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A Guide To Cycling Nutrition

Any sportsman or women will tell you, nutrition is an important part of the daily routine

Healthy and balanced food fit for a cyclist
2020-01-04 10:09:00

As any sportsman or women will tell you, nutrition is an important part of any daily routine. While the exact diet will differ dependant on age, gender, height, weight and even your upbringing and regular eating habits. When you first get started in cycling, or are looking to make a step change in performance, finding the right diets, products and advice for your body type and cycling routines can be quite the confusing experience, particularly when you consider that your daily nutrition and training nutrition are also very different.

From eating the right foods according to what your body needs when you’re cycling, to ensuring you’re still getting everything you require to be healthy the rest of the time, finding that perfect balance to fuel your body can be make or break for any cyclist. Here, we’re taking a deeper look into cycling nutrition and how you can change your routine accordingly.

How Cycling Affects Your Body

Heading out on your bike without the proper nutrition can leave you feeling anything from easily tired, to completely dizzy. Your body utilises a lot of energy when cycling, burning up carbohydrates, proteins and fats in order to keep itself going to endure every turn of the pedals. When you cycle, your body uses up carbohydrates in particular, breaking them down into sugars and starch that are then turned into glucose, which your body uses to keep itself propelling forward. In some cases, this glucose is stored as glycogen instead, which is converted back as and when your body needs it throughout the ride. 

For this reason, cyclists need to ensure that they aren’t just seeking quick energy boosts when they’re due to embark on a long ride. By building up the stores of valuable glycogen, you can exercise for longer before you begin to feel fatigued. As your body uses up the glycogen and glucose, however, you are at risk of low blood sugar if you don’t stop to refuel effectively. While fatty acids and proteins are also useful in maintaining and developing muscle mass, your body will begin to utilise the skeletal muscle. In order to prevent this, you need a full nutrition plan that gives you the energy and resource you need to prevent exhaustion. 

A selection of natural foods to support cycling

What Kinds Of Food Should Cyclists Eat?

  • Carbohydrates

Easy to digest carbohydrates are one of the most important parts of any cyclist’s diet. You should be consuming enough starch and sugars in order to produce the glucose and glycogen your body needs. In order to replenish these stores just before or after a ride, you should consume easy-to-digest carbs such as rice, quinoa, oatmeal, pasta, sweet potatoes and green and leafy vegetables. 

  • Protein

On a similar strain to carbohydrates, easy to absorb proteins are a must-have in any cyclist’s diet, whether you’re catering for daily nutrition or a training regime. Some of the most easily digestible proteins include protein powders (e.g. milkshakes), eggs, cottage cheese, fish, Greek yoghurt and chicken. 

  • Fat

For a real boost of energy, you’ll need to be consuming enough healthy fats. While you should typically avoid overly fatty foods, those with fatty acids are a great way to train your body into using fat reserves for riding, rather than sugars. This way, you won’t need to rely fully on carbohydrates. Some of the healthier fat-holding foods include avocado, full-fat dairy products, olive oils, coconut oil and nuts.

  • Foods Rich In Glutathione

Glutathione can help your cells to better utilise the oxygen that your body is absorbing throughout any standard day, or any training regime. They can help you to optimise the way your body functions by improving oxygen saturation throughout your blood and muscles. These foods include garlic, onions, bioactive whey protein and cruciferous vegetables including cauliflower, cabbage, kale, cress and more.

  • Vitamin D

In order to develop strong bones, your body needs plenty of vitamin D and calcium. Vitamin D is essential in aiding the process, of building strong bones and while sun exposure is typically the best way to get that much-needed boost, there are a few foods to add to your diet that can help, particularly in the duller months. For a vitamin D boost, try foods like fatty fish, beef liver, eggs and cheese.

  • Calcium

As with vitamin D, calcium is crucial in the production of strong bones. If you’re low on calcium, you are at a higher risk of stress fractures and bone breakage through other injuries, however it’s easy to give your body the boost it needs. Along with dairy products, other foods rich in calcium include green, leafy vegetables, sunflower seeds, clams, figs, sweet potatoes and broccoli. 

  • Omega-3

Omega-3 is a great food to eat as part of an anti-inflammatory diet. It can protect your body against fatigue-induced illnesses and are also high in antioxidants. Foods to consider that are rich in omega-3 acids include berries, vegetables, egg yolks, nuts, seeds, citrus fruits and, of course, fatty fish.

A selection of natural foods to support cycling

Calorie Requirements

The ideal calorie intake for you and your body will ultimately depend on a variety of factors. To get a true, accurate guided amount, you can speak to a dietician, your GP or a nutritionist for advice on how best to measure this, however most people tend to need between 1,600 – 2,400 calories per day. For cyclists, this is typically a lot more. Business Insider reported that on average, the Tour de France cyclists burn over 6000 calories every day and while not every cyclist will be doing that much work in any single 24-hour period, it certainly goes some way to showing just how many more calories a cyclist needs to consume. Riding in the mountains dramitiaclly increases calorie requirements.

However, this doesn’t mean that a cyclist needs to consume 6000 calories in a day – in fact, more nutritionists will advise that you begin by replenishing around 50% of the calories burned and seeing how you feel and how your body copes with this regime first. You can then adapt and adjust this as you see fit.

Consuming calories after a workout is advised, as your body’s ability to take in and absorb glycogen for muscle building is heightened. However, this can also depend on whether you ‘fuelled up’ before you went on your ride. In some cases, you might not be able to replenish as many lost nutrients afterwards, so it’s best to avoid eating as many calories as a result. Using high quality recovery shakes are an excellent way to replace essential fuel stores and nutrients when taken immedaitley after a demanding ride. 

Cycling the mountains

Should I Use Supplements?

While doping is highly frowned upon, some supplements can actually be hugely beneficial to cyclists in a much more clean and recognised way. For example, a good diet can give you enough glutathione to produce the same effect as an intravenous injection, however additional supplements can be a great way to add a little extra if you’re struggling. It’s also a substance that hasn’t been prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency, and so is safe to use both in health, and legality when competing.

Creatine supplements are said to also release energy when your body is under physical stress, and additional supplements have often been recorded to offer increased stamina while out on the bike. Whey Protein is also advised by experts, who say that it can increase your protein levels during intensive training, helping to provide amino acids and ultimately, help you recover after the workout.

Generally speaking, supplements can be a way to give your body a boost but, in most cases, it’s advised to get these through your diet rather than through supplements. A well-rounded or carefully designed diet can help you to get the nutrients and energy that you need without having to turn to supplements but in cases where you may be lacking, these can provide you with a bit of extra help. It's always very important to seek the advice of a medical professional, or qualified nutritionist before embarking on any supplementation to your diet.

While there is no one diet that a cyclist should follow, understanding what your body needs during your daily routine and during training sessions can help you improve your performance naturally and ultimately help to build up your strength and endurance. From building up your glycogen stores, to keeping your bones strong and durable through calcium and vitamin D intake, every nutrient can play an important part in keeping you strong and preventing fatigue, dizziness and exhaustion. 

Would You Like To Know More?

If you would like to know more about how to eat well to power your ride, I can highly recommend the book "Training Food" by Renee McGreggor.

Training Food

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