Athletes and Insulin, Carbohydrate Timing and More – Ask a Cycling Coach 327

Orange Seal Off-Road’s Hannah Finchamp joins us again for a deep dive into the relationships of glucose, insulin, and workout intensity to know how you can prioritize health and performance as an endurance athlete.

We’re looking forward to this one! Tune in live Thursday morning at 8:00am Pacific.

Youtube Live Video:

Topics Covered in This Episode

  • Intro 0:12
  • What happens when our bodies eat sugar? 5:21
  • How does insulin work? 8:38
  • How does activity affect insulin? 15:52
  • Are high-carb endurance athletes at risk of becoming diabetic? 20:30
  • Data-driven ways to plan meal timing 50:59
  • Hannah’s tips for bike choice 1:30:40
  • A pro’s guide to chaotic race starts 1:35:59
  • Live questions and answers 1:53:54

Resources Mentioned in This Episode

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Just chiming in to say Hannah was excellent. Hope to hear a lot more from her in future episodes!


Chad brought up an interesting point with Intensity and its effects on needing to fuel. obviously the point of going for a 10-15 min walk you don’t need to be pounding the sugar water. But my question is what about the hour-long zone 2 rides like Petit? Should we be consuming carbs during this ride? And if so should it be at the same rate the 80+ grams per hour we all strive for. I have this battle with my self every time I do a short zone 2 ride.

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Compare your in-ride carb consumption to the number of calories that you consume during the ride. I consider myself ok as long as I don’t exceed my calories consumed. (It’s typically very hard to keep up with my calorie burn)

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Also consider intensity for fraction of calories coming from carbs/glycogen that actually might need to be replenished

It’s going to be context dependent for your individual situation. You aren’t going to need nutrition to complete that ride and I don’t think you will notice any difference in RPE. Beyond that it’s going to be individual based on other factors and how you handle training.

Some factors for more nutrition: riding first thing in the morning before eating, higher overall training volume, high FTP, noticing cravings after completing the ride which lead to uncontrolled eating, trying to gain weight or prevent weight loss, second training session planned for later in the day, how many carbs you consume in your overall diet, and probably several others I am not thinking of right now.

Pretty much the opposite of those would indicate less nutrition or no nutrition during a low intensity one hour ride. As a starting point go with the general advice of “don’t diet on the bike” and modify from there to fit your needs.


@Jonathan another great podcast. I really appreciate the deep dives and am super impressed by Hanna. Highly recommend having her and @ambermalika on a podcast together when she’s back.


Was really disappointed to hear Jon reference his latest SAP guest Lauren Hackney as a “nurse” when she is actually a physician. As a fellow female doctor who everyone also assumes is a nurse due to my gender, it’s frustrating to hear! Especially about someone training to be a surgeon and racing for an excellent cause.


I didn’t think about it that way, and that makes sense. If I were in the middle of a high-volume training block I would be fueling everything regardless vs a low volume plan where maybe it’s not needed as much for the short zone 2 rides.

Hannah mention a lower back activation exercise, does anyone know what is was?

One of the best exercises for cyclists

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Great, thanks

Thank you for highlighting that nutrition can be a sensitive topic for people - really reassuring to have that point made.

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Thanks for covering this. I reversed my diabetes several years ago through diet and exercise and the research I had to do into carbs/insulin/exercise/etc. was a challenging and frustrating process. It often seems like there is more snake oil and bro science out there than real science, so it is nice to hear folks cite a few updated studies that both confirmed and challenged some of what I “know”.

One question I had (and I’m sorry if I missed the answer), was that I often see pros eat a gel or bar just a few minutes ahead of a major climb or sprint. Just how fast (knowing this varies by individual) should you expect to see benefits from a dose of carbs? Is eating a gel at the 2K banner really going to help my sprint, or am I just starting the recovery fueling early?

According to this around 10-15 mins but it could vary I suppose and maybe caffeine in it could help sooner? :thinking:

And it could help post ride too… :grin:

Edit - apologies I didn’t realise the article then went into the weeds about fat adaption etc. It was the first Google result and 10-15 mins seems the norm.
Maybe the athlete can metabolise it fast or they simply feel hungry.

I feel really bad about that mistake. :frowning: I fumbled mixed signals and screwed up, and didn’t notice until after the episode. I can assure you I didn’t intend for any disrespect.

I’ve reached out directly to Lauren to apologize, and I’ll be apologizing tomorrow as well.

In my experience with a CGM, If I am going from sedentary to an active state and take that gel in a few minutes before, it’s going to take 20-30 minutes. If I have done a warmup, or I’m in the middle of a ride, it will take as little as 3-5.

In many cases you’ll see a rider taking in carbohydrate toward the end of a stage as well in an effort to make sure they are actively replenishing for recovery and the next day’s effort.

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Sugars/gels prior to a sprint don’t actually have to make it into the blood. You are just triggering receptors to tell the brain that the sugar is incoming so they don’t hold back. You can even just swish the sugar water

Thanks. That makes sense. I wasn’t taking into account the fact that they were already warmed up.
I’ll consider adding that to my race strategy.