photo credit @ Simon Scarsbrook
article by A1 Coaching’s Aaron Buggle
We often look at training on the bike as being the only method of making improvements year in year out. But have you looked at the stones left untouched?
The winter months provide the ideal opportunity to experiment with changes in your approach to training, nutrition etc. Experimenting with a new approach to a certain aspect of cycling during the season may come at a cost, e.g trying a new brand of gels during a race that end up giving you stomach cramps. A few weeks spent trying out a new approach during the winter months will not come at the same cost i.e ruining a part of your season or a particular race.
Nutrition is one of those aspects that is often overlooked when we try to improve your performance in cycling. In cycling there are two main factors we have control over; power and weight. Power primarily correlates to the training you do and the quality of it i.e intervals over junk miles. Weight is obviously controlled mostly by our diet.
A well thought out nutrition plan has the ability to allow you to easily control your weight, improve your health, but also to improve your performance on the bike. Imagine your body as an engine, the quality of the fuel you put into it determines its performance. Therefore, second to training, an improved nutrition plan will allow you to improve your performance in seasons to come.
We have all seen studies for the best way to improve training, aerodynamics etc. However, nutrition is one of those things that haven’t changed much over the years. The mentality of ‘eat loads of carbohydrates in the days before your event’ is simply a tradition without much scientific backing that has been passed down throughout the years. Quite similar to warming down after a race, which was once laughed at but now is adopted by all professional riders.
It’s clear that nutrition is a crucial part of the sport. Our resident nutritionist Barry Murray has taken the time to research a nutrition plan that is custom built for an endurance sport like cycling. Adopted by riders such as Steve Cummings and teams such as BMC, this nutrition plan is known to work.
As cycling is an endurance-based sport for the most part, riders requiring a steady stream of energy for the duration of the exercise, which may be up to 6 hours. Traditionally carbohydrates have been the favored source of energy. We’ve all heard the term ‘carb-loading’ thrown around in the lead up to an event. A far more appropriate nutrition plan for cycling is to use fat, which we can get virtually limitless energy from, as a primary source of energy.
This does not mean carbohydrates are not used or consumed using this approach. However, ‘nutrient timing’ is optimised in order to teach the body to use certain fuel sources during different levels of exercise intensity.
The reason for adopting fat as an energy source is quite simple. Fat (9kcal/g) contains more energy compared to carbohydrates and protein (4kcal/g). Stores of fat are also much larger (blood, muscle and adipose tissue). For example a 70kg athlete with a body fat of 10% has approximately 7kg of stored fat, which has the potential to supply 69,000kcal of energy. In comparison, carbohydrate stores (glycogen stores) in the body can only store 300-400g equating to 1,200-1,600kcal of energy or 3-4hrs of medium intensity exercise. This limited amount of carbohydrate is not ideal to supply energy for a long endurance sport such as cycling.
Carbohydrates are much more effective at providing energy for high intensity periods of exercise e.g above threshold. Therefore, if we can make our bodies ‘fat adapted’ to use fat as a source of energy for sub-threshold intensities we can reserve the carbohydrate stores for the intense periods of a race e.g a sprint finish.
To achieve this is quite simple. By consuming fat and carbohydrates at certain periods before/during training we can determine which the body uses as a fuel source at that time. Put simply this nutrition plan is built around timing the consumption of your macronutrients in relation to the exercise or training you are doing at the time. Not restricting any macronutrients.
Along with the performance benefits of this nutrition plan, it can also aid weight loss and improve health.This way of eating helps to promote oxidation during metabolism i.e burn fat while also improving protein synthesis (i.e. muscle repair/growth). As a result your body composition improves as fat is reduced and muscle is maintained or increases.
Most importantly, this way of eating may improve your health. A high fat diet can decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes as well as decreasing inflammation, which improves recovery and allows you to train for longer periods, therefore improving your health.
If you’ve tried everything under the sun to improve you performance, nutrition is one of those areas where improvements can easily be made. Make the change this winter and lay the foundations for a successful season. It’s cheap and easy to do and most importantly it’s easier than doing more intervals!
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