Now that the days are longer many of us are cycling more, training harder and planning new challenges, events and sportives. So it feels like a good time to look at some of the tools you need for a successful, enjoyable season.

Though it can be easy to convince yourself that you need new equipment, actually one of the first ways you can improve your cycling experience is by taking a look at yourself.

I’m not talking about working on your strength or conditioning (though of course these are very valuable ways of protecting your body from injury). What I’m actually referring to is specifically what goes inside your body and precisely when.

When it comes to cycling, you really are what you eat. Improper fuelling can have a truly disastrous effect on your ride, particularly if you’re tackling a long epic.

But the importance of eating well is not to be overlooked for shorter rides. Anything over an hour and a half requires food.

Think of your body like a car and it all makes sense.

Definitely do not wait until you reach a feed station and then stuff yourself.

You set off for a ride with a certain amount of petrol in your tank and after a point it begins to run out, eventually emptying completely so that you can no longer ride.

In the case of your body, the petrol is actually carbohydrate and much like a fuel tank in a car, albeit a small car with a small tank, you can only hold a certain amount of it at a time. So it’s best you top up regularly.

 

PRE RIDE

But I’m jumping ahead.

When it comes to cycling, preparation is key and it actually all begins before you even step foot on your bicycle.

As the body can only store a certain amount of glycogen (carbs), if you’re tackling a long sportive, club ride, day out, race or any decent length ride a normal meal with some protein, carbs and vegetables the night before will be perfectly adequate – there’s no need to ‘carb load.’  

On the day of your ride try to eat a good meal at least three hours before you begin, even if this means getting up early (sorry!). In my experience, the best meal would be porridge, which is easy on the stomach and contains slow release carbs, and then some eggs, which provide protein for satiety and release energy more slowly.

Be sure to hydrate well and try to limit coffee to just one, as caffeine is a diuretic and can dehydrate you.

 

EVENT NUTRITION

On long rides it’s essential that you begin eating within 45 minutes of setting out, which probably seems mad when you’re not even hungry!

The point of eating so early on is that because you can only store a certain amount of carbs. So what you’re looking for is a little and often approach. Always remember, there’s no point in doing a lot work in training then messing it all up by failing to eat. 

As a very rough rule of thumb, you probably want to consume about 1 gram of carbs per kilo of body weight per hour, slightly less

if you’re not going that ‘hard.’ It’s best to spread your food out over the hour rather than eat is all at once.

Definitely do not wait until you reach a feed station and then stuff yourself

If you want to get technical you can figure out the carbs in a variety of foods then mix and match to make sure you’re getting enough – it’s actually fairly simple as many products have about 20 – 25 grams of carbs.

Here’s how I do it:

I weigh 56kg so I’m aiming for about 56 grams of carbs but let’s round that up for 60kg for ease. Over the course of an hour I’d aim to consume:

  • 1 x small banana (20g)
  • 1 x carb based energy drink (20g)
  • 1 x Tribe bar (20g)

It’s really important that the food you take along works for you is easy to digest and doesn’t upset your stomach.

Anything with too much fibre isn’t a good idea, ditto too much fat. Along with energy bars, you could take white bread peanut butter and jam sandwiches cut into squares, trail mix or rice cakes.

Gels can be good option for some but make sure you try them before the big day.

Don’t forget to hydrate by drinking little and often. If you’re not using a carb based energy drink, pop some electrolytes in your water to replace lost salts and aim to drink 500ml – 1000ml per hour.

 

POST RIDE

Immediately post exercise your body is primed to process nutrients that will aid recovery.

If you can, consume a mix of protein (to help repair muscle), carbs (to replenish depleted glycogen and water (to replace…. water).

You’re looking for roughly a ratio of 3:1 carbs to protein - but I wouldn’t sweat the details too much.

There are many ways you can do achieve this: either by eating a small meal, consuming a protein bar or shake or by mixing up your own super charged smoothie.

Chocolate milk is a good solution as it tastes nice and contains a great mix of protein, carbs and fat. Protein shakes usually contain a beneficial blend of amino acids so are a simple way to ensure you’re getting what you need. 

Drink plenty of fluids and follow up with a decent meal a couple of hours later and you’ll be right as rain.

It’s best to avoid alcohol as it inhibits recovery so you’re better off treating yourself to a piece of cake instead of a glass of wine.

 

What challenges do you have planned for this year? We’d love to hear from you!