge enabled Peter and Tracy to make the best choices possible in each situation.
On the Go Snacking
|Protein Ideas||Carb Ideas||Healthy Fat Ideas|
|Tuna Packets||Fresh Fruit||Nuts/Seeds|
|Greek Yogurt||Fruit Cups/Dried Fruit||Nut Butters|
|Cottage Cheese||Oatmeal Packets||Avocados|
|Boiled Egg||Granola Bars||Guacamole Cups|
|Jerky||Energy Bites||Hummus Cups|
| Protein Drinks|
| Protein Bars|
|Nuts/Seeds||Rice Cakes||Fish Packets/Sardines|
|Nut Butters||Granola||Salad Dressing|
|String Cheese||Graham Crackers||Full Fat Dairy|
Lee and I have a running joke about chocolate-covered mini donuts.
Q: Where do the chocolate-covered donuts fit in?
I’m a big believer in the 80/20 rule. 80 percent of our fuel should come from nutrient dense foods and 20 percent from fun foods. Fun foods can be a lifesaver for ultra-endurance athletes or long distance bicycle tours. Fun foods provide much needed calories and flavor. Also, fun foods can do the mind well when it’s exhausted. Peter and Tracy know that I’m all for them incorporating chocolate covered mini donuts from time to time. J
Q: How can people contact you if they want more information or a personal nutritional evaluation?
Individuals can contact me by email (HyrkasRD@gmail.com). My number one goal is to assist athletes and active individuals in maximizing their health and performance.
This stuff works
Armed with the nutritional knowledge we gained from Lee and the strategies he taught us, our 2016 tour along Historic Route 66 was one of our best.
We are feeling more than prepared for our next great adventure later this year. 7,000 miles in five months. Our route will take us from Washington State in June east across the middle of the country to the eastern seaboard where we will ride from Massachusetts to Florida, Alabama and Mississippi, ending in New Orleans, Louisiana in late October. This will be our longest trip yet and will cover our final 21 states in the lower 48!
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