Cycling Nutrition & Sports Supplements for Cyclists
A nutritionally varied, high quality diet will also help to provide cyclists with protein; and vitamins and minerals which all help to contribute to general good health and a high standard of cycling performance.
Of necessity, part of the cyclists training diet will be consumed whilst on the bike, so items of food and drink must be convenient, easy to carry and easy to handle, with the likes of bananas and other fresh fruits, nutritional sports bars and specially prepared sports drinks and gels being favoured by many.
Hydration for cyclists
So much for the training diet as a whole, but equally important are the fluid needs of cyclists, who are very often limited in the amount of fluids they can carry and therefore fail to drink enough.
Consequently it is very important that you keep well hydrated by drinking water or sports drinks throughout the day.
During training, you should ideally aim to drink frequently and if you are training out on the road pick-up refills regularly at any refreshment points along the way.
Specially formulated sports drinks are a particularly good way of supplying both fluid and carbohydrate at the same time and are therefore highly recommended.
Pre-competition cycling nutrition
In the run up to a competition, cyclists should ideally consume a carbohydrate rich meal around two to four hours before the start of the event, or, if it is a particularly early start, a lighter snack one to two hours previously, with a larger high carbohydrate meal the night before.
Also, you should look to top up glycogen levels around an hour or so before the race consuming bananas, sports nutrition bars or a liquid meal replacement drink.
A nutritionally varied, high quality diet will help to provide cyclists with protein; and vitamins and minerals which all help to contribute to general good health and a high standard of cycling performance
In addition, to optimise your performance you need to begin the race in a fully hydrated state, so you should ideally look to drink the equivalent of half to a whole bidon (bidon is a term used in cycling to describe a water bottle) of fluid with your pre-event meal, and another half a bidon immediately before the off.
In case you are wondering what is best to eat at your pre-event meal, some of the following may appeal to you:
- tuna salad sandwich
- fresh pasta with a low-fat sauce
- beans on toast
- breakfast cereal with low fat milk
- liquid nutrition supplement
Keeping your body fuelled for action
In longer events to achieve optimum performance it is essential that you eat and drink during competition, and as a cyclist you are fortunate that you can carry on your bike both nutritional snacks and drinks that will help you remain sufficiently hydrated and maintain energy levels.
If you are competing in one of the longer cycling races, you should consider eating easily digested carbohydrate-rich foods, such as jam sandwiches or sports bars, in order to prevent fatigue.
In common with all cyclists you will probably not want to carry any unnecessary weight, so you may prefer to rely on sports drinks or gels, which are both a very efficient way of combining fluid and carbohydrate.
In those road races over longer distances you will, of course, almost certainly have the opportunity to take on fluid at a number of feeding stations along the route, but do check beforehand if this option exists.
To maintain good levels of hydration your aim should be to drink at least one to one-and-a-half bidons every hour.
Immediately after the race always make certain that you continue your fluid intake and stock up with more carbohydrate to replace lost fluids and energy.
Once again sports drinks and gels are ideal, while natural yoghurt and milk-based drinks provide additional protein and other nutrients.
That done, follow up with a substantial meal which provides yet more carbohydrate and protein from foods such as rice, pasta, bread, lean meat including poultry and fish, while at the same time maintaining a high fluid intake.
Suggestions for cyclists
Nutrition for cyclists is important and if approached in the correct way can help to improve your performance. Here we have put together a number of simple dietary suggestions that you may wish to consider.
Sprint and track cyclists
Sprint and track cyclists have different nutritional needs from their road racing counterparts.
For example, track cyclists generally have lower carbohydrate requirements, although their carbohydrate intake must always be sufficient to fuel and refuel repeated efforts in training.
Another difference is that energy rich sports bars are less likely to be used by track competitors, with the emphasis instead on ensuring nutrient rich options from all food groups.
Their nutritional requirement can be met by moderate servings of lean meat, low fat dairy products or vegetarian choices such as tofu, nuts and legumes.
If convenient, you might also like to try other products, such as whey protein powder.
Unlike the road racers, track cyclists do not carry bidons so it is essential, especially for longer races, that you start well hydrated and use the time between heats to rehydrate if necessary.
Consider cool water or specially prepared, energy rich sports drinks.
Neither are carbohydrate stores a limiting factor in sprint track events.
So large carbohydrate packed pre-race meals are not as necessary!
Pre-event meals should also be consumed nearer the start time – say about two hours – and should be low in fat and fibre and easily digested.
It is advisable to try it out various meal options in training to find out what works, and what doesn’t work for you.
Multiple cycling events
When you intend to compete in multiple cycling events staged over a single day it is important that you take stock of your total energy needs.
Small, frequent snacks – sports bars, dried fruit, bananas or sports drinks are convenient – and will help with refuelling, rehydration and recovery as well as preparation for the next event.
Afterwards, if it is not possible to eat an hour after finishing, you should have a sandwich or a milk drink on the way home and follow this up with a good tasty meal containing lean meat or fish with vegetables and rice or pasta.
If you are a competitive track cyclist you will often need to travel to and from your club velodrome for your training, so make sure that you have adequate provision of fluids and appropriate foods and snacks to keep your energy and fluid levels topped up.
Try not to rely on the food which can be obtained at the velodrome; it may not be suitable for your requirements… think pies, pasties, confectionery, fizzy drinks and the like.
After an intense training session or cycling competition it is essential that you recover body carbohydrate and fluid stores before the next session.
The recovery process is vitally important and there are no two ways about it; cyclists need to recover properly, especially if they want to keep their body fighting-fit and in the best possible shape.
There are three golden rules to a cyclists successful rehabilitation; and we refer to them as the three R’s:
Bodily carbohydrate stores (glycogen) must be quickly restored to allow performance levels to be maintained – the optimum time to restore muscle glycogen stores is during the first hour after competition or training and this is when you need to consume carbohydrates.
If you do not replenish glycogen stores adequately however, recovery may well be affected leading to unwanted fatigue and poor performances may then follow.
Want to get involved in cycling?
If you’re not currently involved in cycling (road, track or off-road) as a recreational activity or at a competitive level and are keen to learn more about taking part then read on. Here we’ve brought together a number of useful links to cycling organisations that may be able to help you.
Want help with nutrition?
Get in touch now for more information about road and track cycling nutrition and the use of sports supplements to help improve performances on the track, on and off the road. Our team of sports scientists and nutritionists are always happy to help.