In order to get the most out of cycling, especially for fitness, it is important to get your diet and nutrition right.
One of the most important things to remember is that Carbs are king! Carbohydrates are the body’s fuel supply and the importance of it as a fuel source for cycling is almost universally recognised. Stored in the muscle, any excess carbs above the body’s calorie needs will be stored as fat.
The recommended intake of carbs is between 60 and 70 percent per meal; however this may depend on how many miles per week you ride. Sports scientists recommend an intake of 5-9g for each kilogram you weigh per day. As many of you don’t have the time to weigh every gram of carbohydrate a good measurement to go by is to aim for a fist-sized portion of low-glycaemic carbohydrate (wholegrains, fruit, and vegetables) with each meal. The small servings will supply enough energy without leading to an energy drop, and it will be easier for your body to digest.
Remember that not all carbs are equal, try to avoid sugary carbohydrates as the can have a negative impact on recovery, energy levels, and health. It’s best to opt or slow-release carbohydrates that are full of nutrients, such as potatoes, pasta, rice, quinoa, and fruit and vegetables.
Good Fats- Yes they exist!
It may be hard to believe but yes there are such things as ‘good fats’. Fats are an energy source; essential fats are especially important as the body cannot make these itself and so must come from your diet.
Now it’s important to know your ‘good fats’ from your ‘bad fats’; good fats include polyunsaturated fats like Omega 3 and Omega 6, and monounsaturated fats (Omega 9). Saturated fats found in meats and processed foods should be limited however, Omega 3 and 6 fats are vital to maintaining health and are found in nuts, seeds, fish and oils such as flax seed, borage and starflower oil.
Fats work to synthesise proteins, and so when on a low fat diet, you won’t be using your protein sources as efficiently as possible. Fats also line the nerves and help muscle contraction, which s essential for cyclists.
There are many other additional benefits to ‘good fats’ and you should aim to include around 20g per day.
Protein is great for recovery; it’s often thought of as muscle fuel but it also carries additional benefits; it’s great for supporting your health and immune system.
However, don’t go crazy, you’re likely to be consuming enough just by having a balanced diet, and too much protein can have an appetite suppressing effect which may prevent you from getting all the carbs you need to keep your glycogen levels up.
Beans and pulses are great sources of protein to add into your diet, along with lean meats, fish and low fat dairy foods. As with carbohydrates, it is preferable to have just a small amount of protein in each meal to up your energy levels.
You have seen plenty of articles telling you about all the health benefits of water, well it’s true! Drinking enough water will help your ride improve and also give you better energy levels day-to-day. It is recommended to drink around 1.5-2 litres of water a day, cyclists should try to drink more to cover any losses made while riding.
Just a small percentage of body dehydration can have a negative impact in performance, drinking more water is a simple and affordable step that will make a big difference.
Try Glucose and fructose drinks too
Research has shown that drinking drink high in glucose and fructose can improve your ride performance by 8%; that’s an extremely good improvement rate! to get the best out of your sports drink don’t choose the drink based on taste alone, check the label to make sure it contains a good mixture of both glucose and fructose.
Fuel your body properly
First of all it’s important to consumer the right amount of calories for your ride. Taking up cycling often means you are able to increase your calorie, however this does not mean you should go and load up on sugary treats and snacks.
The general method for working out your additional calorie need is to multiply miles travelled by 40-50 calories. If your ride has been a slower, and you are a lighter rider keep towards the bottom end of this range, and aim for the top end if you are a faster, heavier rider.
Now, fuelling your ride correctly is very important. Slower-paced rides of 90minutes or less don’t normally need extra fuel as it should be covered if you are eating right throughout the day. Longer, more intense rides on the other hand require you to top up your carbohydrate stores throughout the ride to ensure you still have strength throughout the ride.
Studies show that 30-40g of carbohydrate per hour should be adequate. Carbohydrate drinks, gels or bars are a good option and easy to carry with you on a ride. Solid foods (such as bars) are easier to digest at the beginning of a longer ride, whereas drink mixes and gels are better for high-intensity races (unless using an isotonic gel, make sure to take gel carbohydrates with water to achieve the most effective solution).
The optimal recovery period for your muscles is known to be the first 20 minutes after a ride, during this period nutrients are taken up more efficiently and transported to muscle stores. Having a drink or meal rich in carbohydrates will improve your energy stores and have a direct impact on how much stored energy you have for your next ride.
The best options include; a milk-based drink, a whey or soy protein smoothie, jacket potato and beans or a specialised recovery formula. Specialised formulas are good options as they can provide extra immune system support from containing the ingredients glutamine and colostrum.