Often as cyclists, we are guilty of doing everything we can to get small improvements in performance – well almost everything. From lighter bikes and components to aero helmets & apparel, all of these things help to give us that edge that we are so desperately after. However, one key thing that is often overlooked and provides significant benefits without making any changes to your bike or cycling attire is cycling nutrition. Obviously food provides you with the energy that you need to get going throughout your ride, however the right foods can offer significant benefits such as everything from livelier muscles to faster recovery between workouts & even improved speed. In order to get the biggest benefit out of your riding nutrition, you need to know two things: What to eat, and when to eat it!
Part 1: When should you eat?
Ride Preparation: An unfortunate habit some people have with most forms of exercise (myself included, I am certainly guilty of this one at times!) is not adequately eating before a workout, which stops them from getting the maximum benefit from their training. When starting a ride, it is important to have good glycogen stores, because when these are low, the body breaks down muscle protein for fuel. This essentially means that the muscles are eating themselves to feed themselves, which is not a desired outcome. If this becomes a regular habit, you will find that your muscles grow weaker, and not stronger and you will end up over trained. Before you ride, where possible, you want to ensure that you have a meal with a high intake of protein for muscle strength, as well as carbohydrates for energy. This could include a breakfast of wholemeal pancakes and an egg, with nuts or a pear as a snack in the mid-morning.
Energy Boosters for your Ride: Whilst starchy and sugary foods such as potatoes and bagels have a bad reputation for causing blood-sugar levels to sky rocket and your performance to take a hit, when their use is timed correctly, these foods will give you a super performance boost. This is because the fast-acting simple sugars they possess result in an extremely quick delivery of energy. They are actually quite effective at fuelling your workout as they replenish your glycogen stores. Eating foods such as watermelon within 30 minutes of a ride can keep you looking lean and energised. Outside of this, your nutritional requirements are best suited to a diet that contains lean proteins with high fibre fruits and vegies.
The Diet of Recovery: As I mentioned in the preparation section, we have bad habits of under fuelling before working out, so that we feel lean and light during a workout. This often results in a post workout low, where you find yourself in the kitchen feeling particularly light headed. A downside to this, and in fact another reason to fuel yourself appropriately before a workout is that depleted muscles and low blood sugar can cause people to binge eat, defeating the purpose of the workout they just completed. The solution to this problem is to ensure that you are energised before commencing your ride, and that you have an appropriate recovery meal planned before you get back. Superfoods such as strawberries and blueberries are a good post ride option, as they contain lots of anti-oxidants that fight disease in the body, keeping you fit, strong and healthy.
Part 2: Food every cyclist must eat
Benefits of Increased Calcium Consumption:If you aren’t already aware, carbohydrates are the backbone of all exercise performance. That being said, are you aware of the benefits of calcium on a cyclist? The mineral is imperative in muscle contraction, yet unfortunately it is lost through sweat. Without replacing this key mineral, your performance can be severely diminished, as losing it affects the transmission of nerve impulses decreases the ability of your muscles to perform at their peak. Another important factor to consider as a cyclist, that is also relevant to longer distance runners, is the effect of training on bone density and done health. An increase in the consumption of calcium can preserve your bone density, especially for long term and long distance bike riders. A study done on Tour de France cyclists showed that they can lose up to 25% of their bone mineral density over the three weeks of the Tour. The best sources of calcium include some dairy products as well as green vegetables. For more on that, you can read this article here.
Correct Diet = Reduced Inflammation: What if I told you that the correct nutritional diet could help reduce the inevitable pain that is inflammation? Unfortunately inflammation occurs as the body tries to repair worked muscles and joints. In a strange turn of events, it is also responsible for causing soreness and it can slow down recovery. Food that has anti-inflammatory agents has been proven to reduce aches and increase the speed of the healing process. Foods that are high in Omega 3, such as Salmon and Tuna, as well as cherries and berries, are proven anti-inflammatory’s that can help you recover from your rides quicker. I have attached a link to a great article showing the Top 10 Anti-Inflammatory Foods. Check it out, I found it very useful.
Cycling Nutrition Fun Facts
- Vitamin D has been proven to increase athletic performance. A study undertaken in 2009 examined a group of athletes, with one half absorbing twice as much vitamin D then the other. The entire group of athletes then undertook some exercise, and the group with the extra Vitamin D went on to exercise faster and stronger and with greater endurance.
- 10 minutes of full sun exposure equates to the same amount of vitamin D in almost 100 glasses of full milk.
- 1000mg is the required daily intake of calcium for people between 18-50.
- A study on mice given an anti-inflammatory compound showed a 20% increase in endurance. They also exhibited less muscle inflammation.
So there goes. Try some of these cycling nutrition tips and let me know how it works out for you. I would love to know your thoughts / tips, please feel free to share them below or send me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org! Check us out on Facebook and for all your cycling needs, don't forget to head to our website!
Have a great week, James.