Cycling Q&A with Trainer Chris Carmichael: Part One

World-class athletic trainer Chris Carmichael is the national spokesperson for the American Diabetes Association’s 2012 Tour de Cure®! Last month, we solicited YOUR cycling questions for this renowned coach and author. Here are his responses.


Carmichael Ride to Stop Diabetes Group Pic

Trainer and spokesperson Chris Carmichael (standing in gray and blue uniform) poses with Tour de Cure cyclists.

What is Tour de Cure all about and what is your involvement?

I’m teaming up with the Association to challenge riders to participate in Tour de Cure, a nationwide series of cycling events that raise funds to Stop Diabetes®. All proceeds support the Association’s mission—to prevent and cure diabetes and to improve the lives of all people affected by diabetes. More than 60,000 cyclists are expected to participate in 2012!

I will be cycling in select Tour events, including San Diego (last weekend, April 21); Napa Valley, Calif. (May 6); Minneapolis, Minn. (June 2); Denver (Aug. 18); and Houston (Sept. 22). I’ll also lead riders in select Executive Rides in Los Angeles and Silicon Valley, Calif., in support of Tour de Cure’s Corporate Team program.

As a fundraising incentive, Tour participants will also have the chance to attend my Carmichael Training Systems Camps. These specialized camps will help participants learn the training methods that have made the pros so successful.

What makes cycling such good exercise? Is cycling good exercise for a person with diabetes?

Really, the best exercise is one that you enjoy, that you will do often and that achieves your desired result, whatever that may be. That said, cycling is an excellent form of exercise and it happens to be my favorite!

Exercise gives you the strength, flexibility and energy you need for daily activities. Any type of physical activity helps your body use blood glucose; it actually makes your body more sensitive to insulin. If you exercise consistently, you can improve your A1C level. Exercise also lowers blood pressure and cholesterol and your risk for heart disease and stroke.

Most adults should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity (hard enough so you break a sweat), five days per week—and you can split this into smaller chunks of time throughout the day if you need to. For example, if it’s feasible, you can bike to and from your workplace.

Cycling is a particularly excellent exercise because it’s continuous and non-impact. As long as your cycling position is adjusted properly, you can ride at a high intensity or ride for many hours without significantly increasing your chances for overuse injuries. You can’t be as cavalier with training volume or intensity with other activities, such as running. Cycling is a sport people can participate in from the time they’re toddlers until they’re very old.

What is the best pre-workout food? During a race? Sprint races vs. endurance races?

There’s enough information to fill a chapter, if not a whole book, while answering this question! But I’ll try to keep it simple.

If you have diabetes, the best pre-workout meal or snack will vary depending on how you manage your diabetes and your meal plan. It is important to follow your diabetes meal plan and not skip meals before you work out. If you frequently experience hypoglycemia (low blood glucose) when you work out, talk to your health care provider. He or she may recommend having a healthy carbohydrate snack before exercising.

During activity, people with diabetes should plan to have water and snacks handy. It’s important to drink plenty of water before, during and after physical activity.

You’re more likely to experience a hypoglycemic episode if you are on insulin or certain diabetes drugs (sulfonylureas or glitinides). Always carry a source of carbohydrate that can treat low blood glucose (regular sports drinks, juice, glucose tablets and glucose gel are some good ideas). And remember: Stop exercising if you feel any symptoms of hypoglycemia, such as shakiness, dizziness or confusion.

General advice for people who do not have diabetes is to eat a pre-workout snack in the hour before a ride. It should be something light that’s mostly carbohydrate but contains a bit of protein and fat to keep you from feeling hungry longer.

During rides shorter than 60 minutes, you won’t need to consume calories while on the bike; you start with enough stored energy to get through a quality training session. But if your ride is 90 minutes or more, you need to consume carbohydrate, perhaps in the form of an energy gel or sports drink, to keep your muscles fueled optimally.

The amount of food you should consume depends on the distance of your ride or race and the intensity at which you’re working. The general rule of thumb is 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate per hour—closer to the bottom end if you’re not going very hard and more toward the top of the range if you’re maintaining a high pace or intensity.


Stay tuned for part two, when Chris answers questions about cycling shoes, post-race healing and whether you need to stretch before and after a ride.

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This entry was posted in Ask the Expert, Food and Fitness, Life with Diabetes, Stop Diabetes, Tour de Cure and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Cycling Q&A with Trainer Chris Carmichael: Part One

  1. Troy P. says:

    Thanks for the info Chris!! Just finished endurance training ride and had just the right amount of carbs but seams I was lacking on hydration as knee joints were killing after 6hrs in the saddle!! Keep up all the good work and thanks for your support on the Tour De Cure!!

  2. Danny B says:

    Does Chris Carmichael have diabetes?

    • American Diabetes Association says:

      Chris himself does not have diabetes, but his daughter’s friend has type 1 and he has seen her go through many challenges, which is why he is so passionate about stopping it. He also is very passionate about healthy eating and exercise, therefore a great fit for Tour de Cure.

  3. George says:

    What kind of snacks would y’all recommend for a rider with Diabetes during a ride?

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