A cyclists diet before, during and after an event can significantly change depending on a number of factors. An event can span from an easy ride to an intense multi-day competition. In addition there are some clear things we as cyclists should avoid and some things we should encourage ourselves to do. Here we will discuss the following-
Social Ride- moderate effort, low mileage
Base Training Ride – moderate intensity, moderate mileage (up to 50miles)
Interval Training – intermittently high intensity, 10 to 30 miles
Endurance Ride – moderate intensity, High mileage (50miles and above)
Competitive TT- high intensity
Multiday – moderate-high intensity, 50 to 120 miles/day
This ride is completed at a comfortable pace of 50-60% VO2 max for around 1-2 hours. In the days prior, the diet should remain fairly constant of how your base diet will pan out with a balanced diet, 60-70% Calories from carbohydrates. In the house prior to the event a high carbohydrate meal should be consumed. During the ride, eating would be optional depending on training aims specific to the individual. Post ride should include the consumption of protein and carbohydrate in the immediate 2hours and increased post 24hours. Fluids, depending on the weather, are very specific to the individual and should be consumed as necessary at regular intervals.
BASE TRAINING RIDE
This ride can lead to the so called ‘bonk’ if ridden for long enough, so snacking on the bike is essential. As intensity increases, it is increasingly more important to avoid GI (gastro intestinal) distress and to replenish glycogen stores during the event. Again the balanced diet prior to the event should continue. Excessively fatty foods should be avoided in the hours pre-event; a high carbohydrate meal that the body is well accustomed to digestive would be ideal. During the ride, regular ‘top-ups’ of carbohydrate gels, snacks and drinks will be necessary, again, the individual will have to work out how and when to supplement, but regular ingestion is recommended. Post ride, high in sugar cardbohydrate in the immediate stage is necessary followed by a complex carbohydrate and protein meal within the next 2-hours. The following 24hours should follow with an increased calorific balanced diet. Again, hydration will remain largely the same, with slight increases depending on the climate and intensity.
Intervals training are most likely to induce GI distress, that goes with exercising close to maximal. Sweating will also increase, so fluid replenishment needs to be maintained effectively. If your training duration is within around 90mins, there may be no need to eat during the ride but experiment with this yourselves. Pre-ride, you may wish to supplement with carbohydrate that’s easily digested such as a gel. A post ride immediate carbohydrate snack is essential here due to severe depletion, taking advantage of the window for maximum glycogen resynthesis and may cut down on muscle soreness with an additional supplement of protein. Fluid increase is an essential requirement here; at least one water 500ml bottle per hour as an absolute minimum.
These rides will definitely encourage you to bonk and therefore if you don’t replace carbohydrates, training can be severely hampered, so supplementing on the bike is essential. As intensity increases, it becomes increasingly important to both avoid GI distress but to optimise glycogen stores. Lower intensity rides tend not to suffer too much from GI distress. A high (300g) carbohydrate meal 3 to 4 hours before this ride helps ‘top up’ muscle glycogen stores. Again, in the days prior to the event, a carbohydrate reliant, balanced diet should remain, with ~600g in the 2days prior. Regular supplements, avoiding GI distress are recommended throughout. See this online article for how different conditions affecting calorific expenditure.
In cases such as ‘drafting’ and air resistance, this will reduce the intensity & will significantly impact nutritional strategies and requirements. A post ride carbohydrate snack, particularly in the 10 to 15 minutes immediately afterwards, will take advantage of the window again. High carbohydrate and fluids in the 24-48h following the event are essential. See Glycemic index for the different forms of food that enter the blood stream and alter blood sugar levels quickly (High GI) as oppose to those food items that allow a slow release of energy (Low GI)..
COMPETITIVE TIME-TRIAL (TT)
A good carbohydrate base to maximize muscle glycogen stores is essential here. Avoiding GI distress is essential in TT, racing on the limit. Sweat production increases so fluid replacement needs to be maintained, roughly 500ml an hour. Carbohydrate supplementation is less likely due to the duration of the event but may be required in a 25mile TT or longer. In the days prior, a significant drop in carbohydrate and increased training, followed by a significant dip in training and significant increase in carbohydrate supplementation to maximise glycogen stores. An easily digested Carbohydrate supplement will be necessary immediately prior to the event usually a gel after your warm up. You can try sucking a jelly baby on the start line, leading the the body into a sense that food is coming, and energy is plentyful & has been shown to improve TT performance. Again, immediately following the event, carbohydrate and protein is essential to support glycogen replenishment (glut-4 translocation) and increased protein synthesis for muscle recovery.
This ride would be very similar to an endurance ride, but whereby you need to be very cautious of eating a high carbohydrate meal each evening and to maximise glycogen stores which will be slowly depleted with poor maintenance. Regular high CHO (~300g Low GI) 3 to 4 hours before each ride will maximize glycogen stores, however, during rides and post ride supplementation becomes increasingly significant to success. In the days prior, a balanced diet with 50 – 70 % Calories from carbohydrates and at least 600g per day of carbohydrates is required. During the ride, regular easily digested snacks including energy gels and sports drinks will be essential in topping up stores. A high carbohydrate meal the night after the ride is essential to further reduce the likelihood or reduced glycogen storage and muscle soreness. Eating beyond calories to replace the Calories burned on that day’s ride is often necessary. Depending on weather and intensity, fluids will need to be replaced at roughly 500ml of water per hour, with a gradual intake of water throughout. Protein has it’s place in recovery, but for endurance sport like cycling; carbohydrate is key to optimal recovery.
Never forget the importance of good nutritional practice
Try and eat fresh foods of all different colours and varieties to maintain a balanced diet
Replace those Calories in training.