In one of my favorite Dave Matthews songs “Too Much,” the lyrics in the chorus go something like: “I eat too much. I drink too much. I want too much. Too much.”
We’ve all been there. It’s late. You’ve ridden all day, the sun is about to set and you’re tired and hungry. And I’m like many of you, the convenience and hunger sometimes send even the most health conscious rider to the closest fast food restaurant. There they are…singles, doubles and triples if you so dare. High-fat foods displayed on the buzzing neon menu and despite best intentions, a double cheese burger and curly fries end up on your plate. All of it to be washed down with a caffeine laced soda and a chocolate milk-shake.
The effects (metabolic) of a fat load (a lot of fat eaten in a short period of time) have extensively been studied by researchers interested in health. It turns out that even a 50-gram load of fat (most fast food restaurants can easily surpass that threshold), constricts the arteries — effectively reducing the blood flow to the heart and muscles. The slowed delivery of oxygen and nutrients starves the heart muscle along with all working muscles and the result is you’ll feel fatigued. Like the Willamette River after a hard rain storm filling up with silt, eventually the fat is cleared from the bloodstream, but it will keep you feeling sluggish.
Then it’s the next morning and time for some hot Java.
About 70% of the U.S. population “uses” coffee. I’m part of that percentage. Most typically it’s consumed to improve alertness and ‘get going’ in the morning. Coffee’s benefits for performance athletes have been proven. The research has shown that as little as 1.4 to 2.7 milligrams (approx an 8-to 16 ounce cup) is enough to make a significant improvement in performance. So it would be logical to assume that it would also improve a riders performance too? Assuming that during the previous night you didn’t drink large amounts of alcohol.
And speaking of alcohol… Many motorcyclists enjoy relaxing with their favorite brew after a long days ride. Anything more than the equivalent of about 2 drinks will only add to the energy zapper list. Unless your alcohol intake is moderate (defined as two 5-ounce glasses of wine or two 12-ounce beers) there is risk of fatigue. And as you pull out of the motel parking lot for an early morning departure, glycogen is the most important fuel for your contracting muscles. And to keep the supply of glucose steady the liver kicks in and starts to release glucose into the bloodstream for those muscles. It will quickly deplete its supply of glycogen and without additional carbohydrates, the glycogen supplies are exhausted…and being met with a replacement of calories from alcohol and since alcohol can’t be converted and stored as glycogen…early muscle fatigue occurs along with an overall lack of energy and the end result could be a drop in rider performance. Additionally, the alcohol causes dehydration and can affect fine motor coordination.
Adding insult to injury is that caffeine laced soda you had the night before and/or the alcohol can cause interrupted sleep cycles. The hormone Grehlin was discovered in 1999. Termed the “orexogenic” hormone, Grehlin production is increased in response to sleep deprivation. It turns out the body knows it needs more calories to be awake and functioning. And when Grehlin levels go up so does your appetite. The message is clear: less sleep leads to more food and calories.
I’m not a nutrition nut, performance athlete or a dietitian. No, I’m not telling you how or what to eat. Yes, I’ve been on trips where members of the posse have consumed nothing but Slim Jims and coffee. However, it’s clear there are fatigue-promoting “foods” and motorcyclists who minimize the big three nutrition mistakes (too much caffeine, alcohol and high-fat foods) when riding may improve alertness levels.
Photo courtesy of Matt Marino and Moto Basturds