If you’ve recently taken up cycling or running, chances are you’re probably interested in improving your health and fitness. Doing so is dependent on a number of factors, but most importantly, nutrition is one of the most fundamental pillars of high-level performance. And if you’ve tried a couple of fitness hacks that don’t seem to be working, simply improving your nutrition might just be what you’ve been looking for. From the importance of carbs and protein to pre and post-exercise tips, here are our quick nutritional gains to improve your cycling and running performance.
1. Attain caloric balance
Energy is an essential component of physical activity. It’s easy to burn out due to low levels of energy. As cycling and running are mostly energy-intensive activities that intertwine between aerobic and anaerobic activities, it is quite important to have enough energy before embarking on these workouts. As a general rule of thumb here is how much energy you need depending on how long and intense you exercise for.
2. Don’t forget the Carbs
Carbohydrates are the primary source of fuel and energy for the body, but when consumed in excess amounts, the body promptly converts and stores it as fat – not good. The carbohydrate requirement will also vary depending on the distance and your body weight, but a key recommendation is to consume slow-burning carbohydrates (low-glycemic carbs) such as whole grains, vegs and fruits alongside a snack. For cycling and running workouts, try cereals such as oats, wholegrain sandwiches for lunch and some rice or quinoa for evening munchies. Try and opt for wholegrain low-glycemic carbs with fruits and vegetables rather than sources that have high refined sugar content.
3. And the protein
Protein is often ignored by runners and cyclists as it is thought to be a muscle-build food only. Contrary to widespread misconceptions, protein is essential for recovery and replacement of worn-out tissue. Protein is also highly recommended due to the high level of satiety that accompanies it and as such, it helps to keep your appetite under control for people who are weight-conscious. Increased immune function and accelerated muscle recovery are also achieved by consuming an adequate amount of proteins. Runners and cyclists should include pulses and beans in your diet, along with fish, lean meats and low-fat dairy meals. Like carbs, protein should also be consumed in small meals or snack sizes.
4. Only the good fats
Of course, there are bad fats, but the type of fat you need to achieve optimal health, performance and weight balance are good fats that include the omega 3 and omega 6 fats. Other types of good fats include fats like omega 9 fats and are sourced for in fish, nuts, seeds and oils. Healthy fats also offer anti-inflammatory properties which make them beneficial to managing pain, improving health functions stimulating metabolism (they are readily converted to carbs and burned off) and therefore enhancing weight loss.
5. Don’t leave out the vitamins and minerals
Vitamins and minerals are readily available in fruits and vegetables. Deficiencies may occur if proper vitamin and mineral balance isn’t upheld and as such, sources of essential macrominerals and vitamins A, D, E and K should be courted. The NHIS recommends the intake of 5 pieces of fruits and veggies daily to convey fibre and this mineral, while some milks are also fortified with essential vitamins and minerals to enhance performance. A nutritional tip is to consume healthy multivitamins in recommended amounts, but avoid overdosing as these supplements may have side effects.
Ah, yes, the most overlooked aspect of nutrition. Very few cyclists and runners endeavour to take enough water as required by their bodies, before, during and after exercise. Water does not only improve your metabolism, aid digestion and blood flow, but it is also important for neutralising the effects of the stress hormone, cortisol, that is usually present in higher levels in the bloodstream after strenuous activities. If you don’t know how much water you should be drinking, weigh yourself before and after exercise and then drink an additional litre of water for each kilo lost. So important is water for exercise that research has revealed that a simple 2% drop in dehydration can result in a 10% drop in performance.
7. Timing is essential
If you have ever mistimed your meals, you’d have either experienced what it’s like to be really hungry when you just started cycling or running or how difficult it can be going up a hill with some extra baggage in your stomach weighing you down. To avoid either case, ideal pre-ride/run nutrition should come 90 minutes before your activity. Again, your ideal pre-ride meal should be something with lower-fat, high carbs and low protein or snack with small quantities of lean protein which would be easier assimilated and metabolised by the body compared to protein or carbohydrate dominated meals.
The role of nutrition for improved performance in running and cycling is indispensable. Remember, try to consume meals 90 minutes before starting your workout and take carbohydrate-rich drinks or meals in the first 20 minutes of your ride as metabolism and nutrient storage is more efficient in this period. Generally, you will want to take a gram of carbohydrate for every kilogram you weigh and 10 grams of protein to boost muscle recovery and reduce soreness after workouts and a soy-based or any protein drink/shake can be highly beneficial post-cycling or post-running.