When it comes to cycling, nailing your nutrition is vital – and it’s something that’s all too often overlooked.
We spoke to Sport Ireland’s leading performance nutritionist Sharon Madigan, to get her expert advice on how to utilise your diet to improve training and performance – starting with the most basic questions of how much fuel you need…
LESS IS NOT MORE
“I always ask clients about their eating after they begin training or exercising – most of the time they tell me they either eat the same, or even less. Initially this can lead to good results for weight loss and fitness – but eventually will lead to some kind of plateau or stall.
“So, if after your initial weight loss you appear to have stalled, you might need to look at increasing your calories and eating more to aid your training and weight loss efforts. People always seem to think the solution is to keep reducing calories, when actually is it the opposite that will be more beneficial.
“Trying to diet and trying to improve your athletic performance are hard things to do separately; trying to do both together is very difficult, and I think those who cycle particularly on weekends are at risk of this.”
MOVE WITH THE SEASONS
Another thing Sharon stressed for cyclists is how, from both a weight loss and performance perspective, cyclists shouldn’t necessarily stress when it comes to maitaining the same weight the whole year around.
“Obviously the summer will offer more opportunities to be out on the bike. But from a general health perspective, staying the same weight – particularly if you’re very light – in the winter can leave you just that little bit more vulnerable to illnesses in the colder weather.”
THE NIGHT BEFORE THE MORNING AFTER
Getting your full feed in at the crack of dawn isn’t for everyone, so the evening before a big ride is prime time to prepare.
“If you struggle to eat on the bike or even in the morning pre cycle, then it’s the evening or night before that you can use to get some additional calories in. Say you’ll have your main dinner that will contain some carbohydrates, and then maybe an additional supper as well before you go to bed – so that in the morning you’ll be able to have your normal breakfast, porridge or something similar, and you’ll still be fuelled from the night before.”
BITES ON THE BIKE
In terms of on-the-bike food, Sharon recommends convenience goods that you are familiar with, and suggested things like potato farls, bananas, and even banana bread as quick and easy sources of carbohydrates – that won’t be too heavy on the stomach.
Energy gels are also effective for getting carbohydrates in quickly, as discussed here (link here), but might take some getting used to – the density and sickly-sweet taste could be a shock to the system!