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Training & Nutrition Learn how to develop a training schedule that's good for you. What should you eat and drink on your ride? Learn everything you need to know about training and nutrition here.

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Old 09-13-06, 08:52 PM   #1
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Noob wants to know how hard to train.

I'm a college student. 5'9", 140lbs, with low body fat. Until last week, I was fairly sedentary. This week, I've been riding a bicycle to class (.75mi each way) and on the recreational trail near the campus.

I don't have any hard numbers (I'll have to bring a watch and start a log), but after about 20 minutes of cycling, I was pooped, and not very far from where I started. My impression was that my legs were tired, rather than that I was out of breath. Now I have a mild case of delayed onset muscle soreness.

I'm not in any particular hurry to get in better shape, but I still want to know how to best build endurance and speed. Specifically, how do I know how hard to push myself? Should I cycle as hard, when I can still feel the previous day's workout in my muscles? Should I attempt to mantain a constant level of exertion during a ride? Take breaks?

Also, how important is eating? I occasionally find myself hungry with no food handy (in fact, I'm in exactly that predicament now). Eating is a chore, and I don't eat unless I'm hungry.
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Old 09-14-06, 02:44 AM   #2
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Don't worry about eating until you get in to 2 hours+ rides. But do make sure you drink enough, 16-24oz per hour is about right. For now, slow down and do longer rides, like around 1-2 hours. Have fun!
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Old 09-14-06, 05:50 AM   #3
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Don't be afraid to train hard.
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Old 09-14-06, 03:03 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by DannoXYZ
Don't worry about eating until you get in to 2 hours+ rides.
I'd disagree with this for the riders that are naturally skinny. Not that they necessarily need to worry much about it, but always planning to eat before and after at least would be setting up good habits. Especially if they say things like:

Originally Posted by BobSmalls
I occasionally find myself hungry with no food handy
I suspect that they are prone to not eating enough to support the new level of activity. I know that adding a small recovery snack after all my rides (~1 hour) did a lot for my recovery and my energy levels throughout the rest of the day.
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Old 09-14-06, 07:43 PM   #5
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Hang in there! You will be able to do it.

I was in the same boat as you were. For 4 years, I did nothing but play video games, watch tv, and study. I don't think that I walked over a half mile a day. Needless to say, even being 120 lbs at 5'4", I was not a shining example of health. I couldn't jog for 150 feet before I had to stop.

I got my first bike since my pre-driving days almost exactly one year ago. It's hard at first. It's a struggle to get to the top of a 200 foot long hill that goes up about 20 feet. After one lap around my block, I felt like my heart was about to explode and the day afterwards, I also had DOMS in my legs.

Now, I routinely go for 30+ mile rides and recently completed my first few rides up into the mountains. I feel great, and much more energetic and awake during the day.

The secret doesn't sound like much. For the first few months, just ride. Get on the bike 3-4 times a week and go as far as you can at a speed that makes you feel like you're working. Do whatever you feel like with regards to constant exertion, stopping for a break, etc. At your fitness level, it wouldn't matter much. You will see big gains as long as you ride a few times every week.

If you're having DOMS, take it easy for a day or two. You need your body to recover so that it gets stronger. When you have minimal or no pain in your legs, go out and ride again.

After a few weeks you won't get DOMS on most rides. You can start increasing your distance even further.

From my experience, it helps to eat good food. If you're on the typical college diet of burgers, pizza, and ramen, it can slow you down. Start eating clean foods. Low fat, low added sugar. Stuff like pasta with tomato sauces, whole grain breads, lean chicken and beef, fruits, and vegetables make you feel better all day long. If you're like me, you're lucky that you can eat lots of junk food because it does't make you gain weight, but they make you feel sluggish and hurt you in other invisible ways, which is really scary because you look ok on the outside but could have lots of problems that you don't know about.

I like to load up on pasta or other slow digesting carbs a couple hours before a ride. It helps to keep my energy up for at least 1.5 to 2 hours of riding.

Fitness sort of creeps up on you. I did a flat paved trail ride a year ago with my cousin. 16 miles out and back on flat terrain with the occasional hill that was maybe 30 feet long and went up 4 or 5 feet. Those hills kicked my ass. I was sucking in air like mad. At the end of the ride, I was feeling dead.

I did that ride again 2 months ago at around the same speed and I was barely breathing at all. The small ups and downs were virtually not there anymore. It amazes me as to how much someone can improve in one year, and even more so that there still many people way faster and stronger, so that I still have goals to aspire to.

Keep at it- ride hard, rest well, and eat good food so you'll have energy for those rides. You will amaze yourself if you put your mind into it.

Last edited by Mach42; 09-14-06 at 07:53 PM.
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Old 09-14-06, 08:50 PM   #6
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To improve your aerobic capacity (that's what I assume you mean by "get in shape"), you need to work out in the aerobic zone. There are lots of cyclists who use heart rate monitors to figure that out, but in general terms, you want to still be able to carry on a conversation. If you can't, you're working out too hard. You will get the most benefit if you keep a constant effort during your ride.

If you feel like your legs are limiting you, you are probably riding in too high of a gear, and therefore pushing too hard. Try shifting down one or two gears to a more easier ratio, and spin your legs a little bit faster. That will reduce your leg fatigue and likely will make you a bit more out of breath as well.

It's okay to ride when your legs are a bit sore, and in fact that will help you recover. My legs are generally a bit sore for the first 20 minutes or so (I usually ride 2-3 hours), but then they loosen up. If they seem particularly sore, it's still good to ride, but you should back off the effort some.

Mach42 has a good point about the food.

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Old 09-14-06, 09:36 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Mach42
I like to load up on pasta or other slow digesting carbs a couple hours before a ride. It helps to keep my energy up for at least 1.5 to 2 hours of riding.

You wrote a lot of good info, but I'd just like to point out that while pasta may be a slower-digesting carb, carbs in general are fast-digesting. Proteins take far longer to digest than starches. This is why eating a big bowl of oatmeal or a bunch of bread will sometimes make you feel hungrier after an hour: it stretches out your stomach, then converts to sugars very quickly. You want to eat the carbs before you exercise because it's the easiest thing for your body into energy. But for replenishing your muscles and re-building growing muscles, you need protein after you ride.

Good luck, it only gets more fun.
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Old 09-14-06, 11:37 PM   #8
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i've gotten into the habit of keeping a box or two of trail mix bars on hand, and carrying one or two bars in my bag or vest, so i have something on hand on my rides, in case i waited too long between eating and riding (or even for work or shopping or whatever, so i don't have to starve or buy junk food). if i'm really hungry, i eat a bar and feel much better pretty quickly after that. trail mix bars aren't the perfect food or anything, but they taste good and they have good ingredients with a lot of nutrients, at least. better than candy bars, i figure.

except for the past few days, i've been riding 1.5-2 hours each day, and if i don't eat enough (or eat crappy food) i feel bad. you could find a calorie calculator and plug in your info, find out how much energy you use on your rides, and if it's, say, 300 calories, then make a point of eating about that many more calories through the day to support your body. if you don't like to eat, it might not be fun, but you'll probably feel better.
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Old 09-15-06, 07:55 AM   #9
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In terms of eating on the bike you don't really need to worry until you get into longer rides, as someone said above. Eating something carb rich shortly before you head out, and having something with carbs and some protein when you get back is helpful for energy during the ride, and recovery afterwards.

Your body can store something on the order of 2000 to 2500 calories of glycogen (stored carbs for exercise) that it can tap into while you are riding. Unless you are going to run out of glycogen, eating on the go isn't a vital problem.

Just build a base of miles, work on spinning the pedals faster and you will get a boost in your aerobic capacity. It will also be easier on the muscles and joints in your legs and the rest of your body.

Increasing your mileage about 10% per week is a rule of thumb that runners and other endurance athletes seem to stick with so that you are not going to hurt yourself.

Have fun!
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Old 09-15-06, 08:04 AM   #10
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Well, how much you need to train depends on what your goals are.

But I would suggest that you be patient. As one of the people above said, fitness kind of sneaks up on you. If you go out and keep at it, the fitness will come.

Try to ride most days. If you can not ride, do some sort of aerobic activity: jogging, fast walking, anything.

Also, vary your pace. You do not get faster and stronger without pushing yourself. But if you push yourself hard all the time and often, you will: first off never recover and you will not gain as much as you should and secondly, it will hurt so much that you will see the bike as an instrument of pain and probably quit. Do some days hard or portions of the ride hard and some days easy.

But remember unless you are a professional rider, no one is going to pay you a dime for cycling. So it is for your health, enjoyment, to keep fit, and so on.

Good luck to you

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Old 09-15-06, 12:17 PM   #11
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There's a lot of ways to approach it, and I don't disagree with what anybody here has said. Personally, I would start with 3 days of riding per week. I would ride as long as I could on each ride, thinking only about time on the bike NOT speed or distance. I would then add one day per week, until I got to the number of days I want to ride (in my case, 7 days/week). I would then add 5 or 10 minutes to each ride until I got to the duration I want to ride (in my case, 60 to 90 minutes per ride).

This will give you good basic endurance--the most important goal for a sport like cycling. After that, you can (if you want) form training programs for other goals--for example, speed, hills, sprints, touring, centuries, etc.

Being young and skinny, I bet you'll make fast progress! You're lucky--I started out old and fat.

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Old 09-18-06, 07:22 PM   #12
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Thank you for all of your input.

I've been at it for a little over a week now. Naturally, I don't expect to be significantly stronger or to have more endurance yet, but what I do have is more insight and discipline. I completed a six-mile cruise at an average of 12mph. The good part is I mantained an elevated heart rate for half an hour.

My goal is to do the whole length of the bike trail (15 mi) without stopping, before snowfall. Probably easy to do at low speeds, but I bet I can do it at 10mph+.

I've added roasted, de-hulled sunflower seeds ($3.5/lb) to my pantry. They are very good to have around. Plus, I've realized and responded to the need to pack larger lunches. I've also gotten back together with an old friend: pasta.

I'm looking forward to many hours well spent on a bike.
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