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cycling nutrition

Cycling nutrition tips

While many of us cyclists focus mostly on the training aspect of cycling. Eating and drinking is just as important part of your cycling performance. This includes both on and off the bike.

Our body’s muscles can store up to 400-500 g or up to 2000 kcal of glycogen, which can then be used as energy. Glycogen is the body’s main fuel you will use during your ride and is also stored when you ingest high carbohydrate foods.

The human body is made up of approximately 60% of water. To perform optimally it is no surprise that the body’s fluid loss needs to be topped up. Whether your training, commuting or riding a multi-day event, lack of hydration will compromise your performance full stop.  Studies have shown that even a 2% drop in body weight due to loss of fluids can affect your body’s ability to ride. While higher levels such as 4% can affect the capacity of the muscles. With the larger effects coming in at around 10% loss in weight. Which you can start to experience hallucinations, heat stroke and so forth.

Weighing yourself daily can measure any sudden drops in weight, which most of the time suggests that fluid intake should be increased. Monitoring the color of your urine is another way to check the body’s hydration level and if you have been monitoring your day to day hydration, drinking excessively the night before or hours before your ride shouldn’t be needed. While overhydration is far less common that dehydration, you might find yourself running for a comfort break leading up to and even during the ride.

There are numerous types of sports drinks on the market today. The most common types come into these categories

Isotonic – contains similar concentrations of salt and sugar to that of the human body.

Hypertonic – contains a higher concentration of salt and sugar to that of the human body

Hypotonic  – contains a lower concentration of salt and sugar to that of the human body

Typically, most people find they will typically lose anywhere from 500-1000ml each hour, of course, this will vary based on weather conditions and riding intensity. For shorter rides in duration plain water works fine, but for longer rides or back to back days, Electrolytes which include potassium, calcium, and magnesium is lost in sweat. For normal cellular function, these need to be replaced, and this is where the above sports drink come into the equation. While the above sports drinks allow hydration and replacement of electrolytes, a typical sports drink mixed at 6% will give you close to 30grams of carbohydrate.

Aiming to spread carbohydrate intake over a period of 20-30mins during the ride coming from both food and sports drinks allows the body to keep a constant flow of energy to the body and stabilizing blood sugar levels throughout your ride.

Energy expenditure during cycling

The body’s muscles burn glucose as a source of fuel, which means the body stores glucose in a form called glycogen. Glycogen is then broken down into glucose when the muscles need an increased supply of fuel. While the body can only store enough glycogen for around 90mins of moderate to intense physical activity, spending more than 90mins or periods of high-intensity efforts, you are going to need to get your glucose replenishment from food and sports drink during the ride.

What kind of food should I eat?

Foods rich in carbohydrate. Why? Well, carbohydrates chemical structure means that they can be broken down quickly into glucose and efficiently. Although glucose can be derived from both protein and fat, the process of breaking them down into useable glucose is inefficient and takes a long time. It is also proven the body needs to burn more energy to extract glucose from fats than that of its counterpart, carbohydrate.

Some high carbohydrate based foods such as pasta and rice are far too impractical to eat during riding. You need high carbohydrate food than can be carried easily with you on the bike. Foods such as raisins provide a source of carbohydrate while still being easily accessible on the bike. other foods such as dried fruit, or bite-sized cookies provide a high amount of carbs and simple sugars.  Sport nutrition company’s s such as PowerBar provide a high-density carb energy bar, which will typically have around 45grams of carbohydrate and designed to quickly transfer carbohydrate into blood glucose.

When should I eat?

Feeling hungry or showing signs of thirst means your too far behind your nutrition plan. Aiming to eat small amounts of high carbohydrate throughout the ride, not only provides immediate glucose, it helps the protect the body’s glycogen levels. Aiming to ingest carbs every 20-30mins and beginning your eating plan during your first hour will help the body draw energy from the food and allows the body to keep a reserve of stored glycogen.

You should be aiming to ingest between 60-90grams of carbohydrate per hour.

After riding

Depending on the intensity and duration of your ride, it is important to refuel both through hydration and carbohydrate/protein within 30mins. If you are backing up day after day of riding or punishing yourself through some harder sessions, replenishing your carbohydrate stores with up to 1.2 g/kg of carbohydrates will help speed up the recovery process. Sleep is one of the most important aspects of recovery, feeding the body up to 40grams of protein prior to sleeping can help supply amino acids to the body during the overnight period. This can come in the form of foods such as eggs, or milk which can also deliver more carbohydrate and replace your glycogen stores.

While this all seems so complicated, a simple drip feeding small amounts of carbohydrate starting the first hour, every 20-30mins will help replenish your glycogen stores providing you much energy for your ride, or coming days training sessions. keeping yourself hydrated will help your performance on par with that of your food intake, allowing you to perform at your best, day in and out.