Health Tips

How To Improve Your Stamina For Cycling: Build Up, Eat Up, Drink Up

mountain biking on the road on a sunny day

You’ve got your eye on a brand-new mountain bike and the promise of a week-long trip spending hours  riding tough trails.

Maybe your first international or Olympic-level triathlon is coming up and with it a longer bike ride than you’ve ever done.

Or a bike tour of Napa and Sonoma is on your vacation itinerary. Plenty of wining and dining, but some interesting climbing between those vineyards and rest stops.

If you’ve ever considered rides like these, or just want to improve your cycling capability to compete with your kids or stay even with your weekend riding group, here are 12 tips to increase your stamina:

  • Increase and maintain hydration levels: What, when and how much you drink matters. For most riders, plain water is the ideal beverage. Sports drinks range from zero to as much as 11 teaspoons of sugar. It’s not about demonizing sugar; just take the amount into account when you plan your daily calorie intake. How much fluid is enough? It depends on weather, intensity of workout, health factors and how much you sweat. The Mayo Clinic provides a good guide to hydration.
  • Taking a deep breath: Become conscious of your breathing patterns. Force air out of your lungs and allow it to flow back in. Time your breathing to your cadence and use as little energy as possible to breathe, saving it for cycling.
  • Road-worthy nutrition: To keep a high level of energy on and off the bike, accept that snacking is not a sin. A small and balanced meal between meals feeds muscle rebuilding and refueling all day. Replace the refined sugar and processed foods with nuts and nut butters, whole fruits, vegetables with yogurt-based dip, and lean-meat sandwiches. Carry protein bars and meal replacement bars for long rides, but use them sparingly off the bike; these are expensive and designed to get you through the ride, not stand in for real meals.
  • Practice may not make you perfect, but it will make you better: Your stamina will not improve without regular practice. Schedule regular rides rather than hit-and-miss training.
  • Gear up properly: Buy from a reputable bike shop and make sure your bike fits. Whether you cleat or cage, buy the proper shoes and no riding without a helmet. Besides comfort and fit, helmets must conform to dating and material standards; you can check them here.
  • Maintain your bike: Buying a bike is not the last word in having a good bike. It needs cleaning, oiling and the tires checked. Learn basic maintenance, including how to change a flat, from your bike shop.
  • Cycle with better riders: Run with the fast boys and girls and watch how it’s done. Hang around with them after a ride and offer to buy them a beer; they will be happy to tell you a few secrets to better riding.
  • Better yet: compete and compare: Find cycling competitions or offer to run the cycling leg of a triathlon for a relay team. Competition pushes you and tells you where you are in training.
  • Warm up and cool down: Use the easy gears to “spin” your legs for a few minutes. Stretch before and after your workout to give your body time to adjust and your heart rate to increase and decrease gradually.
  • Alternate your ride workouts: Don’t ride in one gear at one cadence the entire ride. Lower your gear and speed up for a few minutes, change to a higher gear for a harder workout. This is the cycling version of wind sprints.
  • Get out of the cycle rut: Work the cycling muscles with other forms of exercise, including yoga, running and lifting weights. A more bike-specific workout would also include rope skipping (works the calves, quads and hamstrings) and squats (works, quads, hips, hamstrings and when done with weights also strengthens the bones).
  • Rest is not a four-letter word: Sound sleep every night and a needed nap help repair and recover for the next day. Adequate rest contributes to fast reaction times, optimal concentration and the willingness to face the next day’s workout.

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