The food we eat provides our bodies with the nutrients it needs to support basic functions and good health. For optimal training, we need a healthy balanced diet with adequate energy from protein, carbohydrate and fat. Good nutrition will support preparation, participation and recovery from exercise, allowing adaptation and improvement which will in turn help us to reach our goals.
We are all individual, nutrient intakes should be tailored to each cyclist’s individual requirements and tolerances. The following article gives a general overview of nutritional recommendations to support sport and exercise and should be adapted to meet individual requirements.
60-70% total energy intake should be from carbohydrate, with 5-7g/kg body weight/day for cyclists training 60-90 minutes or less per day or training at low intensity. Intake should increase to 7-10g/kg body weight/day for cyclists training for 90-120 minutes or more per day.
Carbohydrate is converted to glucose and stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver.
- As muscle glycogen stores deplete so does capacity for high intensity activity, eventually leading to exhaustion.
- Starting with a high muscle glycogen content is known to postpone fatigue by up to 20% in endurance events lasting more than 90 minutes.
- High Glycaemic Index (GI) foods such as sweets and sugary drinks cause a rapid increase but fast decline in blood glucose and therefore energy.
- Low GI foods such as pasta and oats cause a slower but longer lasting blood sugar increase and therefore energy.
- Excess protein over 2g/kg body weight/day could reduce absorption of other nutrients.
- Protein is needed for the growth and repair of muscle tissue and to maintain the immune system.
- Protein is made up of amino acids, 8 of which are essential for adults, meaning they need to be provided from dietary sources such as milk, egg, fish and soya.
The recommended daily intake is 20-35% of total dietary intake, with less than 10% from saturated fats (found in meat and dairy fats) associated with health risks such as cardiovascular disease, better choices include olive oil and avocados.
- Fat is required in the diet for absorption of fat soluble vitamins, energy (the body converts fat to energy during low intensity exercise, sparing muscle glycogen stores), insulation for body organs and cell structure.
- Consuming more than 2g/kg body weight per day is thought to compromise muscle repair and glycogen recovery.
- Essential fats: Omega 3 (found in oily fish, rapeseed oil, walnuts) and Omega 6 (found in nuts, seeds, sunflower oil) need to be consumed from dietary sources to support heart and blood health, the immune system and response to injury.
Fluid & Electrolytes
- Trial rehydration strategies during training before an event to determine what works best for you.
- Dehydration (decrease of over 2% body weight) is known to cause an increase in body temperature, heart rate and fatigue.
- When temperatures are over 30˚C or in humid conditions risk of dehydration increases.
- To aid absorption try adding fruit juice with a pinch of salt or electrolyte tablets to your water.
Alcohol is not recommended immediately before, during or within 24 hours after an event or high intensity training. Consumption can impede judgement, increase risk of injury and impede post exercise recovery.
When considering food choices to support sports performance, it’s important to remember we are all individual. What works for one person may not work for another, requirements vary depending on type, duration and frequency of training, also on the cyclist’s tolerance and ability to adapt. You can use general recommendations as a guideline but your nutrition strategy should be tried, tested and adapted during training to determine what works best for you.
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 ACSM (2016) Nutrition and Athletic Performance Joint Position Statement, Med Sci Sports Exerc 48(3), 543–568.
 Coris E, Ramirez AM, Van Durme DJ (2004) Heat illness in athletes: the dangerous combination of heat, humidity and exercise. Sports Med 34(1), 9-16.