Stay Strong on Tour11 May, 2012 0 comments
Photo by: Joolze Dymond
Stay strong on tour
Going on a cycling trip? Whether you’re planning to ride for hours, days or weeks, it’s important to fuel your muscles with essential nutrients before setting off on a long distance ride. After all, fail to eat enough of the right foodstuff and you could end up suffering with cramp and tummy troubles or – worse still – you could bonk mid-ride! To ensure you complete your ride safely and enjoyably, we asked the experts what to eat before, during and after cycling a long, long way…
BEFORE THE RIDE
Practise makes perfect
Drink plenty of water and gorge on lots of carbohydrate-dense foods, if you want to feel fresh on the bike. “Dehydration and depletion of the body’s carbohydrate stores are the two most likely factors to cause fatigue and impair performance,” agrees Coach Ian Mayhew, of gearsandtear.com. However, before you pedal off with the latest sports drink in your water bottle, test-ride your nutrition strategies. “There will be individual differences in the form of carbohydrate that can be tolerated during exercise and the rate of fluid loss,” warns Ian. “For these reasons, you need to practice cycling with your chosen fuel and ensure it’s compatible with your personal physiological characteristics, tolerances and preferences.”
The real deal!
During a long distance ride, you need to keep energy levels high and your immune system strong. The best way to do this is to eat a healthy mix of natural foods that provide not only calories, but also essential vitamins and nutrients. “Eat real food only. On the run up to an event, and whilst training, eat a lot of fruit and vegetables to maintain your immunity,” says competitive cyclist and nutritionist, Adam Wright, of www.dynafunc.co.uk. “Hard physical training can have a massive impact on the body hormonally and, without sufficient nutrients, can allow the onset of infection.”
If you want your muscles to fully recover after each day of gruelling cycling, you need to eat plenty of protein beforehand. “Near the day of your tour, reduce your intake of fibre and focus on eating good quality protein,” agrees Adam. Low-fat and nutritional sources of protein include chicken, turkey and numerous fish types. And don’t forget to get your fill of low-fat, complex carbohydrate foods. “Eat starchy foods like yams, squash, sweet potatoes and parsnips,” advises Adam. Try to eat a form of protein with every meal and avoid foods that are high in sugar.
Don’t munch on heavy food before you start cycling, as riding with a fully tummy is not a lot of fun. Instead, opt for low-sugar cereals mixed with fruit and skimmed milk. “Get up early, if possible, and focus on eating protein and starchy carbohydrate foods for breakfast,” says Adam. “Leave the high-sugar cereals alone because they can be hard to digest and cause you discomfort as the day goes on.”
DURING THE RIDE
On longer cycling trips, high-energy snacks are essential – and many cyclist choose to consume gels and jelly sweets during a ride. However, after hours and hours of pedalling, sports food can seem a little tasteless. Fortunately, there are other options: “Before your ride, make up a saucepan of gluten-free porridge with honey and sultanas,” says Adam. “Allow it to cool and separate the mixture into sandwich bags. Stuff these into your jersey pockets and, when you need something more solid than the obligatory gels, bite the corner off a bag and consume its contents!” Nifty!
Body knows best
While it’s worth watching what you eat during a ride, and avoiding quick-fix foods that don’t provide slow-release energy, sometimes your body knows best. “The crudest rule of thumb is ‘if it goes in and stays down, it’s good’,” reveals ultra-distance cyclist, Dominic Irvine. “Your body has an amazing way of telling you what to eat, so listen to it!” In other words, if you don’t fancy another energy bar and want something savoury like a sandwich, feel free to indulge! “Another long distance favourite food is watermelon,” says Dominic. “It’s refreshing and easy to eat!”
A trip to the shops won’t require hoards of snacks, but you’ll need to eat regularly on a long ride. “Ditch the big breaks and big meals,” agrees Dominic. “Above all else, and whatever you eat, it’s important to keep eating small amounts often.” Cycling experts suggest that you consume 30-60g of carbohydrate food per hour on rides lasting longer than an hour. Pack things that you can carry in your jersey and eat them on-the-go, such as energy bars, small sandwiches and bananas. Remember that it’s important to keep drinking on the ride, too.
Dehydration can hit you fast, especially if you’re cycling in the heat. So, start the ride fully hydrated, and remember to keep drinking water on the cycle, too. However, it’s not just fluid you lose when you sweat – you’re also losing salts, also known as electrolytes, in the form of potassium and sodium. “Sometimes, on very long rides, you may not fancy eating food because excessive sweating has created a salt imbalance,” says Dominic. “Carry a sachet of rehydration salts with you on the ride, mix its contents into your water bottle and, half an hour after drinking the mixture, you’ll feel ready to eat again.” Salted almonds are also a great option.
AFTER THE RIDE
Keep it up!
Don’t think that when you finish riding you can neglect proper nutrition – what you eat after cycling is just as important as what you eat before and during the ride. “Replenish your glycogen stores after a day’s riding as soon as possible with a sports drink,” recommends Adam. “Then, once again, opt for a high protein and carbohydrate-based meal for dinner.” Egg on toast, jacket potato and cottage cheese, or a tuna sandwich on wholemeal bread, are good low-fat options. And, if you’re short on time, a protein shake can provide all of the necessary nutrients in a handy-sized bottle. Cycling the next day? Then it’s time to do it all again!
Ian Mayhew is training Dominic Irvine to beat the men’s tandem bicycle record from Land’s End to John O’Groats. Follow Dominic on Twitter @DomIrvine for details.