Eat up! Nutrition for cycling events
11 February, 2020
With the summer just around the corner, it’s the season of long distance cycling events. Getting involved in a big ride like Around the Bay in a Day or the Sydney to the Gong Ride is a great goal to help keep you motivated.
One of the biggest differences between regular riders and successful endurance riders is good nutrition for cycling in the lead-up to a big ride. A good rule of thumb in preparing for big rides is “Start As You Mean To Go On”; this means setting your body up with a great foundation of building blocks so you don’t fall in a heap halfway through your ride/race. No ‘bonking’! Also, don’t try to eat anything new on the big day. Go with what your body knows. Here's some great tips for building up to the big ride.
Build your endurance foundation with protein rich foods
When preparing for your ride, ensure you are giving your body good quality fuel by eating well and drinking plenty of water and electrolytes. We know that carbs are necessary to give us energy, but protein is also critical for getting the body fuelled up.
Some of the most easily digestible forms for quick absorption are:
- Legumes such as chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, borlotti beans, navy beans and cannellini beans – they’re cheap and super easy to add to meals to pack a protein punch.
- Tofu or tempeh (another soy product).
- White fish such as snapper and whiting.
- Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) is a perfect protein and is readily available in the health food sections of all supermarkets. It is cooked in the same way you would cook rice.
Please note: red meat is very heavy, so it takes the body a very long time and lots of precious energy to digest. This steals energy away from where you need it most so I would advise against eating it in the lead-up as you want to be light, bright and ready for action! If you are normally a meat and 2 veg kind of person and not sure where to start, click here for some simple and hearty high protein recipes without red meat.
Quality carbohydrates are critical for sustained energy while cycling
Carbs are the fuel our body prefers to burn, which is why you crave them when you are really hungry or tired. They give us our “quick fix” and energy hit. Carbs and sugars are converted into glucose which is what fuels every single cell in your body (we have over 20 billion cells, mind blowing huh?!). Make sure that you are consuming good quality carbs and not empty ones. Empty carbs are things like white bread, white rice, chips and lollies. They have lots of simple carbs and not much else.
Good sources of complex carbohydrates include:
- Vegetables, which are chock-a-block full of awesome carbohydrates that your body will thank you for. They should make up the majority of your plate.
- Brown rice.
- Wholemeal, spelt, dark rye or sourdough breads.
- Oats and porridge.
- Wholemeal pasta.
- Wholemeal, buckwheat or brown rice flour.
Carbs are burnt off relatively quickly so there is no need to overload your body the night before with a monster sized bowl of spaghetti bolognese. You may just make yourself feel heavy, sluggish and bloated. Protein is released more slowly so it’s best to have a protein and nutrient dense meal the night before to have you firing on all cylinders the next morning. A good mix of carbs and protein is important. Ideally, you should be consuming carbs and protein in a four to one ratio immediately before and during your big ride. This means 4 parts carbs to 1 part protein. This ratio is found is high tech sports endurance beverages… and bananas.
Fats and oils are also important building blocks in a good diet
Fats and oils are not your enemy, they are your friend! Every single cell (remember we have over 20 billion of them!) have a protective outer coating of fat. To keep the integrity of this lipid bilayer intact we need to eat fats and oils. They are not just for cooking with; you can pour them onto everything, in salads, over steamed veggies or add them to smoothies and soups.
Some excellent fats and oils include:
- Coconut oil has a very high oxidative point which means it can be heated to very high temperatures without its molecular structure being destroyed or going rancid, so it’s perfect for cooking.
- Rice bran oil is great for the same reasons as coconut oil.
- Olive oil has a very low oxidative point so it’s not great when heated. It’s best used at room temperature. Drizzle it onto salads, steamed vegies or add to food at the end of cooking when pan is off the heat.
- Flaxseed oil also has a low oxidative point so use it in the same way as olive oil. It has a very pleasant nutty flavour which is great in smoothies or added to salads, vegies, etc.
- Avocados are my very favourite food; they’re very high in obscenely awesome fats that are great for you! They are brilliant and contain every vital nutrient required for a happy healthy body, eat them… a lot!
Hydration is probably the most important bit of nutrition for cycling
Our bodies are made up of between 60-70% of water. When we sweat, we are sweating out water so it is imperative that we replace it!
A good rule of thumb is to aim to drink 2 litres of water each day, but you’ll drink more if you are training and sweating a lot. We can survive for weeks without food but only days without water, so bottoms up!
Just before your ride I would recommend drinking some coconut water and taking along a bottle of it to sip through your ride. This is readily available from all supermarkets. It is full of good sugars, magnesium and salts, it also has the same pH level as our blood and plasma, because of this our body recognizes it as “self” and absorbs it straight away which will help to keep you hydrated.
Enjoy good cycling nutrition and have a great ride!
Following these tips will ensure you arrive for your ride in tip top condition. Your body will be in optimal order, allowing you to focus completely on your mindset and ride plan. If you're still looking for a road endurance bike, check out the Osprey and Falco!