Nutrition for Cyclists, Five Keys for Successful Refueling
There is no doubt that nutrition is important for all athletes and given that many cycling events (and training rides) can be anywhere from one to six hours in duration, getting the fuel intake right can make as much as 25% difference in power output. That's correct, a critical drop in blood sugar can lead to power loss of more than 25% and many reading this blog will know exactly what that feels like.
This of course is not the forum for a full tutorial on high performance sports nutrition, but here are five very important tips that will help you avoid sabotaging your next long training ride or important race.
ONE: Research shows that the maximum rate of carbohydrate absorption during exercise is around one gram per minute or 60 grams per hour in mid-range weather conditions. This is about 250 calories or two and half gels (depending on your brand choice). Any more than this and your gels will accumulate in the gut and cause gastric upset.
TWO: Consume slightly more food in cold conditions and slightly less when it is hot / humid. This is because the body's temperature regulation processes significantly affect carbohydrate absorption rate. So around 90 grams (almost 4 gels or 360 calories) per hour is advisable in cold conditions and approx 50 grams (2 gels / 200 calories) when it's hot.
THREE: Don't mix your electrolyte drinks with your food intake. High levels of electrolyte can slow carbohydrate absorption and increased ingestion of carbohydrate will interfere with the absorption of your electrolytes. Bottom line, try to allow at least 10 minutes between intakes of your hydration fluid (other than water which will not adversely affect CHO absorption) and your carbohydrates. Avoid supplements that "mix" the electrolytes in with the carbohydrate as these generally don't work well.
FOUR: Eat well before you ride. A meal rich in carbohydrates, preferably low to medium GI, around 90 minutes - 2 hours before you ride/race will help to preserve some of your stored glycogen and increase the time to fatigue during longer rides or races.
FIVE: Use quality nutrition to assist post-ride recovery. You have a fairly small window after your workout or race in which to re-fuel. Miss this window (30-90 minutes post-ride) and your absorption of nutrients will be significantly impaired. Your post-ride meal should be rich in both carbohydrates and protein to assist both the replenishment of your stored glycogen and any necessary muscle repair. In this instance higher GI foods are fine and pasta with a protein-enriched topping is an excellent choice (rice is OK if you prefer). Of course don't forget to re-hydrate as well as you will most certainly be dehydrated, even after riding in colder temperatures.
Hope that helps you get a slightly better grasp on some of the important elements of cycling nutrition. Look out for my Cycling Nutrition eBook, coming soon to the site.
Train Smart, Race Hard
Brian Bubba Cooke
Exercise Physiologist, coach & cycling tragic for 30 years. Love the freedom, reward and sense of achievement that one can only experience in our amazing sport.