Road cyclists can cover large mileage over any given week, with a traditionally ‘long’ ride at the weekend. Although the energy expenditure isn’t as high as running, it is important to ensure that riders consume enough energy throughout the day and over the course of the week to sustain their volume of training. Cyclists are characterised by low body fat measurements and high power to weight ratios. It’s unlikely over-eating is an issue, therefore maintaining their body weight is the key concern. As such, ensuring a good platform of energy intake during the day in the form regular meals is important. The use of snacks between meals is a useful strategy to help spread the food consumption over the 5/6 meals as opposed to just 3.
Classically, lots of information refers to a specific percentage of carbohydrate, fat and protein that is required in the diet. This is hard to do, and more current guidelines prefer to suggest amounts of carbohydrate and protein based on individual body weight. Unfortunately, these guidelines are not easily transferred into practical meals, so for many it is much easier to emphasise that they should be consuming carbohydrate and protein with all meals. Low glycaemic index carbohydrates are better consumed at main meals, whilst high glycaemic carbohydrates are consumed in the immediate periods before, during and after training.
Endurance athletes are traditionally sensitive to protein in their diet, based on the myth that it will make them ‘big’. In reality, it is specific training methods (resistance training) that will increase muscle mass, not protein intake per se. Protein is in fact crucial in the diet, consumed regularly throughout the day to help aid repair, regeneration and general protein balance. Although, the overall protein requirements are unlikely to be as high as strength based athletes, a focus on protein in recovery from training is an area most cyclists can make improvements.
Hydration is another area that key requirement for cyclists. The amount that any individual will sweat is highly individual and dependent on several factors e.g. weather, intensity and duration. Dehydration is known to reduce training intensity, so maintaining a regular fluid intake throughout the day is essential. Urine colour is the simplest way to monitor hydration status, with urine that is yellow/colourful suggesting a dehydrated state. Electrolytes (or sodium) are another area that have received significant press in the running world. Consuming a sports drink with electrolytes is recommended practice, whilst for longer events (Ironman) and/or in hot climates higher electrolyte drinks may be appropriate.
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