A balanced diet forms the most important aspect of any sports activity as it can bring that key difference in your performance level which you covet. If you are planning to paddle long distances, or compete, then you cannot afford to disregard the immense benefits of a professional cyclist’s diet to boost up your stamina and endurance levels, and to fly past your opponents. The right cycling diet menu from Day 1 will enable you to map a new chapter in your cycling for weight loss regime.
Training for professional cycling involves regular gym sessions for strengthening the lower body and build the required stamina and steep focus on your goal. With each training session and subsequent cycling expeditions, you will be required to quickly replenish depleted bodily reserves. A pro cyclist diet is a key to sustaining such grueling toll on your body, which should be an amalgam of the daily nutrition for cycling practice and training-specific nutrition for short bursts of exertions.
Eat Healthy: Plan Your Cycling Diet Menu
Charting a cycling diet menu can be daunting if you are a novice cyclist, especially when numerous fad diets and sport nutrition products are available in the market. You will get unbridled suggestions from professional bikers and experts, but before you jump to any conclusions, remember that each person is different.
A cycling diet menu and nutritional products that suit one cyclist may not suit another. Listen to your body and plan your cycling diet menu as per those requirements. An ideal diet plan is achieved by the hit-and-trial method; take your time to decide what cycling nutrition plans are best for your body.
The key to great health and performance lies in daily nutrition. As Sports Dietitian, Bob Seebohar says, “What puzzles me as a coach and sports nutritionist is that athletes do not put in half as much effort planning their nutrition as they do construct their training plan. Why is this important? For the simple reason that the best training plan is worthless if the nutrition plan fails.” So, instead of following a specific diet plan, you should build a nutrition for cyclists plan that can adapt to your lifestyle and training.
The main objective of a pro cyclist diet is to balance the intake of macronutrients, that is, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats in the form of vegetables, fruits, and whole grain. This manipulation or partitioning of macronutrients along with manipulation of exercise with the correct aerobic training to attain maximum fat burning is known as Metabolic Efficiency.
What is Metabolic Efficiency?
It describes the relationship between the use of stored carbohydrate and fat calories stored in your body for energy. For example, a recreational cyclist likely stores more than 80,000 calories as fat in their body, but only 1,200–2,000 calories as carbohydrate. Because of this difference, the goal becomes to teach the body to use more of the unlimited fat stores and preserve the carbohydrate stores until really needed.
By improving the body’s metabolic efficiency to use more fat as energy, you not only decrease the risk for some disease states but you also achieve weight loss. The great thing about this is that it can all be done through a good cycling nutrition plan.
Always remember the nutrient equation Protein + Fat + Fiber (that is, choosing food that contains protein, fat, and fiber at most meals and snacks) to improve your daily nutrition, which in turn improves your body’s metabolic efficiency through controlling and optimizing blood sugar.
With a balanced cycling diet menu, your body’s reliance on blood sugar will decrease, leading to optimum utilization of internal body fat. Try doing this 90% of the time, and you will be off to a great start! (You can allow 10% for the occasional misses.)
To begin with, the cycling diet menu, categorize your foods under protein/fat, vegetables, fruit, and whole grains. Once you have the list ready, start from the left to the right to put together your meal. For example, tofu, fish or chicken (source of protein and fat) with asparagus, broccoli or green leafy vegetable (vegetable) is a great meal.
Training Nutrition for Cycling
Along with the daily nutrition, training nutrition for cycling is also imperative as it has a direct relationship with your performance. Planning your cycling diet menu before, during and after the ride can be perplexing. It requires brainstorming sessions to arrive at an optimal diet which can enhance your performance levels on the critical days of competition.
The Sports Nutrition Research recommends eating about 1-2 hours before you begin the ride. Munch something every 25-30 minutes if the duration of the ride is longer than an hour. As the wheel comes to halt, eat a snack or meal within an hour. You can alter your professional cyclists’ diet based on your daily nutrition and training session.
How to Prepare for Race Days?
Increase your overall carb intake 48 hours before the race to reduce the onset of fatigue. On the day of the race, eat your meal at least two hours before the race begins. Drink 500-1000 ml of fluid across 2-3 hours. Also, if the race is in the morning, make sure you have eaten a good meal of glycogen and fat a night before.
If you are the morning coffee person, you can have a cup of coffee, too. Most researchers state that around 1-3 mg of caffeine per kg of body weight can have effects like increased energy and focus. However, anything more than this recommended intake is ineffective.
Fuel your ride with just water. Choosing electrolytes over water, though, will increase fluid absorption and retention and thus you will not have to take toilet breaks. For shorter rides less than 90 minutes, consume only fluid during the ride. However, for longer rides, pack 60-90 gram of carb per hour along with the usual fluid intake. Keep the solid food for the latter part of the race and caffeine gels for the intense part.
After the race, to reduce fatigue and risk of injury, consume protein-rich food (for example, sprouts or eggs) and electrolyte (several juices with an ORS formula are available in the market). Take carbohydrates after one hour (opt for fruits with high water content depending on seasonal availability). Or you can reward yourself with a pizza and beer, as the beer is a great carb source, and the topping on the pizza makes for the required protein. Mix an overnight protein powder in milk and consume it before you go to bed.
Food for Cyclist – Bust the Myths to Ride Longer
1. All calories are not the same:
The belief that all calories are the same and hamper you from losing weight is common. It is repeatedly stated that the calories taken in by the body lead to an increase in your weight. This is not true as not all calories contribute to fat storage. The calories you get from avocados are different than those you get from potatoes. Balance your calories intake from carbohydrate, protein, and fat in the ratio 50:30:20 to gain muscle and boost energy: 50% vegetables, fruits, and whole grains; 30% unprocessed oils and nuts; 20% lean meats, fish, and eggs.
2. Cycling increases your calorie requirement:
For example, for a 30-mile ride, you will need 1200-1500 calories depending on the speed of your ride. Therefore, your pre-cycling snack should be higher in the carb to give you the required energy and avoid cramp.
3. Starches are not the best carbs:
When these foods break down into sugar and are quickly absorbed by the cells, it makes your brain happy and wanting more. Therefore, you tend to overeat starchy foods like pasta and rice, and the surplus ends up getting converted to fat. On the contrary, plant foods are rich in carbs but lower in calories. You need 5-9 grams of carbohydrate for each kilogram of body weight per day. So, get into the habit of counting and pack yourself with the healthy options.
4. Healthy fat won’t make you fat:
There are two different types of fat, the healthy or unsaturated kind that you find in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, and the saturated kind. Saturated fats found in processed foods, dairy, and meat, are the common cause of high cholesterol. By replacing most of your saturated fats with unsaturated food, you can start a healthier life.
In fact, unsaturated fats are essential to speed up your fat-burning metabolism. Moreover, as fat is slow to digest than carbs, you feel fuller for longer. Examples of unsaturated(Omega 3 and Omega 6) fats are nuts, seeds, fish, and oils.
5. Protein is relevant to cyclists:
Often thought of only as muscle food for a cyclist, protein supports your overall health, recovery, and immunity. Limit your consumption of red and processed meat to avoid diseases. Rather, consume beans and pulses along with lean meat, fish, and low-fat dairy products.
6. Mega-dosing on Multivitamins and Minerals is not necessary:
Fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) are stored in the body, while water-soluble vitamins are not, and are therefore needed on a daily basis. Minerals such as zinc, calcium, and iron are also needed in very low quantities. All of the vitamins and minerals can come from a variety of fruits and vegetables in the diet. Occasionally, especially when training regularly, a short-term dosage of supplements can be considered to avoid any deficiencies.
7. You don’t need Energy bars and drinks:
They contain sugar, which steps up insulin production and block appetite-controlling hormones. Some of them also contain trans fats, which you must avoid completely.
8. You should not skip breakfast to shed weight:
Weight loss is crucial to any professional cyclist, and a result of healthy eating, exercise, and good habits. However, you shouldn’t try out fad diets or skip meals to accomplish your target. Missing your breakfast creates an energy deficit, which results in food cravings and feeling hungry throughout the day. It also suppresses your fat-burning metabolism. Eat 25% of your meal for breakfast that will sustain you through the day.
Nutrition for Cyclists – Remember the Basics
Diet and nutrition are important for cyclists at every level. While planning a cycling diet menu, there are some things that you should keep in mind. Here are some tips on eating well- on and off the cycle.
1. Hydrate Yourself Well
Keep yourself hydrated throughout the ride to attain excellent energy levels. On an average, you should drink around 0.5 liters of liquid every hour, in the form of either water or any other healthy drink. If you feel foggy headed during your ride, consume fluid. Dehydration can affect your performance, so pay particular attention to this simple tip as it can make a huge difference.
2. Consume Fuel Sources
Carbohydrates are the backbone of a cyclist’s nutritional plan. They are the rapidly available energy source. There are two types of carbohydrates- simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates, also called simple sugars, that you find in foods are typically sucrose (refined sugar), fructose (fruits), and lactose (milk). The second type, complex carbohydrates or starchy carbohydrates, are found in rice, wholemeal grain, beans, and peas. Both of these carbohydrates are healthy, except when complex carbs are refined, which is when they lose their nutritional value.
Choose foods that are rich in carbohydrate with high GI for instant energy.
What is Glycemic Index (GI)?
Glycemic Index is a measure to know how fast your body converts carbohydrates into glucose. Two foods having the same amount of carbohydrates can have different GI. Foods with a GI of 55 or less is considered good. Examples of low-GI foods are boiled potatoes, pumpkin, rice, fresh vegetables (like broccoli, asparagus, mushrooms, and cauliflower) and fruits (like apple, apricot, grapefruit, and guava). These produce a gradual rise in our blood sugar and are desirable. But on days when you compete, consume food with higher GI, as it will act as a fast energy booster.
3. Eat Recovery Food
In the first 20 minutes of your ride, nutrients are transported to the muscles. Taking a carb-rich snack or drink during this time will impact your ride ahead. A milk-based drink or a whey- or soy protein–enriched smoothie, a baked or boiled potato, are all sensible options.
4. Time Your Pre-ride Meal
Eat 90 minutes before you hit the road. It will keep you fueled. This should be a low-fat, carb-dominant meal.
Your body needs to replenish bodily reserves to keep up the energy and to avoid any injury. Eat small and regular meals and make room for a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack (as a part of the cycling diet menu). Structure your diet and remember to choose a low-fat, rich-carbohydrate and protein meal.
Well, if you have just started cycling do not forget to read 9 cycling guidelines for beginners .
We would love to know about your cycling experience in our comments box. There are other beginners out there who look forward to inputs about the cycling diet menu, share them with us!