„Part of the secret of a success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside,” novelist Mark Twain wrote once. If he was a cyclist there’s a certain probability that his quote would have sounded little more like: „Eat what helps you fight the others”. Race cycling is extremely demanding sport with its specific needs. Even for people who will never take part in Tour de France, there are some basic rules that can help lift their performance up to the sky.
Fuel for your ride
Fuelling properly for exercise is vital to get the most from our workout. The main fuel for exercise is carbohydrate, which is then stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen. The body is only able to store a relatively small amount of carbohydrates, which is why keeping it topped up is so important. Riders’ training diets need to be varied enough to provide sufficient protein to support muscle repair, polyunsaturated fats to reduce muscle damage and vitamins and minerals to aid cellular growth and repair.
Our body is like a small factory, which turns our food into energy. Energy-containing foods are classed by their position on the glycemic index (GI). The higher the GI, the quicker blood glucose levels rise. The carbs that are rapidly digested so that their glucose is quickly fed into the blood stream have the highest glycemic index. Carbohydrates that break down slowly have low glycemic indexes. Does it sound too scientific? Let’s explain it.
Time to eat
High carbohydrate foods like pasta and bread shouldn’t be eaten during a race because they can’t be digested quickly enough to be converted into energy in the time you need it. That’s why the right timing is very important. The ideal time to eat slow-release, low to moderate GI foods is two to three hours prior to ride. During the ride you want high GI and rapidly delivered carbs – also immediately after the event.
But keep in mind that sport and exercise nutritionists say to stay away from so called bad carbs. Gulping a pile of refined carbs—such as a doughnut or a bowl of sugar-packed cereal—triggers a blood-sugar spike (and subsequent drop) that sends you reaching for fast energy all day long. In the 2-4 hours before, riders should also try to limit food that is well known for causing gastrointestinal distress like excess fibre, excess fatty foods, unusually spicy foods and excess caffeine intakes.
Cycling, no starving
Starting off with a variety of healthy fats, protein and unrefined carbs, such as oatmeal and whole-grain breads, delivers sustained energy that curbs cravings. And what about the idea that working out on an empty stomach promotes weight loss? That may work for some cyclists as a part of a long-term and deliberate program that trains the body to utilize fat stores more efficiently. But for the majority of cyclists whose primary goal is fueling their rides, eating breakfast is the way to go.
What and when?
2 – 3 hours before ride – Low-mid GI: porridge, muesli, rye bread toast or scrambled eggs
30 minutes before ride – Mid GI snack: a banana
During the ride – Fast delivery, high GI isotonic energy drinks, energy gels and dried fruit such as raisins are best