Cyclists Look To Diet For Extra Pedaling Power

Posted: June 12, 1987

For the 80 or so top professional cyclists from around the world who are competing in Sunday's third annual CoreStates Championship, the concept of ''eating to win" pretty much has become a diet staple. What these guys

put into their bodies both before and during the grueling 156-mile race probably has as much bearing on their performance as any training regimen.

"First of all, it's hard for the average person to relate to riding that far on a bike," said Ed Burke, who has a doctorate in exercise physiology, and served as the director of sports science and technology for the U.S. Cycling Federation. "You can't really compare it to anything, unless it's real ultra-endurance. They're going to be burning up around 600 calories an hour (the race, which begins at 8:15 a.m., rain or shine, lasts approximately 6 1/2 hours), while a person who walks or runs a mile burns up maybe 100.

"Plus, you've got the added burden of dehydration, especially if it's as warm and humid as it usually is at this time of the year. The sweat loss dissipates your heat, so you've got to keep up a tremendous fluid intake. They'll also eat constantly during the race - fruits, raisins, dates, granola bars, rice cakes, that sort of stuff. And they'll drink anything from pure water, to Coke mixed with water, to juices.

"As far as the pre-event meal goes, you want that to be as close as possible to the start itself. And you are generally looking to load up on carbohydrates. That's why pasta is so popular. I mean, a couple hot dogs and a Coke is not exactly the ideal thing. But I guess it just depends on who you are.

"Then, once you get under way, you try to maintain that high energy level," he said. "You don't want to wait until you get hungry, and then try to shove down half a pound of food all at once. You'd rather eat a little at a time, yet eat more frequently. That's where biking is so different from running. As long as you're not climbing a hill or making a strong push, it's just like sitting in a chair and eating.

"What it comes down to, though, is common sense. Everyone's looking for some magical potion, a herb or a spice to help their effort. But, to be quite honest, it's still a matter of keeping the basic nutriments in your body by eating balanced, and not getting carried away with something exotic.

"But it's like politics and religion: everybody's got an opinion. What makes it interesting is that there are so many intertwining systems that can affect the outcome. And now, there is more awareness that sound nutritional habits is right up there, too."

For what it's worth, a recent poll of some 170 world-class cyclists uncovered some "lucky" pre-race pasta concoctions. Among the more creative (but not necessarily appetizing) were pasta topped with honey, cold spaghetti with cottage cheese and cinnamon sugar, spinach yogurt pasta, and pasta covered with peanut butter.

Whatever happened to good old marinara sauce?

Anyway, Dan Fox, who is the lone Philadelphian entered in this year's race, has his own thoughts on that subject. A veteran of the national amateur circuit, the 21-year-old Mount Airy resident will be making his pro debut Sunday, and is hoping a decent showing might catch a sponsor's eye and land him a bit spot on the European tour.

"Me, I eat just about anything, but some guys are really picky," said Fox, who worked as a pit mechanic during the CoreStates event the past two years. "The day prior to the race, you want to avoid meat, or anything that's going to sit on your stomach too long. If not, you could be in for some serious puking. I remember one of the racers did a test a few years ago where he ate raw ground meat before a race, just to prove a point. And he still placed pretty high.

"Once you're into the race, you want to pick spots where you can replenish yourself without losing that even pace. I like to keep an assortment of things with me, because you never know what you're going to want at certain times. One of my favorites is Fig Newtons. But you have to keep in mind what you're dealing with. If you put something like a jelly doughnut in your pocket, you're going to have it running down your backside."

And how about refreshments?

"Well, I drink strictly water early on, but the last 20 or 25 miles, when you need that extra shock, I want things with a lot of sugar in them," Fox said. "I'm a Pepsi man myself. It seems like that has just the right kick to it. At that point, you're kind of numbed out, because your upstairs is fading as fast as your body. So you need something like that to help snap you back to what's happening."

Once they cross the finish line, however, it's every junk-food muncher for


"It's funny, since everyone is so health-conscious," said Fox, "but after the race, all you really crave is a few greasy burgers and some fries."

WHEELIES: The $105,000 in prize money is the largest single-day purse in international cycling. First place is worth $20,000 . . . The race begins with a promenade up and down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway from Logan Circle to the Art Museum before heading out for 10 laps around the 14.5-mile course, which stretches along Kelly Drive through Fairmount Park out to Manayunk and back again. The centerpiece of the circuit, of course, is the infamous Manayunk Wall, a challenging 250-foot climb over a quarter-mile distance on Levering Street, which often makes or break a racer. As in the past, the Prince Foods Co., an associate sponsor of the race, will award $5,000 to the three cyclists who accumulate the most points by consistently leading the pack up that hill.

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