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I have hypoglycemia. How do I fuel properly for the bike?

Ask a Pro — Diane Stibbard

Coach, Personal Trainer, and Two-Time Canadian Duathlete of the Year

Diane Stibbard - two-time dualthlete of the yearQ: I have hypoglycemia and it’s hard to figure out how to fuel properly for the bike. Any suggestions?

A: There have been a lot of questions lately about fueling before and while on a ride. These questions are from cyclists who suffer from hypoglycemia, (commonly experienced by people with diabetes) but also from riders who want to know what they should eat to ensure “sustained” energy while cycling.

Before and during a ride you can eat anything that your digestive system can tolerate, but it’s important to choose foods that sustain your energy. You want to avoid a sudden spike in energy followed by a big drop in blood sugar, which happens when you consume sugary, overprocessed foods. Those types of foods flood your bloodstream with glucose, driving your blood sugar up, resulting in an energy deficit that can be hard to come back from.

Fortunately, there are many foods you can eat that allow you to ride strong and steady without having a sugar-induced energy crash. Foods with a moderate glycemic index that allow for an even, slow release of glucose into the bloodstream, should be eaten before and during a ride.

The glycemic Index (GI) is a scientifically researched ranking system of foods and their effect on blood glucose levels. Foods with a low GI ranking break down slowly in the body, releasing blood glucose slowly. Foods with a high GI ranking release blood glucose very fast, delivering a short-lived energy spike—think soda pop and chocolate bars.

It’s important to select foods that have a low to moderate glycemic index, as they provide steady, sustained energy to the body. Below is a list of suggested foods to eat before and during a ride that will help keep your blood sugar levels constant. Timing is also very important. Eat at least 250 calories each hour of riding. The 250 calories should be eaten in small amounts over the course of the hour, not consumed all at once. This provides a steady amount of sustainable carbohydrates during your ride.

BEFORE (these foods have a low or moderate glycemic index)

• Steel-cut oatmeal with skim or 1% milk, or yogurt. This is a low-glycemic food, however, be careful: the quick oats that take 3 minutes to cook are a high-glycemic food.
• Pumpernickel bread with peanut butter
• 100% stone-ground whole wheat bread with almond or peanut butter
• 100% stone-ground whole wheat bread with banana
• Sourdough bread with nut butter
• Apple with nut butter

DURING (These foods have a moderate glycemic index)
*Avoid gels if you are hypoglycemic. Gels provide instant energy, rapidly raising your blood sugar levels.

• Energy bars such as Cliff bars, Powerbars, Ironman bars, Larabars – make sure when you eat these that you drink a few mouthfuls of water at the same time
• Bananas
• Whole-wheat bread with nut butter
• Unsweetened dried coconut
• Unsweetened coconut water – combined with banana
• Dried apricots
• Dried figs
• Honey sandwich on whole-wheat or pumpernickel bread

*I suggest trying some of these foods on shorter rides to see which works best.

If you do high-intensity training, these foods may not be practical because they’re hard to chew and digest. For intense rides, choose a sport drink that is fructose- or sucrose-based instead of glucose- or dextrose-based. Fructose and sucrose have a lower glycemic index.

Always test your choices before an event or race. Never experiment with food or drink during an important event without first trying it out in training. It may not work, leaving you stranded and in trouble.

Training for a two-day cycling eventDiane provides training programs for recreational and competitive cyclists, duathletes and triathletes, including nutritional counseling and personal training. Does your company need a fitness consultant? Get in touch with Diane to discuss fitness seminars for corporations

You want personal training but don’t live near Diane? No problem. Diane does email and telephone consultations. To learn more, contact Diane at [email protected] or at LinkedIn.

Check out Diane’s e-programs: Keeping Fit in the Off-Season and Training For a Two-Day Charity Event For the Time-Starved Cyclist.

5 comments to I have hypoglycemia. How do I fuel properly for the bike?

  • James Parkin

    Reactive hypoglycemia is indeed a condition. I believe this is what the article is addressing.

  • Stuart Fleming

    Hi. I have a strange situation. I know about what you are supposed to eat, but when I ride to work (30 min each way) at a good clip, I am often quite uncomfortable — have low energy and low spirits, and even anxious and an incorrigible urge to eat. I am mildly hypoglycemic.

    One time I went to get coffee, got a sugary cookie with it, and was fine. I started eating one cookie after a ride, and that just perfectly fixed my mood, energy level and urge to eat.

    My concern is about how bad this is — and whether it could lead to diabetes or something.

  • Russ

    I’m still having a hard time figuring out what’s best to replace gel. The things mentioned are great for carrying with me to take during our stops, but they aren’t very convenient for eating quickly while in a paceline trying to maintain pace (like a gel would be). Any recommendations for good gel replacements in these situations?

  • Kieran O'Halloranq

    Hi just wondering if you could talk about the fact that everyone who drops their sugar has hypoglycemia, it’s not a disease its a state of your blood glucose levels? Maybe this person does not quite understand what their challenge is with their blood sugar?

    • LS

      Hi Kieran,

      Hypoglycemia is a condition characterized by abnormally low levels of blood sugar (glucose). It isn’t a disease but it is an indicator of a health problem. It’s not a condition that effects everyone. Hope this helps.

      Kind regards,

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