Feed The Machine

Just like your motorcycle, your body is a machine and like any machine it requires the right fuel to keep it running properly. This isn't a soap box rant about eating kale-flavored wood chips and before I lose you, I understand every body is different and may have different requirements. I also want to state that I am far from owning a PhD in anything and I am no guru. That said, I have competed at a high level in two-wheel sports and live an active lifestyle, learning along the way and picking up great advice from others. Treat this culmination of experience as a 101 for things to think about the next time you plan a ride.

While there are various types of riding that this topic can apply to, some will require more attention than others and I will provide examples as we go. The two most demanding riding types can be narrowed down to performance riding (road racing, dirt biking, etc.) and long distance touring. While these two are at opposite ends of the "riding" spectrum, they both require a great deal of energy, but require it through different means. Let's break this down.

Sport Riding

Sport riding demands a high physical energy load typically in short intervals - 20 minutes of high intensity and rest for 20-40 minutes before another high energy output is needed. If you have ever been to a trackday or open track practice, then you can relate. When we think of sport riding, we think about moving the bike around, heavy gas, heavy brake, high speeds, maybe jumps and a knee down. All of these are physical and demand energy, but what is most often overlooked is the mental load. Our brain eats up more energy than anything else in our bodies and when flying down a back straight at 150+ looking for a brake marker or calculating the upcoming triple jump, your brain is on fire making calculations and firing messages back and forth to your muscles.

Touring

Touring is a whole different beast. While the physical toll isn't as intense as sport riding, the mental and physical endurance is heavily tasked. Sport riding is sprinting a mile, while touring is like walking 100. Energy is mostly spent through mental focus and even when on autopilot, your brain is making thousands of calculations and gauging risks every second. While your body isn't being as heavily loaded with riding conditions, it is still being taxed by road and weather conditions, wind, bike weight and general fatigue.

Just because it isn't physical doesn't mean you are not working hard and burning energy.

Water

I'm sure everyone knows that I was going here. Drink water. Water is essential to the body's function no matter the task. Hydration the day of your riding does not count either, you should start hydrating at least 24 hours before your trip or trackday. That said, I am ready to fight if you deprive me of my coffee. Stick to your routine, enjoy your coffee and if you go out to dinner, enjoy your tasty adult beverage. Just don't forget that both alcohol and caffeine force water out of the body, and to compensate, fit an extra glass of water or two in your routine. If you are allergic to water and just can't cope, make smart choices and choose a low or no sugar sport drink to help get in that hydration. Stay away from sodas and energy drinks (caffeine+sugar). We will get into sugars and what they do later in this article. Hangovers, brain fog and tiredness are all symptoms of dehydration, and since your brain is a fleshy sponge, its good to keep it hydrated. They recommend drinking a minimum of half your body weight in ounces a day - 200 lb. rider = 100-200 oz. water.

This is the oil in the human body machine.

Temperatures - How your body reacts

We all know heat can be an issue when you ride, usually in the summer months with hot and heavy protective gear, all a great combination to warm the soul. But it also heats up the body. In hot weather, it is appropriate to sweat. If you are doing a strenuous ride and are not sweating, then you have a serious problem. Sweat is the body's natural way to cool the external temperature. When you sweat you lose not only lots of water, but important body salts as well. Salt reacts within the body to help retain moisture and keep you hydrated longer. Lots of water and a good diet are key when the temps spike. Try cooling base layers to help bring temperatures down as well.

We know that heat makes you sweat, but what about cold? Cold temperatures are very deceiving. You won't sweat and you may not feel thirsty, but you could be using water at a rapid rate. The extreme of cold weather's effect on the body is shivering. Shivering for 15 minutes is the equivalent calorie burn of running a mile. Obviously if you are this cold, you should pull off somewhere and warm up, but sometimes it just happens. If you are in these conditions or borderline, it is important to force fluids in, or things may get worse for you. There is no worse feeling than cramping in freezing weather and your muscles contracting you into a ball involuntarily (ask me how I know sometime). If you are comfortable in the cold conditions, stick to the standard 1/2 your body weight in ounces. If you are riding in these conditions, heated gear is your best friend.

Salts

Sodium is an essential nutrient but is something that the body cannot produce itself. It plays a vital role in the regulation of many bodily functions and is contained in body fluids that transport oxygen and nutrients. It is also essential in maintaining the body's overall fluid balance. Chances are you already are getting enough sodium in your diet, so don't get crazy with that shaker when refueling on a trip. All this is important to know when you are sweating a lot because when you sweat, you lose water and salt. Once you are low on salt, your body sheds water ever more quickly. When this happens, no matter how much water you drink you are going to shed it and fast. If you are out riding hard, or in high temps, it will not hurt to pack a bag of potato chips or a salty snack to munch on. This extra kick of sodium will help your body moderate and hang on to that valuable, needed water. If you are on a strict diet, plan for this and find an appropriate alternative. If you are doing a strenuous ride, chances are you're burning the extra calories anyway.

Sodium is essential in maintaining the body's overall fluid balance.

Carbohydrates and Sugars

This sounds technical but bear with me, its a simple explanation and for a purpose.

Carbohydrates are the most important source of energy for your body. Your digestive system converts carbohydrates into blood sugar (glucose). Your body uses the glucose and stores any extra sugar for when you need it. Energy is required for the normal functioning of the organs in the body. Many tissues can also use fat or protein as an energy source but others, such as the brain and red blood cells, can only use glucose.

There are two types of carbohydrates: The main difference between simple and complex carbohydrates is that simple carbohydrates are quickly digested and absorbed by the body whereas complex carbohydrates take time to be digested.

Complex carbohydrate foods provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber that are important to the health of an individual. The majority of carbohydrates should come from complex carbohydrates and naturally occurring sugars, rather than processed or refined sugars, which do not have the vitamins, minerals, and fiber found in complex carbohydrates. Refined sugars are often called "empty calories" because they have little to no nutritional value.

Simple carbohydrates are broken down quickly by the body to be used as energy. Simple carbohydrates are found naturally in foods such as fruits, milk, and milk products. They are also found in processed and refined sugars such as candy, table sugar, syrups, and soft drinks.

You Gotta Eat

Everything we have read has lead up to this. Just like putting gas in your motorcycle, you need to keep your tank full as well. Plan ahead for your trip and eat accordingly.

Sport- Chances are when you are riding aggressively or with competition, your nerves are high and eating is probably the last sensation on your mind. It is important to have a good meal the night before and the morning of. Have a good serving of complex carbs at dinner, and for breakfast have some combination of both (oatmeal w/ bananas). If you eat too heavy (complex carb) for lunch, your afternoon sessions will leave you feeling lethargic and heavy. To break down all that food, you stomach is demanding blood, oxygen, and of course, energy. All of those resources pulled to your stomach are no longer going to your brain and muscles. A light lunch filled with protein (meats, nuts) and some fruit (simple carbs) will help give you a bolt of energy (simple carbs) and keep it sustained through your afternoon sessions (protein).

Touring- A lot of the same principles apply for those taking long trips where you will be spending hours at a time in the saddle. While not as high intensity, your brain and body are constantly scanning the road and keeping a high level of awareness. Having more of a balanced diet of complex and simple carbs will keep you focused and comfortable. An easy trap to fall into while traveling is trying out that famous dish each roadside diner is known for. In between two thick pieces of bread is a 1/2 lb. of the finest greasy meat, "secret" sauce and like any true American diner, bacon & egg. Oh, let's not forget the deep fried potatoes. While my stomach is rumbling now, and no matter how appealing this is, it isn't the best choice for a long day. Eating this will cause your body to work hard to digest, and mitigate any return you will receive through nutritional benefits. The result? Leaving you tired and sluggish. That's okay, you can just get an energy drink at the next fuel stop. Chugging that "winged" beverage may give you a quick boost of energy, but the crash is all the same, worse when it is combined with the digestion of a large meal. Not to mention the dehydration it causes. This is an easy cycle to fall into when traveling that we are all guilty of. What makes the journey, is everything in between, and I do encourage you to stop at every eclectic or interesting shop and restaurant you can. It's boring to not sample what these places have to offer and while I encourage you to fuel the tank, there is something about a damn Diablo burger that feeds the soul. Just be wise and pace yourself and counter that burger with lots of water, some fresh fruit and maybe share your fries.

This will give you a basic understanding of how food acts like fuel in your body. Knowing how it affects you will allow you to properly plan your trip, enjoy your stops and feel good the rest of the ride.