Cyclists need the right fuel to avoid 'hitting the wall'
Karen Coghlan on why water and carbs are cycling essentials
In the sport of cycling, it is essential to be aware of the importance of proper nutrition and hydration. If you neglect this aspect of your training programme, then you are self-imposing an unnecessary limiting factor.
Not having the right fuel on board is akin to hitting the road with your tyres not being pumped with air - without it, you will end up deflated on the side of the road with no ride home.
Cycling is an intense and exhaustive activity, so you need to eat the right foods in the right amounts and at the right time to avoid injuries, a compromised immune system, and slow recovery from training.
The most important nutrient for the cyclist is water. Without adequate fluids on board, you are at unnecessary risk for dehydration, lower training intensity and heat illness.
Even a 1pc-2pc drop in hydration will affect your performance. Your blood volume will reduce, your ability to maintain a safe core temperature will reduce, and the amount of oxygen pumped to your working muscles will be reduced.
Aim to drink at least 2-3 litres of water a day and even more on your training days. To ensure optimal hydration, drink an extra 150ml or so for every 15 minutes you are sweating on the bike. Pay extra attention to your water intake on hot days when you sweat more.
If you are a "salty sweater" and lose high amounts of salt through your sweat, then you should replace both lost fluids and electrolytes by eating salty foods or drinking fluids that contain sodium to avoid muscle cramps, particularly in warm weather.
Monitor your fluid intake during your cycle instead of taking a "just drink as much as possible" approach and have no more than 800ml per hour to prevent over-hydration.
FOOD IS FUEL
When designing a diet for sports performance, it should supply the required macronutrients (protein, fats, and carbohydrates) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) in adequate amounts for optimal health, muscle maintenance, repair and growth. Food should be the primary driving vehicle for these nutrients.
While there is a time and place for sports supplements, they're definitely not the be all of sports nutrition. Eat real food first and foremost. Your health will increase, your performance will improve, and you'll save yourself a buck or three.
Carbohydrates are a cyclist's best friend and the body's main energy source during high-intensity activities such as cycling. Eat a carbohydrate rich meal 2-3 hours before your cycle. Good carbohydrate choices include pasta, rice, potatoes, bread, fruit and breakfast cereals.
The body has a limited carbohydrate reserve (unlike fats and protein), so if you are hitting the road for 90 minutes or more, then you should also consume carbohydrates during your cycle to maximise physical performance and to avoid mental fatigue.
Consume about 60g of liquid or solid carbohydrates every hour to prevent "hitting the wall". This amount of carbohydrate can be found in 800ml of sports drink, two large bananas, or two cereal bars. You can mix and match your carbohydrate sources.
While protein is not a main source of fuel for cyclists, it is the basic building block for our bodies and it is essential to eat protein with every meal to meet performance and recovery demands.
Without adequate amounts of protein in your diet, you are putting yourself at risk of muscle breakdown, poor recovery, a compromised immune system and poor health in general.
Good sources of protein include: lean meats such as ground beef, chicken, and turkey, fish such as salmon, tuna, and cod, eggs, low-fat natural dairy such as cottage cheese and Greek yogurt, and beans, peas and legumes.
Supplemental protein during exercise can also reduce muscle damage, so consider consuming small amounts of protein during your cycle also. A good quality whey protein powder can come in handy here.
POST CYCLE RECOVERY
For the cyclist, carbohydrates should be consumed post workout to maximise restocking of muscle fuel stores with glycogen - a form of glucose stored in the body for fuel. A serving of carbohydrates (2-3 cupped handfuls) is best consumed within 30 minutes after exercise for optimal glycogen resynthesis.
Another small serving (1-2 cupped handfuls) should be consumed every two hours for 4-6 hours after, as it takes about four hours for carbohydrates to be digested and stored in the body.
Adding a small protein source to the carbohydrate helps to promote greater glycogen resynthesis.
Within the 30 minute window post exercise, simple carbohydrates are a good choice, such as sports drinks, cereal bars, and fruit juices. In the subsequent hours, the best sources of dietary carbohydrates are complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, potatoes, rice, oats, vegetables and fruit.
Karen will be speaking at the Irish Cyling Show being held in the RDS on April 18-19. Karen is a personal trainer and runs online nutrition and fat loss programmes. See www.thenutcoach.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org