In the first installment of our nutrition series, we considered physiological types and the importance of carbohydrate, which can account for up to 70 per cent of the serious cyclist’s diet.
This time, we’re looking at the optimum times for fuelling, both before, during, and after the ride. Our guide is Matt Hart of Torq Fitness and Consultancy. Hart’s approach to pre-ride fueling is a simple one. “Our rule is ‘eat today for tomorrow,’” he says.
“The day before you ride, get sufficient carbohydrates so your store is high. What you eat on the day is pretty academic.
“There’s nothing you can eat in the hours leading up to the ride that will make any difference.”
While eating during the hours before the ride will not make any sufficient addition to carbohydrate stores, eating nothing can be dangerous. The belief that fasting before a ride will promote weight loss is, if not entirely unfounded, then not without risk, says Hart.
“We have never recommended that people ride fasted despite a small amount of research showing a singular increase in fat burning. I know people who have been extremely ill as a result. We don’t recommend riding fasted at all. We have found that the only way to increase fat burning is to ride at a certain intensity,” he says.
Equally misplaced is the notion that sports nutrition products can somehow make up for deficiencies elsewhere in the diet or for a failure to eat properly in the days approaching the ride.
“A lot of people think of nutrition products as a miracle source of energy, like having a turbo charger in a car. If you get to the point where you have a gel and it gives you a boost, you have done it wrong. It means you are on your knees,” says Hart.
People accustomed to exercise, and taking on board a diet sufficient to sustain regular physical effort, are unlikely to need specialist products to fuel their performance.
“We say to people if you’re exercising three times a week, you don’t need energy products; you’re wasting your money. But if you’re going out on a Saturday and a Sunday, and you have an energy drink within 15 minutes of finishing your Saturday ride, your ride on Sunday will be of a much higher quality,” says Hart.
Certain energy products are tailored to deliver the concentrated boost of carbohydrate required after exercise. Consuming carbs after a ride creates a virtuous circle that raises blood sugar levels, releases insulin, and repairs muscles. “You’re fighting to keep your carbohydrate stores high, which is like having a fully charged battery,” says Hart.
“If you’re doing a sportive for five to six hours, you can’t rely on having enough carbohydrate stored in your muscles. If you start off properly fuelled, your pace will not drop. If it’s hotter, you need to be getting carbohydrate through energy drinks, so you’re also getting fluid and electrolytes. If it’s cooler, you can look at energy bars.”
Post-ride refueling is equally important if tired muscles are to be repaired and injury avoided. Hart recommends refueling within 15 minutes of completing the ride.
“You need one gram of carbohydrate per kilo of body weight post exercise. Carbohydrates are way more important than protein. You need three parts carbohydrate to one part protein. Whey protein facilitates carbohydrate uptake and storage,” he says.
Again, carbohydrate lies at the centre of nutrition for the cyclist, and must be consumed in sufficient quantities before, during, and after the ride. Pre-ride fuelling will build a carbohydrate store; fuelling on the bike replaces depleted stores of carbohydrate held in the muscle; post-ride carb intake will boost the process of recovery and repair.