Cycling Nutrition

Cycling Nutrition

Making sure you get the correct nutrition is a vital ingredient for your cycle training, along with being important for your overall health, fitness and energy levels. Here we provides tips on nutrition to guide you in optimising your training performance.

Energy Bars & Energy Gels

Energy bars & energy gels are a great way to take in food during your longer training sessions as they are small and light to carry with you on your bike, and ready to eat on the go. There’s lots of choice when it comes to energy bars, and for your cycling training sessions you should probably aim to eat those with more carbohydrates compared to the protein and fat content, although you can try different combinations to see which are best suited to you. Ingredients to look for in the bars include oats along with dried fruit which provide plenty of energy are are also healthy for you in general, as well as tasty, or you can even try making your own bars by binding the ingredients with honey and throw in some nuts and sliced apples or apricots. Peanut butter is another good one for making your own trail putty mix, you can add whatever you want to it, roll it up in cling film and freeze it overnight before your ride.

Hydration

Staying hydrated is a crucial aspect to your training, and can make all the difference between having plenty of energy or feeling totally exhausted and unable to continue riding. It’s of course especially important to take in plenty of fluids in warm or hot weather and on long rides and intense training sessions.

You can lose a lot of fluid through sweating during your rides, and some people weigh themselves before and after a ride to get an idea of their sweat loss rate, so they can calculate how much liquid they need to stay hydrated, but doing this you need to take into account that different training sessions are going to produce different amounts of sweat, ie a long ride over lots of hills in the summer is going to produce more sweat than a short flat ride in much cooler weather.

Whether you’re cycling or not, you should be drinking liquids regularly throughout the day, because a lot of people don’t drink anywhere near enough. As a basic rule of thumb, you should be drinking a litre (1000ml) per hour whilst cycling, and you could try what I do, and make your own isotonic type drink by using 3/4 of a litre of water mixed with a 1/4 litre of sugar free fruit juice, then add a spoonful of salt to it and dissolve it thoroughly, I find it easier to mix the salt in some hot water to dissolve it first and add that to the bottle, unrefined salt is best if you have it.

It’s not just water you should be taking, because you lose a lot of electrolytes when cycling, you know that salty taste of sweat, that’s the electrolytes in your sweat. I’ve read before that sodium and bicarbonate are two of the main electrolytes that are lost, so adding in some salt does you a favour with recovering electrolytes.

Also, it’s always far better to drink in regular small amounts during your ride, rather than gulping down loads of liquid in one go before you start riding. Make sure you stay hydrated throughout the day, not just when you come to do your training, this is also good for your general health and energy levels. Aim to have at least 1/2 – 1 litre of water in the 2 – 3 hours before you go out to train.

Water is great for staying hydrated, both in general as well as on a ride, but you can also keep hydrated with a sports drink. There are many different sports drinks to choose from, with a range of combinations of ingredients. A few hours before you leave for your session you should gradually consume a sports drink so that the body can be absorbing it prior to training. Then, during your ride you can take regular sips to keep you hydrated. Caffeine can provide you with a much needed boost for your training, both physically and mentally, it also helps burn carbs faster than a drink without caffeine will do.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates provide a good source of energy for your training sessions as they are converted into glucose and glycogen. There are two schools of thought regarding the system of carb loading however, there are those that recommend carb loading to provide the body with plenty of energy that you’ll require for sustained training periods thereby optimising your performance. Carb loading involves having a diet high in carbohydrates several days before a high endurance session while your training is decreased significantly, which results in storing more glycogen in your muscles. There are others who disagree with carb loading as it can have a number of disadvantages, such as make you feel sluggish and lethargic, and can also cause bloating and discomfort along with some weight gain.

Carbohydrates come in complex forms and simple forms, complex carbohydrates are starches and you find them in foods including beans, pasta, rice, potatoes and oats. Simple carbohydrates are sugars which you will find in foods such as milk, fruit and sweets.

Protein

Protein is an important nutrient for muscle growth and repair, which is vital for strength and power in your cycling. If you don’t get enough protein in to your body, it will take it from your muscles to replace burned calories. Eating lean protein repairs the muscles after intense training so they can recover and be ready for your next session. Ensure recovery time between each intense workout for this process to work fully and include good protein sources. Protein also slows down the body’s digestion process and stops high amounts of carbohydrates raising blood sugars rising too high and then dropping right down which can result in very severe fatigue, stomach pains and vomiting, and instead it helps to release energy more gradually, which is a great help on your longer rides.

When eating sources of protein, choose lean options and avoid those high in saturated fat such as fatty meat and full fat dairy products. Lean meats such as chicken and turkey, without the skin, are great, along with eggs and low fat dairy foods, especially milk, and contain important amino acids which are required for cell repair. Eggs are also versatile and can be cooked in a variety of ways, such as poached or as an omelette and are also tasty in a salad, or eaten raw. You could try milk mixed with a variety of vitamin packed fruits for a delicious smoothie, and milk has the added benefit of providing calcium which is needed for maintaining bone strength. Other great sources of protein are found in fish and other seafoods, soya and nuts, such as pistachios which are also low in saturated fat and walnuts are also good. Beans are also decent sources of protein.

You can also use protein powders in your recovery period with different types of protein. Whey protein is digested quickly and has high branched chain amino acids and is great straight after you training. Casein is digested slowly and so is soy, and it can be a good idea to have a powder with a mixture of these types of proteins to deliver a steady release of proteins for tissue recovery.

Other Nutrients

There are many other important nutrients that you should make sure you include in your diet which help optimise your cycling performance. Iron forms part of your red blood cells and is is vital for transporting oxygen around your body. Iron rich foods include dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, particularly apricots and cereals that have been fortified with iron. Red meat is also a great source of iron, but be sure to remove the saturated fat. Omega-3 fatty essential acids are help relieve stiffness in joints and help recovery in muscles, as well many other health benefits. Great sources of omega-3 acids includes fish such as mackerel, salmon and tuna, as well as walnuts, soybeans and cauliflower.