While many cyclists focus mostly on the training aspect of cycling. Cycling nutrition (eating and drinking) is just as important when it comes to your performance. This includes both on and off of the bike.
Our body’s muscles can store up to 400-500 g, or up to 2000 kcal of glycogen, which can then be used as energy. Glycogen is the body’s main fuel source you will use during your ride and is also stored when you ingest high carbohydrate foods. Here are some nutritional tips to power your cycling performance.
Hydrate to succeed
Over half of the human body is made up of water. To perform optimally it’s no surprise the body’s fluid loss needs to be topped up. Whether you’re training, commuting or riding a multi-day event, lack of hydration will compromise your performance full stop. Studies have shown that even a 2% drop in body weight due to loss of fluids can affect your body’s ability to ride. The larger effects start coming in at around 10% loss in weight. This is when you can start to experience dizziness, heat stroke and so on.
There are numerous types of sports drinks on the market today. The most common types come into these categories
Isotonic – contains similar concentrations of salt and sugar to that of the human body.
Hypertonic – contains a higher concentration of salt and sugar to that of the human body.
Hypotonic – contains a lower concentration of salt and sugar to that of the human body.
Typically, most people find they will typically lose anywhere from 500-1000ml of water each hour. This will vary based on weather conditions and riding intensity. For shorter rides, water works fine. But, for longer rides or back to back days, electrolytes (which include potassium, calcium, and magnesium) is lost in sweat. For normal function, these need to be replaced, and this is where the above sports drinks come into the equation. Sports drinks help hydrate and replace electrolytes, and will also provide around 30grams of carbohydrate.
Aiming to spread carbohydrate intake over a period of 20-30mins during the ride, combining from both food and sports drinks, allows the body to keep a constant flow of energy to the muscles and stabilises blood sugar levels throughout your ride.
Energy expenditure during cycling
The body’s muscles burn glucose as a source of fuel, which means the body stores glucose in a form called glycogen. Glycogen is then broken down into glucose when the muscles need an increased supply of fuel. The body can only store enough glycogen for around 90mins of moderate to intense physical activity, so if you are doing more than 90mins of high-intensity you need to replenish those levels during the ride.
What kind of food should I eat?
Foods rich in carbohydrate. Why? Well, carbohydrates chemical structure means that they can be broken down quickly into glucose, efficiently.
Some high carbohydrate based foods, such as pasta and rice, are far too impractical to eat during riding. You need high carbohydrate food than can be carried easily with you on the bike. Foods such as raisins provide a source of carbohydrate while still being easily accessible on the bike. Other options include bite-sized cookies and sports bars. Sports nutrition company’s such as Battle Oats provide a high-density carb energy bar, which will typically have around 15grams of protein and are high in fibre.
When should I eat?
Feeling hungry or showing signs of thirst means you’re too far behind your nutrition plan. Aim to eat small amounts of carbs throughout the ride. This not only provides immediate glucose but helps protect the body’s glycogen levels. Aiming to ingest carbs every 20-30mins and beginning your eating plan during your first hour will help the body draw energy from the food and allows the body to keep a reserve of stored glycogen.
You should be aiming to ingest between 60-90grams of carbohydrate per hour.
Depending on the intensity and duration of your ride, it is important to refuel both through hydration and carbohydrate/protein within 30mins. If you cycling back-to-back days, replenishing your carbohydrate stores will help speed up the recovery process. Sleep is one of the most important aspects of recovery. Feeding the body up to 40grams of protein prior to sleeping can help supply amino acids to the body during the overnight period. This can come in the form of foods such as eggs, or milk which can also deliver more carbohydrate and replace your glycogen stores.
Sleep is one of the most important aspects of recovery. Feeding the body up to 40grams of protein prior to sleeping can help supply amino acids to the body during the overnight period. This can come in the form of foods such as eggs and milk which can also deliver more carbohydrate and replace your glycogen stores.
These cycling nutrition tips will help you perform to your best and power your cycling performance.
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