THE BASICS OF CYCLING NUTRITION
Matthew Richardson, a Sports Science student at Sheffield Hallam University, has written this article for us on the basics of nutrition specifically for cyclists (however, it can be adapted for any sport.)
“While most cyclist may seek benefits from upgrading their bike or increasing training, one much simpler way to help your performance on the bike is nutrition. Here is the basics on the three main sources of energy and some tips about how to improve your diet.
Put simply, carbohydrates are sugar and starches that form the main fuel for the body during daily activities as well as exercise. During exercise, the body metabolises carbohydrates from foods such as bread and pasta to produce energy. This energy allows the heart (cardiovascular) and muscles (muscoskeletal) systems to perform work.
There’s a variety of ways to take in carbohydrates during endurance exercise, for example sports drinks/gels. Most provide a immediate dose of carbohydrates, usually in the form of glucose, sucrose or fructose. If the appropriate nutritional plans are not implemented, the body will undergo fatigue, reducing the amount of work that can be done. This symptom is called ‘hitting the wall’. Therefore, it is paramount that carbohydrate levels are keep consistent throughout training or racing.
While carbohydrates are metabolised during shorter term high-intensity exercise, fats are used during longer duration low intensity exercise. For example, a 10-mile TT will use primarily carbohydrates as a fuel source, whereas a 100 mile sportive will begin to demand fat after several hours. Both energy sources are still used in both scenarios, but one is used primarily over the other. Fat is often viewed as a something to avoid for fear of weight gain, however this is simply a myth. It is recommended that saturated fats are avoided instead. Replace them with unsaturated fats. When it comes to cycling, fats are an essential energy source and recovery tool.
The importance of protein has become well known in nutrition recently, as it is an essential build block for life. It provides a product to build and repair muscle and bone cells, especially after intense exercise. Protein consists of a product called amino acid, which is the basic material of every cell in the body. After intense exercise, muscles are microscopically torn very slightly due to the load. Amino acids are used to repair these tears and when this is done the muscle grows back slightly larger and stronger; this is called hypertrophy and is the basic principle of training. With most nutrition brands advertising all kinds of protein, it is hard to know what to buy for your needs. While protein is an essential recovery tool after exercise, supplements are only really required for high-volume athletes. With a well balanced and consciously planned diet, enough protein (meat, dairy, nuts etc.) can be in-taken to suffice for an average person. Often protein supplements are used in conjunction with a high protein diet, resulting in too much protein for the body to use for recovery, leading to fat gain. However, if a competition or a high volume training block is upcoming, supplements are an easy compromise for a high protein diet.