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Cycling and food

21 June, 2014 0 comments

Cycling & Food


Cycling and Food

As cyclists, I like to think we are generally picky about what type of food we choose, at what times and what we are actually putting into our body. It’s usually quite easy to differentiate between good and bad foods; it’s not so easy to discern how a food can be your best friend one day and your worst enemy the next. For example, a can of coke during a long ride can boost energy and put off the bonk or depletion of glycogen stores for a little longer. However, sitting on the sofa on a Friday evening downing a can of coke can have quite contrasting effects.  With this in mind Leslie Bonci, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre, suggests that what you choose to eat and when you choose to eat it should depend on your metabolism, digestion capabilities and activity level.

Eating is a fundamental and core part of cycling. Getting it wrong at this stage, no matter how fit you are can decrease performance or even experience the dreaded bonk. ‘The bonk’ or ‘hitting the wall’ can be offset by essential foods, at the right time. Many top athletes can get their food intake wrong by having insufficient food, this is a big factor in explaining an unexpectedly poor performance. As well as eating the right amount of food, it is also important to eat healthy foods which offer more than just calories. Cycling UK suggest essential top tips for cycling food is using your common sense. Eat a good balance of healthy foods from a range of food spectrums. Always consider how to maintain constant energy levels, avoiding spikes in blood sugar levels. Make sure you have access to all important food groups, minerals and vitamins. You need more calories when cycling, but you don’t want to overload your stomach. Liquid food is good, fatty food is harder to digest. These tips from Cycling UK are is a great way to underpin your cycle ride. However British Cycling state that knowing what your body likes to consume while riding is an essential basic to learn, some can survive entirely on energy gels and drinks, whereas others can only stomach real food such as biscuits, sandwiches or fruit. This really is subjective and typically follows a process of trial and error, or at least thinking about how you usually fuel yourself to perform at your best.

Foods with a high glycaemic index (GI) increase the blood sugars rapidly. Foods with a low glycaemic index raise blood sugar levels gradually over a period of time. Therefore, before the start of a ride and at the beginning of a ride it is good to eat foods with relatively low glycaemic index. These foods include: apples, bran, spaghetti, baked beans. For example, brown bread is a lower GI index than white bread. Therefore, it is better to switch to brown bread before a ride. Foods with a high glycaemic index are better eaten at the end of a ride. High GI foods include: bananas, potatoes, jelly beans. Getting constant energy levels and avoiding blood sugar spikes is very important for cycling.

Ride preparation is key; thinking about food prior to a cycle is a good habit to get in to. What about the evening Food before Long Ride?! Before long ride a good source of complex carbohydrates (e.g. lentil / rice mix) or some pasta would be beneficial. Avoid temptation to eat much more than usual. You will just give yourself stomach problems, which won’t help. Sometimes for early morning race, a small bowl of oats or poached eggs may be recommended  rather than having a large meal thinking your benefit from the quantity. Eating for the next day can serve you well when planning a cycle, it’s not always all about the present day. I’m not thinking about cycling today so I won’t think about food. This would be a mistake, it would be important to think about how your food will affect your ride on the next day. If you have a long ride booked in for tomorrow, eat good quantities of complex carbohydrates the day or two preceding. But how much? You can consume double the amount of usual calories during a 70 - 100 mile ride. On a professional scale during the Tour de France, riders can consume up to 7,000 calories a day.  You may feel that you have to learn to listen to your body and respond to usual signals of hunger/ satiation. British Cycling team suggest that before cycling taking Muesli with some fresh fruit can provide the spike you need. The oats provide good low GI energy source and are easily digestible. The fruits also provides good long lasting energy source and also give anti-oxidant properties. If the ride is scheduled to be longer extra brown toast may can benefit but watch the quantities as your stomach will be heavy. To take on extra carbs, eating snacks between meals can supplement the body and equip you with the slow releasing energy needed.

With all of this pre ride fuel in mind, eating for recovery is very much just as important as eating before and during a cycle. Cycling UK recommend taking a recovery drink after hard ride. This enables and easy absorption of carbohydrates and protein; it also helps to re-hydrate. Nigel Mitchell, Head of Nutrition at British Cycling and Team Sky explains to think of nutrition is to try and maintain a diet that is quality over quantity. To ensure we get the right balance within the diet of riders at Team Sky and the GB team, the focus of nutrition is always on the quality of food, so we work really hard with the riders to make sure they're eating plenty of vegetables, fruit, fish, chicken, lean meat, and carbohydrate sources. Having more wholegrain foods, such as rice, bread and pasta provides riders with vitamins, as well as carbohydrate. Mitchell’s words supports this article that if people try and work to a pattern of eating little and often, rather than eating their three meals a day it can be much more effective for weight loss and topping up energy sources.

The ideal meal plan across the day is very simple and effective, simple foods to consume during a day, but not forgetting to keep hydrated through all of this, 500ml of fluid every couple of hours even when you're not exercising!

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