Cyclingnews TV   News  Tech   Features   Road   MTB   BMX   Cyclo-cross   Track    Photos    Fitness    Letters   Search   Forum  

Recently on

Bayern Rundfahrt
Photo ©: Schaaf

Form & Fitness Q & A

Got a question about fitness, training, recovery from injury or a related subject? Drop us a line at Please include as much information about yourself as possible, including your age, sex, and type of racing or riding.

The Cyclingnews form & fitness panel

Carrie Cheadle, MA ( is a Sports Psychology consultant who has dedicated her career to helping athletes of all ages and abilities perform to their potential. Carrie specialises in working with cyclists, in disciplines ranging from track racing to mountain biking. She holds a bachelors degree in Psychology from Sonoma State University as well as a masters degree in Sport Psychology from John F. Kennedy University.

Dave Palese ( is a USA Cycling licensed coach and masters' class road racer with 16 years' race experience. He coaches racers and riders of all abilities from his home in southern Maine, USA, where he lives with his wife Sheryl, daughter Molly, and two cats, Miranda and Mu-Mu.

Kelby Bethards, MD received a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Iowa State University (1994) before obtaining an M.D. from the University of Iowa College of Medicine in 2000. Has been a racing cyclist 'on and off' for 20 years, and when time allows, he races Cat 3 and 35+. He is a team physician for two local Ft Collins, CO, teams, and currently works Family Practice in multiple settings: rural, urgent care, inpatient and the like.

Fiona Lockhart ( is a USA Cycling Expert Coach, and holds certifications from USA Weightlifting (Sports Performance Coach), the National Strength and Conditioning Association (Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach), and the National Academy for Sports Nutrition (Primary Sports Nutritionist). She is the Sports Science Editor for Carmichael Training Systems, and has been working in the strength and conditioning and endurance sports fields for over 10 years; she's also a competitive mountain biker.

Eddie Monnier ( is a USA Cycling certified Elite Coach and a Category II racer. He holds undergraduate degrees in anthropology (with departmental honors) and philosophy from Emory University and an MBA from The Wharton School of Business.

Eddie is a proponent of training with power. He coaches cyclists (track, road and mountain bike) of all abilities and with wide ranging goals (with and without power meters). He uses internet tools to coach riders from any geography.

David Fleckenstein, MPT ( is a physical therapist practicing in Boise, ID. His clients have included World and U.S. champions, Olympic athletes and numerous professional athletes. He received his B.S. in Biology/Genetics from Penn State and his Master's degree in Physical Therapy from Emory University. He specializes in manual medicine treatment and specific retraining of spine and joint stabilization musculature. He is a former Cat I road racer and Expert mountain biker.

Since 1986 Steve Hogg ( has owned and operated Pedal Pushers, a cycle shop specialising in rider positioning and custom bicycles. In that time he has positioned riders from all cycling disciplines and of all levels of ability with every concievable cycling problem.They include World and National champions at one end of the performance spectrum to amputees and people with disabilities at the other end.

Current riders that Steve has positioned include Davitamon-Lotto's Nick Gates, Discovery's Hayden Roulston, National Road Series champion, Jessica Ridder and National and State Time Trial champion, Peter Milostic.

Pamela Hinton has a bachelor's degree in Molecular Biology and a doctoral degree in Nutritional Sciences, both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She did postdoctoral training at Cornell University and is now an assistant professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia where she studies the effects of iron deficiency on adaptations to endurance training and the consequences of exercise-associated changes in menstrual function on bone health.

Pam was an All-American in track while at the UW. She started cycling competitively in 2003 and is the defending Missouri State Road Champion. Pam writes a nutrition column for Giana Roberge's Team Speed Queen Newsletter.

Dario Fredrick ( is an exercise physiologist and head coach for Whole Athlete™. He is a former category 1 & semi-pro MTB racer. Dario holds a masters degree in exercise science and a bachelors in sport psychology.

Scott Saifer ( has a Masters Degree in exercise physiology and sports psychology and has personally coached over 300 athletes of all levels in his 10 years of coaching with Wenzel Coaching.

Kendra Wenzel ( is a head coach with Wenzel Coaching with 17 years of racing and coaching experience and is coauthor of the book Bike Racing 101.

Richard Stern ( is Head Coach of Richard Stern Training, a Level 3 Coach with the Association of British Cycling Coaches, a Sports Scientist, and a writer. He has been professionally coaching cyclists and triathletes since 1998 at all levels from professional to recreational. He is a leading expert in coaching with power output and all power meters. Richard has been a competitive cyclist for 20 years

Andy Bloomer ( is an Associate Coach and sport scientist with Richard Stern Training. He is a member of the Association of British Cycling Coaches (ABCC) and a member of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES). In his role as Exercise Physiologist at Staffordshire University Sports Performance Centre, he has conducted physiological testing and offered training and coaching advice to athletes from all sports for the past 4 years. Andy has been a competitive cyclist for many years.

Kim Morrow ( has competed as a Professional Cyclist and Triathlete, is a certified USA Cycling Elite Coach, a 4-time U.S. Masters National Road Race Champion, and a Fitness Professional.

Her coaching group, eliteFITcoach, is based out of the Southeastern United States, although they coach athletes across North America. Kim also owns, a resource for cyclists, multisport athletes & endurance coaches around the globe, specializing in helping cycling and multisport athletes find a coach.

Advice presented in Cyclingnews' fitness pages is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to be specific advice for individual athletes. If you follow the educational information found on Cyclingnews, you do so at your own risk. You should consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program.

Fitness questions and answers for June 21, 2004

Fitness, energy & efficiency
Red blood cell count
Loss of speed & fitness
Illness and my racing season
Hand numbness
Food intake vs liquid supplements
Endurance heart rate
Battling on cycling with a cold

Fitness, energy & efficiency

I am a male recreational cyclist, 51 years old. I ride about 70 - 100 miles a week, mostly to/from work.

I am curious whether fitness levels have any bearing on amount of calories consumed during riding. For example, if Lance and a recreational rider like myself (assuming I was the same weight and had the same wind resistance profile as Lance) were to ride side by side over 100 miles, and you normalized for his better technique, would we not burn the same calories? After all, we're both doing the same amount of work in a pure physics sense. However, my perceived exertion would be so much higher, intuitively it would seem I'm burning more.

Lee Thoburn
Pasadena, California

Scott Saifer replies:

You would most likely use more calories than Lance in covering the same distance at the same speed even if you had his enviable aerodynamic profile, height and weight. One of the benefits of extensive training is increased efficiency, meaning that the highly trained athlete uses less energy to complete the same amount of work. I don't know if this effect is fully understood (perhaps one of the other panelists will jump in). One way that efficiency could increase is that the experienced athlete might apply pedaling forces closer to tangential to the pedal circle. Less experienced athletes might also have more activation of the muscles that pull against the desired movement. A small amount of counter-tension helps control the movement and make it smooth. Excessive counter tension requires energy from the driving muscles to overcome.

Lee responds:

So it sounds like the difference will be in mechanics and technique. Meaning, if our hypothetical amateur rider could achieve the same purely mechanical efficiencies, he would burn the same calories as Lance, while sweating and grunting like a pig. I realize its hypothetical, as one goes all inefficient when one is working way beyond one's comfort level.

Cyclingnews editor Jeff Jones weighs in:

Isn't it something to do with fitness (not just efficiency) as well? i.e. isn't there *some* heart rate dependence on calories burned. To me it seems intuitive that this would be the case. If you take someone who is unfit and they're riding at 35 km/h at 90 percent of their max HR, then a few weeks/months later, under the same conditions they are riding at 40 km/h but still at 90 percent of max HR, wouldn't they be burning a very similar number of calories per hour?

Lee responds:

That's the core of my question, yes. That's exactly what I was wondering. I guess it comes down to an issue of whether there's a cellular level efficiency, not just a mechanical level of efficiency.

What got me started was the basic physics that moving two bodies of the same weight up the same hill with the same coefficient of friction requires exactly the same work. If the work required is exactly the same, shouldn't the calories burned be exactly the same, regardless of the perceived level of effort?

Maybe there's an analogy to a well tuned or poorly tuned car. Two cars, same weight and coefficient of friction (same aerodynamic profile and same tire patch etc.), one poorly tuned, the other perfectly tuned. The poorly tuned car will not get the same gas mileage - there will be wasted fuel in its emissions. Is there an analogy at the cellular level in a human being? Does the amateur burn fuel less efficiently, completely independent of any of the mechanics involved?

Scott Saifer replies:

Jeff, no, when a rider is able to ride faster at the same heart rate, they don't use similar calories to do it. They use more. When you make more power at the same heart rate it is because something else has changed that allows that extra power production. There are several possibilities: Increased oxygen extraction from the same amount of blood, increased stroke volume so more blood and oxygen pumped at the same heart rate, or increased efficiency.

Lee, yes, there is a cellular level of efficiency, and a fitter athlete does use fuel more efficiently than the less fit. As the environment within muscle cells becomes more acidic, some parts of the fuel metabolism begin to spin free, using up energy but not delivering it anywhere. Highly trained riders control acidity better than novices. The higher the perceived exertion, the less efficient it is.

Eddie Monnier replies:

Percentage of HR doesn't dictate calories burned. Rather, it's the amount of work that's done that matters. Assuming your riders efficiency hadn't improved, your hypothetical rider would burn the same amount of calories so long as s/he covered the same distance (ie, did the same amount of work). That is, the total energy required for this individual to cover say 10KM is the same regardless of the speed. Notice that at the higher pace, the rate of energy expenditure is higher (but offset by the shorter duration due to higher average speed).

However, one of the three important physiological improvements that stems from endurance training is an improvement in efficiency which means that one could do more work with the same amount of calories.

Jeff Jones:

That makes sense too. So an untrained person is actually incapable of burning a high number of calories per hour compared to a trained person, no matter how hard they try? All the more reason to get fitter! What about riding in a bunch compared to riding solo at the same speed under similar conditions? Wouldn't you burn more riding solo?

Scott Saifer replies:

Jeff, yes to both questions. The highly trained athlete can make more power, and can use more calories per hour. The range of possible efficiencies is not that large. Don't quote me but I've heard 17-25%. Riding in a bunch uses far fewer calories than riding the same speed alone, but most riders ride faster in the bunch than they would alone, offsetting that effect.


Eddie, when you refer to "efficiency" in your second paragraph, are you talking bio-mechanical efficiency (e.g. pedaling technique, wind profile, balance on the bike, etc.) or are you talking of a cellular level of efficiency that permits the more fit rider to convert calories to useful energy with greater efficiency (probably resulting in less heat generated by the process)?

My original question assumed normalization of all of the biomechanical factors, so if we could reduce the issue to (theoretically) ONLY cellular efficiency, would a fit rider and an unfit rider require the same calories over the same course?

Scott, according to this, the fit rider has a cellular level of efficiency that permits him to perform the same work with fewer calories expended, as compared to the unfit rider.

This seemed intuitively true, but I was running up against my understanding of physics - that it takes a certain amount of energy to move a weight of X from one point to another, and that "X" would be the same regardless of the condition of the athlete (again, assuming normalization of friction, balance, air resistance, and all biomechanical factors).


I think I'm finally getting it now - apart from the efficiency factor, calories burned relates mostly to power output, not necessarily how hard your heart is working. Thus, in a bunch you need less power to go the same speed as you do solo. Anecdotally, while I was using a power tap I found I could save about 30-40 percent of power by sitting in a bunch compared to being in front. Just sitting on one wheel takes a bit more effort though. That knowledge comes in handy!

Eddie Monnier:

Cycling doesn't offer the same opportunity for biomechanical improvements as other endurance sports such as running and swimming, largely because the biomechanics are constrained by the body/bike interface.

I was referring to improvements in gross efficiency (GE), which is a measure of work performed divided by caloric expenditure. Cyclists typically have a GE of between 19% - 25% and GE is positively correlated with percentage of Type I muscle fibers. I only know of one study that compared the GE of world class and amateur cyclists and the authors found no difference (in press, Moseley et al, Int J Sports Med, 2004; note: I have only read the abstract but look forward to reading the entire paper).

So, to answer the question as to whether or not you would burn the same amount of calories as Lance, my answer would depend on whether or not you two had the same percentage of Type I fibers.

Red blood cell count

I am a 25 year old male, 180cm and 71kgs, 2nd year road cyclist, and senior 3 racer. I ride approximately 200-300kms per week, mainly flats but with some short hills of 500-800m of 15-20% grade, mixed in.

I have recently had a blood test (as a health screen for a new job), and found that my RBC, hemoglobin, and hematocrit were on the low side of normal. I am a frequent blood donor, and my last donation was 4 weeks prior to the blood test. Could the low readings be a result of the blood donation, and is there any natural way (diet, exercise, supplements ie. vitamins) that could boost these levels?

My diet is very northern European (meat, potatoes, & vegetables), with some pasta mixed in.

Hamilton, Canada

Pam Hinton replies:

Have you passed by any mirrors lately? Are you sleeping days and staying up nights? You mentioned a Northern European diet, and I'm not sure of the location of Transylvania, but I'm gonna go out on a limb and rule out your unwitting complicity in the feeding habits of nocturnal flying rodents. I'm fairly certain your problem is similar, however, but it should be infinitely easier to test and treat.

Your frequent blood donations are most likely the cause of your low hematocrit and hemoglobin. Hematocrit is the proportion of your blood volume that is red blood cells. Hemoglobin is an iron-containing protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Obviously, your training and racing are going to suffer if your legs can't get enough oxygen. You are fortunate to have had the tests done, so now you can correct the deficiency.

The most common cause of low hematocrit and hemoglobin, otherwise know as anemia, is iron deficiency. Iron deficiency can result from excessive iron losses, usually blood losses, or inadequate dietary iron intake. In your case, the regular blood donation amounts to excessive iron losses. You are simply depleting your red blood cells, and possibly your iron stores, faster than your body can generate new cells. I have several suggestions for you. For the time being, stop donating blood so that your body has a chance to replenish your red blood cells. In order to make the new red blood cells, your body is going to need iron to make hemoglobin. It would be useful to know if you have adequate iron stored in your liver to support the synthesis of new red blood cells. Iron stores can be measured using a blood test for ferritin (you will have to ask your physician for this test). Ferritin is an iron storage protein found in the liver and the concentration of ferritin in blood reflects your iron stores.

If your ferritin is low, then I recommend that you take an iron supplement. Supplements differ in the chemical form and in the amount of elemental iron they contain. Ferrous sulfate and ferrous gluconate are the most common forms of supplemental iron because they are the most readily absorbed and cause fewer gastrointestinal symptoms (constipation, cramping). Iron from supplements will be best absorbed if taken with citrus juice. Also, avoid taking the supplement with dairy products or tea, both of which will decrease iron absorption. Unlike most other minerals, our bodies cannot get rid of excess iron. This makes the potential for iron-toxicity high and it is possible to "overdose" on iron supplements. For this reason, don't take more than 18 mg of iron per day and have your physician monitor your ferritin levels.

If your ferritin is normal, then you will most likely be able to get enough iron through your diet. It is important to consider whether the iron in the diet is coming from plant- or animal-based foods because they contain different types of iron. Plant sources of iron contain non-heme iron (i.e., no hemoglobin in red blood cells), which is poorly absorbed. For example, a 1-cup serving of raw spinach contains 6 mg of iron, but only 2-15% or 0.1-0.6 mg of that is absorbed in the small intestine. In contrast, animal sources of iron (i.e., meat) contain heme iron that has a higher bioavailability. So a 3 ounce serving of steak contains 4 mg of iron, up to 50% of which is absorbed in the intestine for an actual intake of 2 mg of iron.

In the future, you might want to restrict your blood donation to the off season. And, if you decide to start donating regularly, be sure to allow 8 weeks between donations. That should allow enough time for your body to replace the red blood cells you gave up, so you don't find yourself at a competitive disadvantage again.

Oh, yeah, and you also might want to bolt your windows shut at night and hang cloves of garlic around your room, just in case.

Loss of speed & fitness

I'm a 30yr male Cat 3 racer with improving fitness and just starting to really improve my strength and speed as the season continues steadily until I took a 10 day vacation with no riding, poor dieting, and lost 4-5 lbs.

Normally, I'm able to stay with the pack in races fairly ok, but after the 10 day break, I've just struggled to hang on and usually get dropped very quickly in races. I've noticed that I just can't keep up with the group when the speed increases. I thought I might have lost some muscle mass in my legs after the vacation as my legs were aching for hours & hours after 1 recent, completed crit. I noticed that my recovery rate after hard efforts seems to be nil unlike before.

What's the best way to get my fitness back? Continue racing as much as possible and continue the suffering, work on specialized sprint/interval training, or just a combination of both?


Scott Saifer replies:

My clients report that after a 10 day lay-off it usually takes 6-10 weeks to get your race legs back, so my first tip is patience. It only takes three to six weeks to develop the ability to handle high intensity without blowing (to the extent that one can develop that ability), so there's no reason to do super-high intensity training in the first few weeks after your return to training. Not knowing much about you, I'll give you my generic post-vacation suggestion, which is three weeks of base only, three weeks of threshold work and then start racing and/or race-pace training. You should have legs 3-6 weeks into the racing period.

Illness and my racing season

I am a 21 year old road cyclist (occasional MTBer), 187cm and 73.5kg, though last season I think I raced at between 71.8kg and 73kg so I would be looking to lose a small amount of weight if only I could train (I don't focus on this, it just happens). I race A grade and opens, and this year have been aiming at a number of state and national level road races, however, my performance has been significantly hampered by illness. I was wondering if you guys have any idea if I am doing something wrong with my training, diet or anything else. Here is a timeline of what I've done this year and what's gone wrong:

Jan: Start training, 300-400km a week. (Preceding 3 months MTB rides and 150-200km road a week)

Feb: 400km a week, become ill for 1 1/2 weeks. Sore throat, aching muscles. Antibiotics prescribed, clear up throat. 1 week low intensity 280km.

Mar: Build tempo work into program, 450km a week.

Mid-March - sore throat recurs, no other symptoms, antibiotics again don't help. Goes away in 2 weeks, no reduction in training.

April: Start to feel very good, continuing at 450km-550km a week. 10 days prior to first major race (on April 28) have 80km training ride at 60-75%HRM prescribed. Can't get HR over 110BPM (max~205), plummets to between 60-80 at traffic lights. Next day very sick, can hardly move. Over next week fever 1.5deg(c) over normal, raised RHR. Start training 40-60mins light rollers.

May: Get back to 400km a week with intensity. After 3 weeks fall ill again. Go to see doctor. Blood tests normal - haemoglobin 162, leucocytes normal range, CRP, iron, folate, etc all normal. Sore throat, muscle aches. EXTREME fatigue (study, reading newspaper, driving, all v difficult).

June: Start to feel OK, couple of training sessions, then fatigue, muscle aches, sore throat kicks in again.

Essentially I haven't felt good and been able to train consistently since April, which was just before my first race. My important races are starting to loom (mid-July through to early September). I am at a loss, and so are my doctors. Help!

Last year I had problems with illness too, but my program contained too much volume completed at a high intensity, and I wasn't as aware of the importance of CHO consumption. I now consume 40g+ of CHO and hour on all my rides of over 90 minutes, and am very careful to eat directly following as well. My diet is excellent and varied, includes red meat, and over the last 2 months I have even tried a multi-vitamin, despite general skepticism about their utility as I am not deficient in anything (that I can work out).

Now I'm thinking I might need to totally change my season, and concentrate on some MTB races or summer criteriums, rather than hitting my real goals. Is there any chance for me? How can I speed my recovery?

Cameron McKenzie,
Melbourne, Australia

Pam Hinton replies:

Cameron, if there is one thing I am sure of with respect to athletic achievement, it is that the temporary setback you're experiencing is much more common than is success. And in fact, some would argue that success is born out of adversity. So before we get technical, here is a list of clichés for you to choose from: "Hang in there," "Keep your chin up;" "This, too, shall pass;" "No pain, no gain;" "You're only human."

Given the brief description of your diet, it is unlikely that a nutrient deficiency is the cause of your symptoms. However, adequate nutrition is important in speeding recovery. Continue to follow a varied and balanced diet, being sure to consume enough energy to maintain your body weight, and for reasons I'll suggest later, pay particular attention to staying well hydrated.

Since I really don't think your problems are diet-related I can only relate personal experience that seems relevant based on the descriptions you provided. I am not a physician and would not presume that your illness could be diagnosed via email. Therefore, my advice here is anecdotal at best and should be confirmed by the health professionals I will refer you to.

You write that your doctors are at a loss as to the cause of your problems. I am wondering if you have consulted an Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist (ENT), also known as an "otolaryngologist". Your symptoms--sore throat, low-grade fever, and muscular fatigue, all preceded by an upper-respiratory infection are consistent with a sinus infection of the chronic variety.

Acute sinusitis is often confused with a cold, or the flu, at the onset because the initial symptoms are similar: sneezing, nasal congestion, post-nasal drip and sore throat. If these symptoms persist for more than one week and are accompanied by headache, fever, cough, malaise, and/or discolored (usually yellow or green) mucus, then the infection is likely cause by a nasty bacterium or virus thriving in the sinuses.

Bacterial infections can be effectively treated with antibiotics, but not all antibiotics are created equal. The key is finding an antibiotic that will eliminate the particular strain of bacteria that is causing your infection. Initially, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic that kills many strains of bacteria with minimal side effects. However, if after completing the entire treatment course, your symptoms persist, you may need a stronger antibiotic. The downside to the more powerful drugs, is that they have more side effects (upset stomach, diarrhea, and yeast infections) and are more expensive. Regardless of which antibiotic you are prescribed, be sure to follow the dosing instructions exactly. Stopping treatment early, even if your symptoms are gone, may allow the infection to return.

Sinus infections that are recurring or that persist for than eight weeks are termed "chronic sinusitis". The most common symptoms of chronic sinus infections are postnasal drip and nasal congestion. Some individuals will experience fatigue and, rarely, fever. Sinus infections happen when the narrow passages to the sinuses become obstructed and cannot drain properly, allowing disease-causing micro-organisms to grow happily undisturbed. The sinuses can become obstructed if the tissue is inflamed and swollen due to a cold or allergy. Some people are predisposed to blockage because of a deviated nasal septum. It makes sense, then, that the chance of developing a sinus infection is reduced if the sinuses stay open and unobstructed. Steam inhalation can help allow the sinuses to drain. A relatively cheap and easy (although not pretty) way to keep the sinuses open is to irrigate them with saline. Yes, I mean squirt salt water up your nose. There are commercially-available products for this purpose. Alternatively, you can mix your own saline solution. Dissolve ¼ t salt in 8 ounces of warm water. If the solution is too concentrated it will dry out the sinuses. Tilt your head back and use a dropper or bulb syringe to squirt the saline into your nose.

You can also reduce your risk of developing an infection if you stay adequately hydrated. The lining of the sinuses is designed to prevent infections. In addition to acting as a physical barrier to potential infectious invaders, the sinuses produce mucus that traps bacteria, viruses, fungi and other irritants. Dehydration causes drying of the mucus membranes of the sinuses, which makes them much more permeable to disease-causing organisms. As you can see, the trick is keeping the sinuses moist, draining and flushed.

Again, this may or may not be your problem, but I've known other bike racers who have experienced symptoms very similar to yours. If, in honor of his passing, I may paraphrase a Ray Charles tune, I hope the advice from this girl way across town has been good to you.


I am a biker that rides 150-200 miles per week. I am in training for a century ride in the end of July. I have been riding for about 6 years and I have recently come across some hydration issues.

In my century last year. It was extremely hot - in excess of 90 degrees. The first 60 miles is not very hilly. The last 40 we climb about 3000 feet. During this time I was drinking quite a bit of Gatorade and Cytomax mix. I drank over 100 oz in less than 25 miles. I was not getting the fluids, it just sat in my stomach and I felt bloated. So much so I had to pull out of the century at a service station in which I lost all of my fluids through my large intestine if you know what I mean. After the pit stop I felt so much better and actually rejuvenated to pick up the tempo.

My analysis is that I was not digesting the fluids but just storing them. After the pit stop I was able to start digesting them again.

This year I have added water to my Gatorade. I go through about 100oz of Gatorade/water/Cytomax mix in about 50 miles on a hot day (above 80 degrees) I never have to urinate and tend to feel weak after my rides.

Do you think I need to add sodium to my diet? Can you offer any advice?

Matt D'Agostino

Pam Hinton replies:

You have discovered the importance of getting fluid and electrolytes into your blood and not just into your body. There is a difference, which you experienced as an emergency pit stop at the gas station. There has been quite a lot of research done to determine how to optimize fluid absorption during exercise and to reduce the risk of dehydration. What you drink, how much you drink and how often you drink it, all affect your body's ability to absorb fluid.

The beverage that you consume while riding should contain carbohydrate and sodium to replace these nutrients and to speed fluid absorption. Drinks that are 6-8% carbohydrate will be absorbed most rapidly, while allowing adequate carbohydrate to be consumed in a reasonable volume, i.e., 1 liter of a 6% carbohydrate solution consumed in one hour would provide 60 g of carbohydrate per hour. Beverages containing glucose, sucrose, and glucose polymers are preferable to those containing exclusively fructose or those with a fructose concentration greater than 2-3%. The downside of fructose is that the absorption rate is slower and the fructose that lingers in the intestine may cause gastrointestinal distress. (More stops at the gas station, if you know what I mean). When riding for extended periods of time, especially in hot and humid conditions, it is important to drink a beverage that includes some sodium (0.5-0.7 g sodium per liter). The sodium increases voluntary fluid intake and reduced the risk of hyponatremia.

Ideally, you want to consume enough fluid to replace what is lost in sweat and urine in order to prevent dehydration. This requires that you drink early and often. You need to drink early in the ride, because dehydration slows gastric emptying which then exacerbates the dehydration. You need to drink often in order to keep up with the losses. Fluid needs will vary with individual sweat rates, degree of heat acclimatization, and environmental conditions, but the general recommendation is that athletes consume 8-12 ounces every 15-20 minutes during exercise.

Consuming 100 ounces in the time it takes to cover 50 miles, is about right at roughly 1 liter per hour. However, there is really no reason to dilute the Gatorade with water. Undiluted Gatorade is 6% carbohydrate and has 0.5 g of sodium per liter. Regarding sodium in your diet, unless you have a medical condition, you don't need to limit your salt intake. In fact, eating salty foods after a long and sweaty training ride will help you rehydrate. Foods that have a high sodium content are pretzels, pickles, pizza, cheese, tomato sauce, soy sauce and ketchup. As long as you continue to drink after your ride, go ahead and enjoy these foods.

Hand numbness

I have developed some severe hand numbness in right hand, I am 38, 6', 195lbs, road racing, masters events. I am now waking up in the middle of the night because of this,to get the blood moving again, while riding if I'm not careful my right hand gets so numb I can't feel anything and have to constantly shake it out.

I do work on computers, and I am very careful to stretch my fingers, wrists etc. Might there a better position on bike, that would put less pressure on palms? or treatment?

Steve Acuna

Kim Morrow replies:

I'm sorry to hear about the numbness in your hand. This can be quite frustrating. Hand numbness can come from a variety of sources. The key is to find the cause of YOUR particular situation. I've had to deal with this issue myself, and met with 2 different health care professionals to determine the root cause of my hand numbness. Thankfully, we determined what was causing this problem, and much of the numbness is gone. Now, however, I must take preventative measures (which in my case involves stretching and strengthening exercises) in order to hopefully prevent this from becoming a chronic problem.

A few of the areas which your health care professional might check are:

1) The cervical area (neck),
2) The brachial plexus nerves (nerve bundle near the shoulder area),
3) The 3 main nerves that lead to the hand: median, radial, and ulnar nerves.

Median nerve problems -also known as carpal tunnel syndrome-can manifest numbness from the thumb to half of the ring finger. Ulnar nerve problems can manifest numbness from the little finger to half of the ring finger. This is not an uncommon complaint for cyclists.

It is also important to wear a good pair of padded gloves, and to rotate your hand position throughout the ride. And, it sounds like you are doing your best to stretch your hands and wrists. But, the source of YOUR particular hand numbness may be coming from another area. Therefore, I'd encourage you to let your health care professional check you out.

Food intake vs liquid supplements

On a two to three-hour ride at tempo, is it enough to only consume liquid supplements containing replenishments, including some protein, or how often and what should I also be eating? I am 6'1", 205 lbs, recreational rider.

Secondly, how do you feel about protein intake in supplements while riding? Does it slow down insulin activity?

Luis Arrondo

Pam Hinton replies:

Luis, are you now, or have you ever been, a body builder? I ask because you seem to be jonesin' for protein. Protein is a fine thing for a hard-working athlete, but if I may, focusing on ingestion of protein during exercise is akin to airing up your tires before you try to mount them on the rims. The utility for protein comes mostly after exercise, not during.

During exercise muscles use fat and carbohydrate for energy. At rest or during low intensity exercise (<50% of VO2max), the fuel of choice is fat. This fat can come from our diets if we've just eaten or from our fat stores if we're between meals. As exercise intensity increases, the proportion of energy that comes from carbohydrate increases and at max it's exclusively carbohydrate. There are several reasons why this happens. As exercise intensity increases, more Type-II-b (white, fast-twitch) muscle fibers are recruited. These fibers lack the enzymes to do aerobic metabolism and must rely on anaerobic metabolism, which requires carbohydrate as an energy source. In situations where oxygen demand is high, carbs have an advantage over fats because less oxygen is required to burn carbohydrate.

When we need to burn some carbs they come from four sources: glucose in blood (a small contributor ~40 kcal), breakdown of glycogen in the liver (240 kcal), synthesis of glucose from amino acids in the liver (gluconeogenesis), or from breakdown of muscle glycogen (1400 kcal). When your carbohydrate supply is depleted, usually after 2 hours, high intensity work cannot be maintained and you find yourself in a condition referred to in the vernacular as bonk-a.k.a., dying, and/or going to la-la land.

Liquid supplements that contain carbohydrate provide muscles with glucose and help stave off the afore-mentioned states of the walking dead. The recommended intake is 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour. Drinking 16-32 ounces of a commercial fluid replacement beverage that contains 4-8% carbohydrate every hour, would meet this guideline. Typical energy gels contain about 25 g of carbohydrate, and these work fine as long as they are taken with water to avoid gastrointestinal distress. The best type of carbohydrate to consume during exercise is glucose or maltodextrin. Fructose stays in the intestine longer and may cause diarrhea.

Unlike fat and carbohydrate, excess protein is not stored in the body for future use. Virtually all of the protein in the body is in a functional, rather than a storage, form. Protein provides the structural components of our cells and also serves as enzymes, hormones, and antibodies. The proteins in our bodies undergo continual maintenance, they are constantly being broken down into amino acids and resynthesized. The amino acids that are released into the blood when a protein is broken down can either be used to make new proteins or they can be used to make glucose. This glucose can be used for energy or, if there is an energy surplus, it can be converted into fatty acids and stored in body fat. Amino acids that result from digestion of dietary protein will also be used either for protein synthesis or to make glucose. Protein is an inefficient fuel source because it has to be digested and the amino acids converted into glucose in the liver before it can be used for energy. This process is relatively slow and costs energy. For these reasons, the amount of protein that is used for energy during exercise is minimal. So consuming protein during a 2-3 hour ride is not necessary.

Insulin is a hormone that is secreted by the pancreas in response to an increase in blood glucose. Insulin levels increase in the "fed" state when there is plenty of energy available. Insulin stimulates skeletal muscle to take up amino acids for protein synthesis and glucose to make glycogen. Insulin also increases the production and storage of triglycerides in our body fat stores. Insulin production is suppressed during exercise because the body is using energy now rather than storing it for use later. The decreased insulin levels also allow for the release of stored fatty acids and for the breakdown of muscle glycogen into glucose.

The key here is giving your body what it needs, when it needs it. During exercise, carbohydrates provide the fuel to keep you going. After exercise, you need to replenish the carbohydrate you used. The optimal way to do this is to consume 1.5 g carbohydrate per kg of body weight within 30 minutes after exercise and again every two hours for 4-6 hours. Exercise increases the rate of protein breakdown and synthesis in skeletal muscle and, with adequate nutrition, it will have an anabolic effect on skeletal muscle, i.e., it will result in a net increase in protein synthesis. Carbohydrate consumed post-exercise is beneficial because it reduces the rate of protein degradation. However, to increase protein synthesis and achieve a net increase in muscle mass, it is important to consume protein after exercise. Studies have shown that consuming about 0.2 g of amino acids per kg of body weight per hour during the first 2-3 hours post exercise results in net protein synthesis.

As you can see, protein is definitely an integral member of your pit crew, but it's more like your mechanic. Carbohydrate is your driver.

Endurance heart rate

I am a 53 year old male training to complete an endurance challenge of 24hours on a velodrome with the intention of beating the standing record of 630 kms.

My resting heart rate is 48bpm and max is 182bpm my question is what heart rate should I sit on to maintain enough speed to beat the record. I have completed a number of 15 to 24 hr rides in the past.

Mike Burt
New Zealand

Scott Saifer replies:

Sorry to be a smart-alec, but I'd suggest whatever heart rate makes you average 26.5 km/hr, since that's how fast you have to go beat the record. Allow a little extra speed in case you need to stop for a bathroom break or other needs. Once you are sure you have the record, go faster at the end if you can to take it by a bigger margin and to get a buffer for last minute mechanicals.

Your heart rate will probably change quite a bit while you maintain the same pace for a full 24 hours.


I have a follow up on the caffeine question. I don't drink caffeine regularly and have thought to myself that if I only drink caffeine 45 minutes before a race that my body will respond better to the effects of caffeine. Any truth to this? Can the body lose its response if you drink caffeine all the time? I also only drink caffeine via soda pop - is there any negative impact of carbonation and endurance events?

Jeff Monson
Salt Lake City

Pam Hinton replies:

Yes you can develop a tolerance to caffeine, but it's ephemeral so you probably won't have to worry about a pop monkey driving you to a life of crime. And, yes carbonation (CO2) has some drawbacks, but it's mostly noise and hot air.

First, if you read my previous column about caffeine, then you're aware of its upside and downside. As for the performance-enhancing qualities of caffeine, there is some evidence that tolerance can develop. The good news for athletes who use it as an ergogenic aid, however, is that it takes only 20 hours for the caffeine tolerance to wear off.

Like most things, there is a lot of variation between individuals when it comes to developing a tolerance to caffeine-some people will become tolerant and others won't. The rate at which tolerance to caffeine develops and the magnitude of the effect varies with the physiological response. For example, 400-500 mg of caffeine (2-3 cups of regular coffee) per day for seven days results in complete tolerance to its sleep-disrupting effects. In other words, a cup of coffee at dinner does not disturb the sleep of people who regularly consume it. Regular consumption of caffeine, however, does not eliminate the hypertensive response-your blood pressure will still go up after you enjoy an espresso.

At a race recently I was asked if carbonated beverages (CO2) would interfere with the body's ability to use oxygen. The answer is no. Carbonated beverages have nothing to do with oxygen transport or blood pH, but they can hamper hydration. Carbon dioxide is produced in our bodies as a waste product of cellular metabolism. To get rid of the CO2, it is carried in our blood as carbonic acid and bicarbonate to the lungs where it is expired. When blood levels of CO2 are high, the body responds by breathing more deeply and frequently to expire the excess CO2.

Carbonated beverages have no effect on the amount of CO2 in blood or on the acid/base balance of the blood. This is because the CO2 that is in soda never gets into circulation. Most of the carbonation is lost before it is even swallowed. The increased temperature of the mouth causes a large amount of the dissolved gas to come out of solution. The physical process of swallowing also reduces the amount of CO2 in solution. Any CO2 that does make it to the stomach is released from the body via the mouth (sometimes audibly) as a "belch". This is because the low pH (acid) in the stomach also makes the CO2 less soluble. So, because a carbonated beverage exaggerates the sensation of fullness in the stomach, voluntary fluid intake may be reduced. In other words, the gas makes you feel fuller so you feel less like pushing fluids when you ought to. This is especially problematic if you are going to use soda as your pre-competition source of caffeine. An effective dose is 2-9 mg of caffeine per kg of body weight, so a 70 kg cyclist should consume 140-630 mg. One can of Coke contains about 35-40 mg of caffeine. If you do the math, you can see that you'd need to drink 4-18 cans. Not even Mt. Dew aficionados get a break here. At 50 mg a can, you'd still have to drink at least one liter to hit the minimal effective dose.

So a "Pop!," as some of my training buddies like to call soda, is not such a great source of caffeine. Turns out it's not such a great source of sugar, either. There are two reasons. First, even though a 12-ounce can of Coke has about 150 calories-all from sugar-the concentration is too high at about 10-12%. The optimal concentration is 6-8% because it results in the quickest delivery of fluid and sugar from the stomach to the intestine where absorption occurs. Once the sugar concentration of the beverage exceeds 8% it starts to slow gastric emptying, meaning it will take longer for the sugar to get into your blood. This also has negative implications for rehydration. The second reason is only apparent if you read the ingredients label carefully. You will note the second ingredient listed is high fructose corn syrup. These sweet corn-based syrups are 55% fructose and 45% glucose. When combined with glucose, small amounts of fructose (2-3%, i.e., 2-3 g fructose per 100 mL) enhance fluid absorption. However, the concentration of fructose in soda pop sweetened with high fructose corn syrup is about 6.5%. This amount of fructose decreases the rate of fluid and carbohydrate absorption. To make matters worse, the fructose stays in the intestine and may cause gastrointestinal distress. The optimal rehydration solution will not only contain glucose to maintain blood sugar, but will contain sodium as well. A beverage that has 50-70 mg of sodium per 100mL increases fluid retention and voluntary fluid intake due to enhanced taste, and prevents low blood sodium levels. The concentration of sodium in cola is much less than this recommendation--about 10 mg of sodium per 100mL.

Soda may not be the sports beverage of choice under ideal conditions. However, a frosty "Pop!" rolling out of a vending machine outside a closed gas station in the middle of nowhere could mean the difference between life and death-or whatever substitutes for those things towards the end of a long, hot, hard training ride.

Battling on cycling with a cold

I have been battling a cold for the past three weeks having a congested head, runny nose and achy muscles and was wondering if should still be training?

I have been doing a couple of 45min sessions on the rollers each week but would like some advice for the best way to keep my fitness up without prolonging the cold?

Corey Roberts

Eddie Monnier replies:

See a similar question answered last year year here. But given the length that your illness has lingered, I would suggest you focus your attention on getting better.

Other Cyclingnews Form & Fitness articles