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Cycling Nutrition


Cycling is a physically demanding sport especially if you're racing competitively. Even if you're just going for a leisurely ride in the park you'll be burning around 250 calories per hour and if you take it a bit more seriously that'll increase to 300-450 calories per hour. Remember a bike is fuelled by the food you eat so you need not worry about piling on the pounds when eating as long as it's the correct types of food at the right times. Without the correct amount and/type of food and drink the body's immune system can weaken and you'll become more tired much quicker.

Food

Without going into too much detail, under heavy exercise your muscle and tissue is essentially breaking up. In order to recover and regenerate they need fuel to repair themselves, and when this occurs they increase the muscles strength by increasing in size and the fibres which connect the muscles to the bone develop a tighter and stronger bond. This may sound like a bad thing, but as long as you eat the correct fuel and nutrition there is nothing to worry about ? it's actually good for you. Stamina is also increased when your muscles regenerate as the more you exercise the less the muscles have to breakdown meaning you can use them for longer without pain occurring unless you increase the workload further. Your body also needs nutrients to fuel movement just like a car needs fuel to drive.

Carbohydrates: For a highly active endurance sport such as cycling, a high carbohydrate (carb) diet is the way to go. You should aim to consume around 60-70% carbohydrates in your diet. Carbs are broken down into two categories: complex (slow), and simple (fast). Complex carbs are high in fibre and breakdown into glycogen slowly leaving you with energy for longer periods of time. Simple carbs work in the opposite manner giving your body short but intense amounts of glycogen, therefore on longer rides they require topping up every so often. A mix of both types of carbohydrates is best, however, because complex carbs stabilise blood sugar and even out the body?s energy levels it's advisable to have a stronger emphasis on these.

Examples of Complex Carbohydrates:

Apples Apricots Artichokes Asparagus Broccoli Sprouts Cabbage
Carrots Cauliflower Celery Cucumbers Dill Grapefruit Kidney beans
Lentils Lettuce Milk Multi-grain bread Muesli Navy beans Oat bran cereal
Oatmeal Onions Oranges Pasta Peas Pears Pickles
Plums Porridge Potatoes Prunes Radishes Rice Soybeans
Spinach Strawberries Tomatoes Turnips Water Cress Whole Barley Yogurt

Examples of Simple Carbohydrates:

Baked goods (made with white flour) Biscuits (plain) Boiled sweets Bread (made with white flour)
Cake Candy Chocolate Chutney
Fizzy (carbonated) drinks Fruit juice Fudge Gums
Honey Jam Liquorice Mint Sweets
Most packaged breakfast cereals Pasta made with white flour Pickle Syrups
Table sugar Tinned fruits Toffee

Fats: A cyclists' diet should contain around 20-30% fats. Fats aid the breakdown of food to produce glycogen and help to store necessary sugars and energy. Such fats include butter, cheese, milk, yoghurt and olive oil. Try to avoid hydrogenated and saturated fats so stick with vegetable oils (olive, sunflower and vegetable oil). Extra virgin olive oil is best as it contains vital nutrients such as vitamin E. Try to avoid eating too much animal fat - lean meat is best. Many nuts also contain highly beneficial oils.

Protein: It is good for a cyclist to consume 15-20% protein in their diet as this aids the rebuilding of muscle tissue fibres as well as assisting fat in glycogen production and storing energy. Although meat contains protein, it is not so easily broken down so try to include beans, cheese, egg, milk, nuts and vegetables into a meal as these are far easier for the body to extract the protein.

Further Nutrients: By eating a variety of fresh fruit and veg, you will be feeding your body with essential vitamins and minerals, enzymes, electrolytes and micro-nutrients. These assist the proteins repair tissue, they maintain a healthy immune system, and keep your bodily functions working correctly.

Energy bars and gels are widely used by cyclists and athletes before, during and after training and races. These are easily digested and they boost the body's supply of calories, carbs (mainly complex), protein, vitamins and minerals in order to help the body to continue to function correctly and to avoid premature exhaustion.

Drink

Drinking water is equally (if not more) important than food. Your body constantly needs hydrating because the sweat the body releases when undergoing exercise is a body's cooling mechanism - without the ability to sweat would result in your body overheating. Breathing also results in loss of fluid in the body and this vapour can be seen when exhaling in cold weather. Studies have shown that a loss of 700ml (a usual cycling bottle) of bodily fluids can result in 7% decrease in performance and 1400ml loss gives a 20% drop in performance. It's obviously really important to replace the water lost, and if you become thirsty while cycling then you've left it too late even when you feel you don't need it, drink plenty. Energy drinks are a great idea as they not only hydrate the body but feed it with necessary nutrients including carbs and electrolytes to boost energy at the same time. When used in the form of an isotonic drink (drinking whilst cycling) energy drinks help the body to absorb the fluid faster reducing the risk of dehydration. Also it is useful to know that after exercise it is just as important to consume fluid and carbohydrates in order to recover. Recovery drinks contain complex carbs to assist the body to do just that and because they're in liquid form it's much easier to stomach after a race.

Our 10 Tips on How to Avoid Premature Exhaustion

  • 1. Eat a suitable diet as mentioned above ensuring your glycogen reserves are fully stocked
  • 2. Increased high-mileage training will reduce glycogen consumption as your stamina builds (and muscle regeneration slows)
  • 3. Gradually reduce mileage 7 days prior to a major endurance race to build glycogen reserves
  • 4. There are glycogen reserves in muscles and the liver, however the reserve in the liver usually takes longer to mobilise. Therefore begin your ride relatively slowly for between 5-15 minutes (10-15 minutes is best), otherwise you'll burn up your muscles glycogen supply before the liver has started depletion.
  • 5. Eat whilst cycling
  • 6. Drink plenty even if you feel you don't need it
  • 7. Eat lots of carbohydrates the night prior to cycling
  • 8. If taking part in a race, eat at least 3 hours before the race and nothing after 1 hour before, otherwise eat food with low protein and fat so that it's digested quicker
  • 9. Drink a strong black coffee 1 hour before cycling as the caffeine mobilises fatty acids - then follow with plenty of water
  • 10. Don't forget to eat and drink as soon as possible after exercise to regain lost energy and fluid