Nutrition: Getting The Right Pre, During & Post-Ride Balance

First thing’s first, if you want to maximise the effects of the meals or snacks immediately before, during and after a ride, ensure that you start your day with a protein-based breakfast.

I addition to this, it is important to eat at frequent intervals during the day (four to six times depending on your metabolism) to constantly top up your energy stores and reduce stress on your digestive system. Breaking up your meals is even more critical for cyclists who may be consuming up to 350-840g of carbs per day for a 70kg male. 

Remember, nutrition intake differs depending on your goal (e.g. fitness, fat loss, bulking up, maintenance etc), the timing of your ride during the day, and your own metabolism. So you may need to tweak your nutrition as you go along, but the key is to plan your nutrition intake and be consistent. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to sports nutrition (if only it were that easy!) but here are some hints and tips on how to grow those thighs by adopting smart hydration as well as supplementation strategies.

Prepare: Start Your Ride Topped With Energy 

Whether you’re fuelling up for a breezy early morning ride or a more gruelling four hour event, you need to ensure that the snack or meal consumed immediately before training or an event gives you every opportunity to meet the nutritional goals ahead. 

Remember from last issues article: the primary source of fuel is carbohydrates at moderate to intense training intensities. Prior to exercise, clever cyclists reach for carbohydrate rich foods in their cupboard to ensure maximal storage of glycogen predominantly in the muscle, but also the liver. 

Different carbohydrates affect blood glucose levels (and consequently energy levels) differently. Some research suggests that low GI foods (e.g. whole grains, some fruits and vegetables) are more useful before exercise to provide a more sustained energy release. Foods with a GI range of 55 or less are considered to be low GI (www.glycemicindex.com). You should also opt for foods that are easy to digest, reasonably low in fat, rich in carbohydrates and familiar and enjoyable to consume.

Shorter Rides (Less than 60 minutes) 

When: 30-60mins before the ride

What: 50-90g carbohydrates along with 300-700ml fluid. This ‘immediate’ pre ride fuel should be easily digestible (low in fibre), reasonably low in protein (~10g protein is sufficient) and low in fat. 

Example: Two slices of wholemeal toast with jam and a

sports drink containing ~45g carbohydrate per serve.

Longer Rides (Longer than 60 minutes) 

Many elite athletes adopt a carefully planned carbohydrate loading strategy to sustain peak glycogen levels in the body during an event. Even if you’re not cycling at an elite level, there are benefits in adopting this carb loading strategy, particularly for any sessions lasting greater than 90 minutes. Carb loading can improve performance by 2-3%. This could be the difference between coming first or second, or getting home without being exhausted. 

How?

  • Consume a high carbohydrate intake for one to four days (7-12g/kg)
  • Exercise must be tapered during the loading period 

The carb loading strategy may sound easy, but it requires meticulous planning and effort. Stock up on low fibre, easy to digest foods such as honey, tinned fruit, jelly, sports drink, pasta, rice and potatoes. 

Note: Females may not reap the full benefits of carb loading particularly during their menstrual cycle. More research is needed in this area… but this doesn’t mean that females can’t benefit from a reasonably high carb diet leading up to a big event. Start small and build up to an optimal level for your individual needs.

Perform: Elevate Extreme Performance and Stamina 

Fluid intake is essential in any type of ride to avoid dehydration and a subsequent decrease in performance, particularly for endurance cyclists. Just as little as a 2% drop in bodyweight can impair work capacity and a loss of 5% or more in bodyweight can decrease performance by ~30% (Armstrong et al. 1985). As a cyclist, you can lose around 300ml–1,200ml per hour in fluid and this amount can be much greater in hot conditions.

Shorter rides (Less than 60 minutes) 

Drinking water is fine for short rides at moderate intensity. Aim for about 500ml-1,200ml per hour. That’s about 200ml every 15-20 minutes.

Longer rides (More than 60 minutes) 

You are likely to be tapping into your glycogen stores here so topping up with fast converting energy in the form of convenient food, sports drinks or gels is highly recommended. 

Aim for about 30-60g of carbohydrate per hour plus plenty of fluids, in the form of convenient sports drinks or gels and or a pack of sultanas, dried fruit and cereal bars. These are essentials for your bike lunch box! A good sports drink should contain 4-8% carbs and adequate sodium (25-70mg/100ml) and potassium (80-200mg/100ml). 

Example: Two carb gels or 500-1,000ml of sports drink or 500ml juice or three medium pieces of fruit (every hour).

Recover: Accelerate your Body and Muscle Recovery

If you’ve ever enjoyed a leisurely latte and muffin after a long ride and wondered why you felt like a rusty old robot the next day, it’s time to look into your recovery fuel. This is what protects your immune system, generates new carb stores, replaces fluid and electrolyte stores as well as rebuilding new lean muscle tissue for those massive thighs. No matter how great your pre and intra fuelling strategies are, you are at serious risk of compromising performance at your next session if you don’t pay attention to your recovery nutrition.

When: Within 60 minutes of finishing the ride. This is when rates of glycogen and protein synthesis are at their greatest. Immediate refuelling is particularly important if you are exercising again within the next 24 hours. 

What: A nutritious carb and protein snack consisting of approx. 50-80g carbs and 10-20g protein. In addition, aim to replace 150% of fluids lost in the first four to six hours after exercise. 

Example: 300ml liquid supplement or fruit smoothie with 25g protein powder or one bread roll with lean meat filling plus one large banana.  

A Word About Supplements 

There are literally hundreds of different purported ‘ergogenic’ aids on the market. If you want to build thunder thighs in a healthy way whilst improving your overall performance, stick to the supplements that have been well researched (e.g. caffeine, creatine, protein powders, liquid meal replacements, sports drinks, gels and some herbal supplements). 

If you are considering supplementation, consider the following:

  • Are you at risk of, or have diagnosed, a nutrient deficiency? (e.g. zinc is a common deficiency in athletes, as is iron in women)
  • Are you a vegetarian or vegan?
  • Do you have a busy lifestyle and find it challenging prepare nutritious snacks or meals 100% of the time?
  • Have you researched thoroughly on the quality of the supplement you are considering? Is it relevant to your training needs?
  • Is the product legal? (If unsure, check out www.wada-ama.org/)
  • Are the supplements reasonably priced? 

If you’ve said yes to one or more of the above, using supplements in addition to your food may be a clever option to reach your peak performance. But remember, the extra 1-3% improvement in performance is only likely to happen if you adopt sound nutrition strategies as a whole, not just a clever supplementation strategy. Also, no performance-enhancing supplement will turn a turtle into a greyhound, as supplements are just the icing on the cake! 

 

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