So what if you're no Lance Armstrong, six-time winner of the Tour de France. Even beginning cyclists should be armed with health information that can help reduce strain, injury, and infection, says Luis Palacios, associate professor of family and community medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas.
Staying safe while on a bike means more than wearing a helmet. Proper fit between bike and rider, following preventive measures, and knowing first-aid are essential for a safe outing. For instance, knee and back pain can afflict even the most seasoned riders. However, most bicycle shops will help you find the right-sized bike and even adjust the seat for a proper fit, which will head off most joint difficulties.
"These problems are usually associated with bike positioning as well as training technique," Palacios explains. "When the seat is too high, it can increase stress on the lower back and hamstrings. If it's too low, problems with the distal quadriceps and anterior knee can occur."
Moreover, it is important to know the best riding techniques. If riders pedal slowly with high resistance (using the big chain ring and smaller cogs), they can strain their quadriceps or knees. Pedaling fast with low resistance can cause increased pressure on the base of the pelvic region and back. Most experienced cyclists will have a cadence (revolutions per minute) between 90-100. For beginning cyclists, a reasonable and energy-efficient cadence might be between 60-80.
Whether riding a 100-mile race or just exercising at a leisurely pace, getting the right mix of carbohydrates and protein before, during, and after a ride is essential. "Research indicates that, for someone in training, carbohydrates are an important source of energy. A healthy diet would include one with 60% carbohydrates, less than 30% fats, and 15 to 20% protein," Palacios advises. "For activities, including warm-ups, lasting less than one hour, water--which deters cramping--is sufficient. If the activity lasts longer than 60 minutes, carbohydrate supplements in the form of sports drinks, carbohydrate bars, or gels would be beneficial."
Chafing or skin irritation--often called "saddle sores"--is a common annoyance for cyclists. It can be minimized by purchasing properly fitted seats and wearing cycling shorts with plenty of moisture-absorbing padding in the bottom. "In my experience, the biggest problem I see with cyclists is hygiene," Palacios relates. "Cyclists...