Becoming an endurance athlete takes time, commitment and complete dedication. Cycling is becoming the 'boom' sport for many people who want to stay fit and feel good about themselves.
Once a cyclist steps up and becomes more serious about their performance, the questions of what, when and how do I eat and drink arise. Understanding the basic bodily energy functions is essential to then choose the appropriate selections to both sustain and improve performance and recover effectively.
The primary source of energy in endurance cycling comes from glycogen, which the body stores in the liver and to a lesser extent in the muscles. Eating low GI foods rich in carbohydrate, allows the body to hold onto energy on a regular basis.
The average cyclist will store in their body around 1200 -1500 kcals of glycogen which, depending on intensity, will service the energy requirements for around an hour to an hour and a half.
It stands to reason that replenishing the glycogen stores on the bike will help both in performance but also reduce the chances of 'bonking', the cyclists equivalent of hitting the marathon runners wall. This occurs when all the glycogen stores are used up and the body simply starts to shut down.
In a multiple stage event like the cycle slam, there is obviously a huge demand on the body. Day in and day out, cyclists could be on the bike for up to five or six hours. Being methodical and disciplined with supplementation is the key. It is important to try different types of energy replacement in your training to ensure your body both utilises the right amount of energy and you feel good at the end of the days riding. Gels, bars, drink, chews are all available to you, the rule is that once you train and perform with a supplement that works for you, STICK with it.
Typically, an average rider of 75kgs will need to consume 70 grams of carbohydrate per hour during a ride. Checking the labels on your supplements is crucial, and then you can get it right throughout the ride. For example, a Zip Vit energy gel has 51 grams of available carbohydrate, so a gel and a half every hour will see you through.
Generally, try and take on supplements on flat parts of the ride, not when climbing. Although, if the climb is more than an hour your hand is forced. Eating when exercising intensely could result in energy expenditure conflict. Isotonic fluids are better when climbing.
Post ride, research suggests that there is an optimum four hour window to restore levels of carbohydrate. Clearly eating a meal that is carbohydrate rich and low GI will help the rider both recover more effectively and store energy for the next day. Combining this meal with protein has showed to improve recovery even more effectively. Pasta and chicken with a green salad would do the trick. Additionally, there are sports recovery drinks with a 3:1 carbohydrate: protein balance that can help with this recovery.
If you then get your pre ride ritual organised you are onto a winner. Like anything, the more you practice and the better organised you are the better the performance.
• Eating a breakfast like porridge with a dab of almond butter made with skimmed milk two hours before the ride is a perfect start.
• Then, using an isotonic drink, sip up-to 300ml prior to the event to keep stored levels of glycogen topped up.
• During the ride, around the hour mark start the on bike process of carbohydrate replenishment. If you are choosing bars, measure them out pre ride. Chop them up into thirds and pop them into a plastic zip bag, make life easy on the bike.
• Carry a sachet of isotonic powder as a back up or tape a gel to your handle bars in case of emergency.
• On long rides always have two bottles, one with pure water and one with isotonic. If it's hot think about a pure electrolyte replacement tablet popped in the water. This will help keep the sodium and mineral levels regulated which in turn allows your body to regulate and deal with the heat more efficiently. It will also offset cramp, which can kick in on longer rides when it's hot.