Commuting: Eating to keep your energy up

The breakfast of champions - and commuters
Proteins and carbohydrates are the breakfast of champions - and commuters

One of our readers and a fellow commuter – Martin, was asking us how we can fight against waking up during the middle of the night feeling hungry like a wolf. That’s a good question. To me, it seems like many people take up cycling and bike commuting in order to lose weight and when people want to lose weight, they usually want to do it quickly. However, your body needs fuel and cycling takes surprising amounts of fuel, even though it feels quite light (if done correctly).

So, to explain my point, I’ll take myself as an example. I work in the creative industry, meaning I look at a computer all day, sitting in a comfy chair and browse cycling sites work really hard. Really hard compared to a coma patient, that is. Even though, just keeping our brain working takes a lot of energy. The rule of thumb is, that an average person uses at around 2000 food calories (8370 kilojoules) turned into energy and that’s without doing pretty much anything apart from going to work.

Some people are larger or smaller and their needs change accordingly, but let’s assume you are a person whose weight has been pretty much the same for the last few years, meaning that you supply your body about as much as it demands. It’s in energy balance, per se. One day, this person starts to bike to work, spending about a 1000 calories extra per day.

That is half of an average person’s daily intake. That’s a lot.

That means that if you ride to work five days a week, you burn an extra 5000 calories of fuel, which has to come from somewhere – or you will feel hungry, because your body needs more fuel. Starving your body is never good and the math never works when you are in a hurry. According to different sources, 1 kg (~2 lbs) of fat contains about 6000 to 7000 calories, so with the “math” you could burn a kilo per week if you’ll just starve yourself.

Berries, fruits, vegetables are mandatory.

Technically, yes. But imagine you’re a car: If you run out of fuel, you fill up. If your body deems that your starving will not cease in the near future, it will start saving energy for you. You will feel more tired, you will not have as much energy and trust me, your biking performance will suck.

You will have better success if you give your engine more of the right fuel, allow your body to rebuild its glycogen levels by giving your body proteins and carbohydrates and making sure you are properly hydrated and have all the minerals and vitamins in your diet. I think the worst mistake is starting to exercise (=burning more calories) and eating less (=less fuel) because it will deplete your energy levels.

If you’ve had a steady weight for years, and you keep eating as you were, adding exercise will eventually drop your weight. If you feel hungry, eat something that works as a fuel. Learn to snack with fruits (grapes and bananas are brilliant) and instead of expensive recovery drinks, get some chocolate milk that has proteins and carbohydrates, tastes good and it’s cheap.

So, eat normally until you are fitter and you know your body better. By then, you’re actually riding longer and faster meaning that you burn even more calories and you even won’t think about eating less – but you will eat healthier. I started with burning around 2000 calories per day on top of my average of around another 2000, now after three months my commute is faster and more intense and I’m burning close to 3000 calories extra per day.

The coolest thing? I haven’t felt hunger or starvation at all during this and I’ve lost over 10 kilograms of weight even though I’ve gained a lot of new muscle.

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By Markus Sandelin

Markus is a bike commuter gadget freak who is learning the ropes of the bike world, you can find him all around the web - but you can start with his twitter at @banton.