The restorative power of Coca-Cola has long been cemented in cycling lore. When you’re deep in the bonk, in the fifth hour of a six-hour ride, a frosty can of Coke is nothing short of salvation.
Or is it? Because, you know, Coke is loaded with high fructose corn syrup, which is pretty nasty stuff. It rots your teeth, spikes your blood sugar and chews the heads off innocent little bunnies.
So you should drink Diet Coke, right? Not so fast. Diet Coke is brimming with artificial sweeteners, which have been found to cause cancer in laboratory animals. “Diet Coke serves no positive purpose for optimizing athletic performance,” says Chrissy Barth, a sports nutritionist in Scottsdale, Arizona. “It has zero carbs, which means zero energy, and I’m not a big fan of artificial sweeteners, anyway.” Yes, says Barth, Diet Coke has some caffeine, but it’s probably not enough to deliver a performance wallop.
Cool. So does that mean you can get your sugar fix guilt-free, baby bunnies notwithstanding? No, at least not if you want to impress Barth with your nutritional savvy. “Keep in mind that the maximum amount of carbs our bodies can absorb is about 1 gram per kilogram of body weight,” explains our expert.
“So, in a 170-pound cyclist, the most he can absorb is 77 grams of carbs per hour.” In other words, if you chug a 12-ounce bottle of Coke in a few minutes, you just downed 39 grams of carbohydrates, which could set you up for massive gastric distress. And get this: The high sugar concentration in Coke delays gastric emptying and reduces the hydration effect. Bad news for a bonking mountain biker.
What to do? Put down the Coke, and slowly ride away. Then, with your hands in plain view, reach for a sports drink with optimized carbohydrate-electrolyte ratio (Barth favors Gatorade). Drink with care. And maybe, just maybe, don’t let yourself bonk in the first place.