The flow of articles on nutrition for cyclists and sports people alike is never ending. We are all after those marginal gains to either gain that extra percentage of performance or shed the excess kilos. There seems to be a new craze every week and we have all seen Chris Froome eating omelettes, avocado and spinach for breakfast over the more traditional cereals.
The fact of the matter is we are all real people living real lives. It would be great if we could get up every morning and had two hours to prepare a breakfast before our casual four hour ride. In reality, this is maybe hitting out a ride before work in the dark and then grabbing a quick bite to eat before rushing out the door. This would be followed up with 9 hours recovery at work, children’s sports after work and general domestic duties. This article will hopefully give an insight into nutrition for the average person and how you can potentially make some smart improvements in your cycling diet.
For the average cyclist, the main focus should be on weight management as that is where you will likely make your most marginal gains. As a cyclist, excess weight (outside of muscle), is the key driver for increasing performance (especially on the hills). A rider who puts out 300 watts at 70kgs is stronger than a rider who is 75kgs and puts out 300 watts. The math is easy on paper for weight loss – calories in needs to be less than calories burnt. When that comes to nutrition, current thinking has sugar as the new evil and fat actually ok in moderation.
This differs from the days of 99% fat free but packed with sugar and additives claims. The general rule of thumb therefore is to minimise our processed sugar intake and try to eat as much non processed food as possible. This will lead to eating harder working calories and ultimately making you healthier and less likely to put on weight. I would use the word moderation in all of the above however. Don’t go out there tomorrow and stop eating chocolate and drinking beer…. you are less likely to succeed in the long term. Always work treats/rewards into your day.
Healthy snacking on the bike: training, racing & recovery
Trying to overlay the new thinking in health for a cyclist poses many dilemmas. How do you make your snacking healthy on the bike? How do you lose weight but not bonk? and how do you get through a race without feeling wrecked the next day?
At what stage do you deserve the coffee and muffin? On a ride, the best snacks to take are ones that will fuel you for the ride. Ideally you should be taking bananas and any of the new date balls options. If you want more of a processed offering with a little flavour then the One Square Meal bars seem to be the choice for many elite riders in New Zealand. Food should be coupled with water on short rides and an electrolyte mix and gels on longer rides or hot days. Coffee stops are fine but maybe cut back on the additional food purchases.
If you are doing bigger rides, then make sure you do stop to replace the food and drink you have burnt. Case in point the other day when we rode 180km and we stopped for pies. On a ride this long, you need to replace the fats and this definitely filled the stomach for the ride home. What we need to remember is the food we eat today fuels the recovery and the level of effort we want to put out tomorrow. Not eating enough one day and losing 2kg can result in sore legs tomorrow so add a ride that would be classed as junk miles.
The one rule to racing is always make sure you have fuelled yourself enough to make it through the race. This should start the night before with a carb heavy meal and salad. We tend to make up chicken carbonara or a beef lasagna with a big salad of leafy greens with seeds and dressing.
On race morning, go with what you know best. This might be the staple of porridge, toast, Weetbix on a cooked breakfast of baked beans. Always remember to drink plenty at meal time so you digest the meals and hydrate the system.
During the race, go with what you know and eat foods that go down easy. Again, bananas and muesli bars work well here. Supplement this with plenty of electrolyte drink and energy gels. What you need to aim to do is stay at the same level across the race and be able to out sprint your mates at the end without cramping.
In a bigger race of 160km, I would tend to take 1 banana, 2 muesli bars, 4 gels and 2 bottles ….plus grab another further in the race. This will differ from person to person however.
This is the most important part of training. How quickly you refuel and recover can impact on how the next few days pan out. Following any ride or race the key is to replace what you have lost. This is usually fuelling the body with energy rich food and drink that can replace the salts lost from sweat. The best go-to fuel post race is to have some sugars soon after, we tend to have cokes post race (within 15 minutes). This would be followed up with a protein shake (or chocolate milk) and then some solid foods (within 30 minutes to 1 hour). We tend to have bread rolls and chicken and salad or if we are on the road it may well be a stop at Subway.
Hopefully this gives a bit of an insight into the nutrition from Team Skoda Racing. It is not rocket science and you don’t have to live like a monk to get slightly better. The key outtake is to make the right choices or the one better choice from what you are having before.