Cyclists: Fuel Rides AND Shed Pounds With Garmin & AI

There are four big reasons we bonk, get dropped, or fail to finish a century ride—and worse, why despite all the hours in the saddle, your sedentary neighbor is dropping more pounds than you.

This Tour team, Team Visma, has not one, not two, but eight—count them, eight—chefs to serve their riders. And that’s not even the most interesting part. They developed an app that tracks every bite of food using AI to determine each rider’s nutritional needs, with meals, gels, and bars individually formulated to fuel their rides and keep them lean. While you’re not about to hire a personal chef, with just your sports watch and AI, you too can personalize your nutrition to fuel your rides and shed some pounds.

We may not be superhuman like these guys, but here’s the takeaway: when it comes to nutrition, one size does not fit all. It is possible to both fuel our rides and lose weight. There are four big reasons we bonk, get dropped, or fail to finish a century ride—and worse, why despite all the hours in the saddle, your sedentary neighbor is dropping more pounds than you. But it’s all figure-outable, because for the most part, Tour riders probably shouldn’t be our North Star in terms of diet. Although I do see some in the comments trying to match their caloric intake.

Like NeilB6974, who says,

“On my first 100 km cycling trip, I ate two egg and bacon sandwiches, two bananas, two currant buns, two Snickers bars, and half a bag of gummy bears. I thought it was a ridiculous amount of food, but in the end, it was just enough. I tallied it up, and it rings in at 2,140 calories just on the bike.”

You know, who knows? Neil could be putting out 5 watts per kilogram and burning 700 calories an hour on his first century ride ever. If this seems reasonable to you, stick with me, and we’ll find out if you’re right.

This one totally cracked me up. BWhisperer said,

“I made the mistake of eating too much, ordered a chip barm on a hilly ride near Sheffield, and had to ride home with a heavy meal in my stomach. Not popular that day.”

Okay, what is a “chip barm?” It’s a typo, I think. It’s barm, also known as a chip butty. It’s a UK thing, as far as I can tell. For those of us on this side of the pond, it’s basically a french fry sandwich. Talk about lunch legs!

If you’re experiencing lunch legs, now would be a great time to subscribe and hit the like button. Apparently, it really helps, and we’re trying to get to 5,000 subs. Thanks!

Okay, so there are lots of ways we fail to fuel our rides properly, but I think it’s super helpful to start with your goals. We want to fuel our rides so that we don’t bonk, cramp, get dropped, fail to finish, or fail to get home. I’ve seen it, but not at the expense of losing weight. No, no, no. I want to lose fat. It’s all about body composition. I want to get a little leaner. Beyond the bike, it has to support the biggie for me—aging well. That means getting a bare minimum of 30 grams of protein three times a day to support muscle growth or at least maintenance. I don’t want to sacrifice protein for a carb overload, and finally, it would be really nice if what I reach for in my jersey isn’t full of chemicals. Healthy sources of carbs are the goal.

Okay, seems doable. So why do so many cyclists fail to fuel their rides properly and worse, after all the miles, end up gaining weight? Well, here are four big culprits:

Not preparing for big rides or forgetting to eat. Maybe it’s because I’m a mountain biker who does 2-hour-ish rides typically; I always forget to bring food—so dumb. But now that I’m doing longer gravel rides, well, this is just me trying to figure it all out.

More often, you take food and don’t eat it. This happened to my friend Chris at a recent Masters race. We get so caught up in the excitement of even group rides, maybe the pace is high, and you just don’t reach around and keep yourself topped up. When you’re working really hard or for a long time, our appetite actually gets suppressed. When you don’t eat during your ride, it can lead to what I like to call the Post Ride Pig Out, or PRP, because now you’re ravenous. This leads to the gas station situation—Doritos, chocolate milk, we earned it, man! Every ride used to end this way for us. That’s topped off by a high-calorie dinner and dessert.

If the PRP isn’t bad enough, you may also be starting your ride with carb loading. This might be a good time to reiterate that what each of us can tolerate is very personal. Sitting down to a mountain of pasta the night before with some bread and dessert would lead to a very poor sleep score for me. After 24 years of low-carb eating, my carb tolerance is way lower than it used to be. In general, when it comes to your pre-ride nutrition, Cycling Weekly says eating some additional carbs isn’t a green light to panic-buy donuts or time trial to the chip shop. Essentially, carb loading means eating healthily and sensibly but with a higher proportion of carbs than usual. Frenzied, uncalculated binging on high-sugar foods will not reap the results you wish for. Here’s where it gets really interesting: for every gram of carbohydrate stored in the body, 3 grams of water are stored with it. So unless the race intensity and distance genuinely require extra fuel from carb loading, it’ll result in you carrying surplus, acting like ballast, only slowing you down. Routinely eating a very high-carb diet would likely lead to overconsumption of calories, leading to weight gain and possibly even poor insulin sensitivity. In general, for informal rides, carb loading shouldn’t be necessary, particularly if you take some calories along for when you tire.

That brings us to problem number four: overeating during your ride. This article from CTS by its founder, Chris Carmichael, really inspired the whole video because so much of what we read and watch is geared for elite competitive cyclists, but this is for the rest of us.

Let’s first take a look at the science of carbohydrates in 60 seconds or less. I never really understood why we bonk until I read Dr. Peter Attia’s book “Outlive.” He explains that we get energy for our rides in a few different ways. The carbohydrates we eat get converted into glucose, and then about 75% gets stored as glycogen in our muscles, and the remaining 25% gets stored in the liver for near-term use. Here’s an interesting stat to tuck away: an adult male can typically store a total of about 1,600 calories worth of glycogen between these two sites, or about enough energy for 2 hours of vigorous endurance exercise. This is why if you’re running a marathon or doing a long bike ride and do not replenish your fuel stores in some way, you are likely to bonk or run out of energy, which is not a pleasant experience. Then excess carbs or energy is stored as fat, which we can burn on long, easy heart rate zone 2 rides.

Okay, that brings us back to Coach Chris Carmichael, who showed up for one of his group rides in California a little late one day. Instead of heading out with the hard chargers at the front, he rode with a bunch of super friendly, slower riders, otherwise known as normal. Although he’s constantly reminding his athletes to consume carbs during the ride, he was struck by how much food people were consuming. When you do the math, overconsumption of food during rides can significantly hinder your ability to lose weight through exercise. Here’s the math that Chris is using: just like Dr. Attia, Chris starts with the 1,600 calories or 400 grams of carbs our muscles are storing when we set out. While we need to replenish 80% of the fluid we sweat out, people think they need to replace the calories they’re burning. But with the stored carbohydrate and fat you have on board while you’re on the bike, you only need to replenish 20 to 30% of the calories you burn. At an intensity of 600 kilocalories per hour, that means you’d only need 120 to 180 calories an hour. That’s a few bites of food and half a bottle of sports drink. But this year, I frequently saw athletes who weren’t producing anywhere near 600 kcal an hour eating 300 to 400 calories an hour—it’s too much.

Interesting, right? Do you think about the calories you’re consuming during your rides? Let me know in the comments—I want to know. Every cycling nutritionist right now will tell you that they’ve got their pro cyclists up to 90 to 120 grams of carbs per hour. Fun fact: there are, on average, four calories per gram of carbohydrates, so that means the pros are consuming 360 to 480 calories per hour of training. But Chris Carmichael is pointing out that normies like me on group rides are consuming similar calories. Houston, we have a problem. Carbs to calories can vary a little bit though. For example, here’s dried cherries, figs, mango, and my favorite bar—all of them 40 grams. If getting enough carbs is your goal, you get way more bang for your buck with dried fruit—double the carbs at half the calories. There are bars out there, like Torque for example, with lower calories (about 157) and similar carbs to our dried fruit. But even bars purporting to be healthy are still by definition considered ultra-processed. Ingredients like glucose syrup and soy protein isolate are probably not in your kitchen cupboards, but they are convenient in a pinch and also less healthy than whole, minimally processed foods. But you know, minimally processed foods like this are pretty convenient too, and it passes my fourth goal: real food.

As Chris discovered, it’s so easy to overconsume on the bike. That got me thinking, can I figure out exactly what I need, just like the pros? Let’s start with my Garmin watch. Chris Carmichael warns that our devices often overstate calories. If you wear a Garmin device, post-ride you’ll see active, resting, and total calories. But if you have a power meter on your bike, kilojoules or energy output is a close approximation for calories burned. I went back to this recent 70 km ride, and sure enough, my total kilojoules were identical to the active calories Garmin said I burned. Cool! But what if you don’t have a power meter on your bike? Seeing your calories post-ride isn’t really going to help you judge while you’re on the bike. That got me thinking—can we see our active calories here on the bike in real time? Yes, we can, and you can add it to your data screen for your activity. In fact, I’ve created a simple screen that has active calories and my real-time kilojoules that I get from my Garmin Rally power pedals, which should be almost identical. I’m going to post how to add that in the show notes. So now I know if I’m burning my normal 500-ish calories per hour, or 300, or 600, and just adjust my intake.

Now all you have to do is be in touch with the amount of carbs and calories in your jersey pocket. Counting calories sucks. However, with the ChatGPT app, it’s kind of magic. Let me show you what I mean:

“Hey there, I have 340 grams of bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs. Can you please tell me the approximate calories and protein?”
“Sure! For 340 grams of bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs: Protein: approximately 65 grams. Calories: approximately 730 calories.”

“Awesome, thanks so much!”

That’s it. All right, so let’s say I’m out on my bike and I see that I’m burning 500 calories per hour, but I only need to replace 20 to 30% of my calories. So let’s say 125 calories an hour. Sports nutritionists will tell you to take that in every 20 to 30 minutes, so maybe about 62 calories every half hour. That looks like this in terms of dried fruit.

So here’s my game plan: If my ride is 2 hours or less, I’m not going to worry about eating on the bike. I’ll have enough calories and carbs on board for that. But I will take food on any ride over 2 hours that could turn into an epic. For longer rides, I’m going to eat 20 to 30% of the active calories I’m burning per hour and make sure that my water with electrolytes is being replaced at 80% of what I’m losing. In fact, Chris Carmichael has a simple message: drink more, eat less. Then I’ll resist the PRP (the pig out) and opt for our usual good meals to consolidate all the hard work into fat loss. I’ll continue to prioritize sleep, which is why I’m off alcohol—because poor sleep leads to weight gain. Finally, I reserve the right to limited amounts of my favorite cheat food, but limited to a once-a-week cheat because recently, I discovered exactly how much fat I have on my body, and you can too. It’s easy, you don’t even need a doctor. Watch this video to get super clear on your weight goals.

Thanks for watching. See you next time!