Daily we are bombarded with heaps of information concerning what we should or shouldn’t be eating. Posters in health food stores tout the benefits of some obscure, newly discovered berries growing deep in some South American jungle that can help us perform better in our chosen activities. With all of this supposedly helpful information, what are we to believe?
Back to Basics
Despite all of the information available regarding proper cycling nutrition, you will probably achieve the best results by keeping it as simple as possible. That is, by staying hydrated (see bicycle hydration), taking a multivitamin, and consuming the proper number of biking calories prescribed by your country’s health authority, you will be doing your body a big favor.
Staying away from processed foods is a good idea, as these are usually filled with preservatives and other chemicals that won’t do your body any good. In this light, processed sugars from candy and baked goods are not as good for you as the naturally occurring sugars found in fresh fruit (read here more about cycling food).
Whole-grain kinds of pasta and bread are better for you than the processed flour used to make white bread and pastries. Whole-grain foods also contain fiber, which helps remove toxins from your body!
Water – The Very Essence of Life
As I have mentioned elsewhere on this website, drinking adequate amounts of water isn’t an option in sports – it’s a critical necessity. Bicycle hydration is necessary for countless bodily processes, and is vital regardless of the temperature or the season.
So how much water should you be drinking? As a general guideline, you should be drinking 250 ml every 15 minutes at the very least. However, if you feel thirsty, there is nothing wrong with drinking more! Remember, once you become dehydrated, your performance drastically decreases, and you risk falling victim to heat illnesses such as heat stroke.
Protein – The Building Blocks of Muscle
The biggest myth surrounding protein today suggests that merely consuming protein will help you increase muscle mass. Well, protein is the building block of muscle, isn’t it? Yes, but consuming gratuitous amounts of protein will NOT cause your muscles to grow so large that they tear your clothes. On the contrary, excess protein is not only transformed into carbohydrates, but it is also hard on your kidneys.
In general, at least 10%, but not more than 30%, of your daily intake of calories should come from a quality protein source. Another way of calculating this is 1.2 – 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Protein supplementation is usually not necessary, as most healthy diets provide the body with ample amounts of protein.
However, if for some reason you find that your diet does not meet the minimum level of protein consumption, you should consult a sports or cycling nutritionist to explore some alternatives to meeting your protein needs.
Great Sources of Protein:
- Lean red meat
- Yogurt or cottage cheese
Carbohydrates – Cycling Nutrition Fuel for the Road
Many Western diet fads vilify carbohydrates, blaming them for excess weight gain. I can assure you that for the cyclist, proper carbohydrate consumption is critical to optimal performance.
Would you hop into a car and expect to drive away if there were no gas in the tank? Of course not! Because carbohydrates are what cyclists predominantly use for energy, depriving yourself of carbohydrates means depriving your body of the means to move your bicycle pedals!
When you consume carbohydrates is just as important as how many carbohydrates you consume. Without getting too technical, I will try to explain it. When you are exercising, your body uses not only carbohydrates found in your bloodstream but also those stored in your muscles. Thus, it is not adequate to simply bring Gatorade along with you on your next ride. Here are three things to consider when thinking about when to consume carbohydrates:
- The Night Before: If you know you will be going for a ride the next day, make sure you eat a sizable portion of carbohydrates from a healthy source. I like to eat a big bowl of pasta with chicken, garlic, and tomato sauce the night before I go bicycle riding. This ensures your muscles have carbohydrates in them before the ride.
- During the Ride: If you are cycling for less than two hours, it may be sufficient to bring water and/or a sports drink with you. However, for rides longer than two hours, plan on bringing a slower-burning snack with you, like a granola bar or a banana.
- After the Ride: After a great day out on the bike, your muscles will probably be depleted of their glycogen (energy) stores. To prepare your muscles for your next ride, it is a good idea to consume carbohydrates in the 4-hour repletion window (the optimal period for carbohydrate consumption) following the ride. Most studies suggest that one should consume 3 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight during this period. This advice is most important for bicycling tours.
Remember, it is not necessary to follow these dietary recommendations if you are only going for a quick 30-minute spin around the neighborhood! Consuming too many carbohydrates will cause you to gain undesired weight (see my article about bicycling for weight loss). However, if you are planning on going for a ride lasting several hours or more, consuming enough carbohydrates before, during, and after the ride will ensure your body will be able to function at its best. Great sources of carbohydrates are fruits and vegetables, whole grains and muesli.
Fats – Not the Villains You Think They Are
All fats are bad, right? No! This is yet another cycling nutrition myth.
Did you know...?
Did you know that consuming some good fats before bed can be a great cycling nutritional habit?
Although many cyclists will tell you that eating fat before bed is a bad idea, eating a small amount of good fat with a high-protein meal can be great for building and repairing muscle. Fat helps to slow down protein digestion so that your body absorbs as much of it as possible throughout the night. This way, when you wake up in the morning, your body won't be starved of protein, and you'll feel stronger as a result.
First, it is important to realize that there are different kinds of fat. In general, one might say that those fats that are solid at room temperature (saturated fats such as bacon fat) are not good for us. In contrast, those that are liquid at room temperature (unsaturated fats such as olive oil) are much better for us.
While excessive intake of "bad" saturated fats can be related to obesity, high blood pressure, and coronary heart disease, "good" unsaturated fats are responsible for the functioning of the brain, heart, and nervous system.
Great sources of healthy fats are fish, olive oil, and flaxseed oil.
Cycling Nutrition - Vitamins for Cyclists
In our regular diets, we do consume small quantities of virtually every essential vitamin. However, as committed sportsmen, we put our bodies under far greater stress than the average individual, and our cardiovascular, respiratory, and muscular systems need additional cycling nutrition to meet the physical demands of cycling. That's why cyclists should consume vitamin supplements or vitamin-rich food. Here are some vitamins that cyclists just can't do without.
- Vitamin C isn't just a cycling vitamin. It boosts your immune system which contributes greatly to overall health and well-being.
- Vitamin C is important because we cyclists can't afford to miss out on our training. One bout of flu can put us out of commission for up to a week and we'll have to spend the next few weeks getting our fitness and strength levels back up. If you've got a race to train for, you can't afford to waste time being sick.
- Vitamin C is an essential component of immune cells.
- To boost your Vitamin C levels, consume brightly colored fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, oranges, and lemons. Vitamin C is also known as ascorbic acid, so sour-tasting citrus fruits contain more Vitamin C.
- Vitamin C is also handy for cyclists with tendon injuries as it is essential for collagen production which helps to strengthen and repair tendons.
- Some cycling vitamins boost physical performance and Vitamin B1 is a fantastic example.
- If you've done any research on cycling nutrition, you should know that we get most of our energy from sugars found in carbohydrates. Well, our body needs Vitamin B1 to digest those sugars and convert them to energy.
- A shortage of Vitamin B1 in your diet can cause inefficient energy production and make you feel weak and woozy during prolonged periods of physical exertion. This can be very dangerous indeed, especially on crowded roads.
- Vitamin B1 can be found in pork, offal (animal organs), and whole-grain cereal. Many athletes also take Vitamin B supplements.
- If there was ever an essential vitamin for sportsmen, Vitamin B6 is it.
- Muscular strength is very important to cyclists. Vitamin B6 helps to break down proteins so that they are more readily absorbed by your muscles. This cycling vitamin thus ensures less protein goes to waste.
- Vitamin B6 is also necessary for the transportation of oxygen to your muscles during aerobic exercise.
- Foods rich in Vitamin B6 include chickpeas, fatty fish like salmon and bananas. Most athletes consume Vitamin B6 supplements as well.
Cycling Nutrition - Minerals for Cyclists
Many cyclists are taken aback when they read about the role minerals play in nutrition. Well, when a nutritionist talks about consuming iron or potassium, he's not suggesting you eat a sheet of metal. These minerals can be found in daily food sources and, like vitamins, provide great benefits to cyclists.
- Without iron, your body would not be able to transport oxygen to the various cells in your body and aerobic activity would be impossible.
- Prolonged physical exertion on an iron-deficient diet can lead to heart palpitations and dizzy spells.
- Iron makes a great complement to cycling vitamins like Vitamin B6. It can be found in red meats like beef and egg yolks.
- Magnesium aids your body in the production of Adenosine Triphosphate which is vital for any form of exercise.
- The enzymes responsible for extracting ATP from food are all magnesium-dependent.
- Magnesium can be found in nuts, dark green leafy vegetables, and fish.
- A grueling cycling workout leaves your muscles full of lactic acid. That's why your muscles get all sore and cramped the next day.
- Potassium helps to dissipate lactic acid and aid muscle recovery. Potassium-rich foods are fruits like bananas and oranges. Eating more potassium ensures muscle aches don't interfere with your workout!
Vitamins and minerals are an indispensable part of a cyclist's diet. Of course, you can have too much of a good thing, so don't start downing twenty vitamin B6 pills a day. As long as you consume healthy quantities of these cycling vitamins and minerals, you'll be fine!
Where to Buy Cycling Nutrition?
If you are interested in buying cycling nutrition you are invited to visit these trusted online stores:
Get Cycling Nutrition Online
A Further Exploration of Cycling Nutrition
There are many great doctors and sports and cycling nutrition experts whom you can consult, and several informative books written on cooking, nutrition, and supplementation. If you are looking to explore cycling nutrition in greater detail, I would recommend taking a look at Optimum Sports Nutrition: Your Competitive Edge. You can read some articles related to cycling nutrition and bicycling health and nutrition here: