Nutrition on the bike is a hugely personal thing, and what works for one athlete does not necessarily translate to also being another’s ‘magic formula’. But it is a hugely important component of a good training programme for cyclists, in the form of personal wellness as much as it is performance-led goals.
And it doesn’t necessarily mean having to splurge on an expensive weekly organic veg box either, there are so very simple things that you can do to ensure that you get the very best out of yourself on those long winter rides:
1. Don’t just consider fuelling as when you are riding/racing. Good nutritional habits should be built into a broader lifestyle routine, as what you eat both before and after a cycling session can have a colossal bearing on how a set or race will go. Try and include plenty of wholefoods into your diet, eating as many fresh, unpackaged foods as you can manage. Time your meals well too, so try to space meals well between sets, and give your body what it needs, when it needs it!
2. Regard your nutritional strategy in the same way you do your training. You’ll know the analogy, you can have the best and fastest car in the world, but if you don’t fill it with good petrol, you’re not going anywhere fast. Adjust your mindset so that you think about things in that way. Put high quality foods in, and this translates directly to what you can get out.
If it helps, add your weekly meal plan to your Training Peaks (or other) account, so that it’s visible and you’re accountable for it in the same way you are your day-to-day training.
3. Pre ride: Sort out your pre-ride fuel. Try to have your last meal at least 90 minutes before you race/ride, so to make sure that you are able to properly digest it and limit any potential GI discomfort that can ensue. If the cycling session involves high intensity efforts, it might be wise to avoid anything too fibrous, and low GI choices such as porridge and wholemeal toast are always great options if you’re looking for a longer energy fix.
MBPC Coach Stu Auckland says, ‘porridge with blueberries, sliced banana and a drizzle of honey is a winner’. And fellow coach Gareth Pymm comments, ‘I always have a decent breakfast such as banana pancakes with some yoghurt and a coffee’.
During the ride: Fuel before you think you need to. If you’re doing a long set, then don’t wait until you are on the cusp of ‘bonking’ before you take on your nutrition. Instead
Stu Auckland says, ‘set a reminder on your Garmin or head unit to drink and eat. I have a 15-minute reminder to drink and another after 30 minutes to eat. It’s very easy to forget or not consuming regularly and once you bonk, it can be a while to get back and going well again.’ Stu continues, ‘have a caffeine energy gel in your pocket or saddle bag too - this is your back up if things get tough!’
4. Post ride: Refuel as quickly as you can. The sooner that you are able to refuel after a ride the better, and how well you fuel in this period can hugely impact how you feel over the coming days. Gareth says, ‘when I get back from a ride I always have a decent lunch, such as an omelette, salad and toast. If I feel like I need it, I sometimes have a protein shake with a banana and some peanut blended up in it’. Stu says, ‘Good quality carbs and protein when you get back. A recovery shake is great with at least 20g of protein and then have another 20g of protein a couple of hours later - poached/scrambled eggs on toast is good. Always hydrate well - your body needs the fluid to break down and transport your solid fuel into the bloodstream effectively.’
Stu - My favourite is flapjack - easy to transport and a great combination of quick and slow release carbohydrates. It’s moist too, so easy to eat on the move and quick to take onboard.
Gareth - For longer, lower intensity rides I try to go for more real food such as cereal bars and steer away from the gels, combined with an electrolyte drink. I eat every 50-60 minutes in total, but I take a gel as well in case of ‘emergency’.