Here on The Hub we’re constantly talking about the importance of good nutrition; you’ll hear it from us time and time again. That rule also applies to cycling. If you’re putting in hours and hours of training and cycling time but you’re not fuelling your body with the right nutrition, you’re never going to be the best at your game. We all know how much we want to experience that priceless winning feeling after all of our hard work!
Getting the right nutrients is important to fuel your races, train without getting fatigued and help your body to recover faster. But most importantly it is what will allow you to win that medal or beat that personal best!
We’ve put together this nutrition guide to help you get the most out of your cycling miles, training sessions and sportives both long and short:
Test out your diet before you race
Every athletes body works differently and diet is never a one-size-fits-all matter. While we will give you some really helpful tips in this article, it’s also important that you try out our tips several times before your big race to see what works for you. Here’s why you need to try different nutritional strategies before you race:
1. Your breakfast is possibly your most important meal when it comes to cycling because it is what gives you that first bout of energy. You need to be confident that what you’re eating works for your body & gives it sufficient fuel.
2. You need to know how much you sweat during races to make sure that you’re hydrating your body adequately. You shouldn’t be losing more than 2-3% of your body mass during a race.
3. Our bodies can only store enough energy from carbohydrates to last between 90-120 minutes so it’s important to intake 60-90g of carbohydrates per hour to get you through your race. It can take some time to adjust to intaking such high quantities so it’s a good idea to get your body used to it before the big day.
4. It’s not just about eating before and after, you’ve got to get confident eating and drinking while you cycle at speed.
The day before your race
It’s not only important to eat well on the morning of race day, it’s also important to make a couple of small changes the day before the big race. Our general rule for the day before is to eat normally and to focus mainly on hydration. You want to aim for optimal hydration and you’ll know that you’ve reached that when your urine is very light yellow to clear. By hydrating adequately the day before, you’re not having to drink too much on the morning of race day to catch up which would lead to too many toilet breaks – no one needs that!
Instead of eating red meat, which is heavy and more difficult to digest, opt for chicken or fish with a serving of veggies and carbohydrates. It’s important to eat some carbs but there is no need to eat massive bowls of pasta to ‘overload’ – this can be completely unnecessary as our body can only store 400-500g or 2000 kcal of the glycogen (energy) that we get from the carbs we consume.
It’s also important to get your meal in at the right time and not eat too late or you’ll find that it will affect your sleep and you definitely need a good sleep if you want to power through your race!
On race day you should aim to eat breakfast about 2-3 hours before your event. Eating breakfast too late will cause stomach cramps as soon as you hop on the bike so make sure to time it right.
Your breakfast should be mainly carbohydrate based as our glycogen stores decrease over night. You can get your carbohydrates from breakfast foods that you’re used to such as toast, cereals, porridge and juices. If you are competing in a longer race then simply add 2-3 eggs for a source of slow-releasing energy.
Your pre-event meal should also be high in protein, low in fibre and low in fat. By limiting fatty foods you are preventing a delay in stomach emptying and in limiting high fiber foods you prevent abdominal cramping that could happen as soon as you jump on the bike.
It’s also a good idea to limit your caffeine intake as it is a diuretic that causes water loss. If you absolutely must have your morning cup of coffee then just make sure that you keep hydrated.
During the event
What you eat during the event depends on your body and also the length of your training ride or sportive.
For shorter rides (less than 90 minutes) its important that you keep hydrated. You should aim not to lose more than 2-3% of your body mass so make sure to drink 500ml of fluid per hour depending on your sweat rate and the outside temperature and/or humidity level. Your aim is to stay hydrated but a gel pack or energy bar will give you added carbohydrates for energy.
For longer rides (90 minutes or longer) you need to focus not only on hydration but also on your carbohydrate intake. About 20-30 minutes into the race you need to consume your first carbohydrates. You need to be consuming 0.5-1g of carbohydrates per kg of your body weight each hour depending on the intensity of your ride. You should spread this over 2-3 small feeds every 20-30 minutes.
When deciding on your nutrition plan its important that you consider a few factors:
· Some people can compete on gels alone but others need real food in their system
· It’s generally a good idea to eat food early in the ride and later switch to gels when the intensity picks up and you can no longer stomach food
· Don’t force yourself to overeat or you’ll find yourself bloated and struggling to digest your food
· Ultimately you need to figure out exactly what your body needs to compete at its best so experiment during your training rides. Do not, I repeat, do not leave it until race day to try out your new nutritional plan!
After your training ride or race, your body will be in a state of depletion so do not neglect this stage. It’s important that you refuel and get enough rest to reduce fatigue, recover and reduce your risk of injury.
If you fuelled and paced your ride correctly you should finish your ride hungry but without being ravenous. Your muscles capacity to absorb and store nutrients increases between 30 – 60 minutes after exercise so it is important that you replace lost carbohydrates and proteins within this time frame. It can be a good idea to have protein and carbohydrate recovery drink already made up so that you can drink it after your ride.
Later when you have your next meal it should contain protein and carbohydrates without being a huge meal. It’s important that you don’t finish a race with that ‘I can now eat what I want’ attitude. If you can stomach food after your ride you can skip the protein and carbohydrate drink and instead go straight for the food.
If you feel hungry a few hours after your ride you didn’t fuel enough during the ride or fuel soon enough afterwards so you can have a healthy snack of fruit or nuts. It’s important to note that if this is the case then you need to make a few changes to your nutritional plan to ensure that you’re providing your own body with the fuel that it needs.
Sleep is also an incredibly important part of your recovery and during this sleep its important that your muscles have a good supply of protein. Have a dinner that will aid this recovery and reduce inflammation of the muscles by consuming a meal of oily fish, vegetables and potatoes.
Check out our range of products on our online store to read more about our protein-rich supplements and recovery drink!