Food Habits that Impair Your Cycling Performance

Susie Burell looks at some of the most common food habits that could be doing more harm than good for your cycling overall and the easy way to help change them for the better.

While we spend much time talking of the specific foods that can benefit health and sports performance, we tend to spend far less time talking about the daily habits that are as conducive to eating well and reaping the benefits. These habits, the daily rituals that become so deeply entrenched in our lives that we do not even realise we are doing them, help form the platform for good nutrition practices long term. 

No fuel pre-ride

I know that you have been a regular Saturday or Sunday morning rider for as long as you can remember, and to date you have had no issue with not eating before a long ride. But what if I told you that you could burn a greater amount of fat, feel and recover better after your long ride if you simply consumed a small amount of carbohydrate and protein before your ride? After an overnight fast, the liver has depleted some of its stores of glycogen and embarking on a ride prior to refuelling means that you will deplete these stores of fuel much more quickly than you would if you had refuelled. Once these stores are depleted, metabolism will slow to continue to fuel the exercising muscle whilst preserving some liver stores of glycogen. Overall this metabolic process is reduced in efficiency leading to reduced performance and a reduction in both carbohydrate and fat metabolism. 

Stay on top of the scenario by grabbing a small snack that contains just 10-20g of total carbohydrate and five to 10g of protein 30-60 minutes before any long ride that is estimated to go for longer than 60 minutes. Nutritionally balanced options include an energy bar, 1 slice of bread with cheese or nut spread or some low fat milk or yoghurt. Not only will you feel better on your ride in general but long term your recovery and metabolism will also benefit. 

Lack of fuel during the day

It is not uncommon to see a cyclist who eats a quick breakfast on the run, and a light lunch before binging on snacks, large portions of the evening meal and late night snacks. While this habit may not see you gain weight, chances are you are not losing it either and if you have a bit of a belly, it is this night eating habit and high calorie load at the end of the day that is not doing you any favours. 

Generally speaking, the lighter your calorie consumption during the day, the more likely it is that you will crave and overeat at night. This can be especially true for late afternoon or evening trainers who arrive home after a big session absolutely ravenous. To avoid this common scenario, take control by prioritising eating at least three meals by mid afternoon each day. Whether this equates to breakfast and then a mid-morning snack or an early and late lunch, adding in an extra meal before your late afternoon session will ensure you avoid the intense hunger and overeating that occurs when you have consumed insufficient calories during the day. 

Relying on sugar

While you may burn it off, relying on sugary sports drinks, banana bread, lollies and snack bars to fuel your rides does not do your health any favours long term. Whilst concentrated sugars may offer you an energy boost on long rides or get you over the line in event racing, fluctuating blood glucose levels also leaves you vulnerable to varying energy levels, cravings and potentially long term issues with blood glucose control. 

So rather than using sugars as a pick me up at the end of longer sessions or before training, plan regular carbohydrate and protein snacks every two to three hours to keep your energy and blood glucose levels tightly regulated. And if you must resort to sugars every now and again, save them to the end of events rather than relying on them as your primary energy source. 

Eating junk because you train

You know the drill…you think you deserve the extra chocolate or few beers because you train regularly. All too often we give ourselves permission to eat high calorie foods in much higher volumes than we usually would, just because we train. While you may be burning a good number of calories regularly, it is also important to remember that the body gets used to what we do regularly very, very quickly. This means that the muscles become exceptionally efficient at burning calories when they have been doing the same thing for a while, and a workout which may have once burnt 600-800 calories may now only be burning 400-500. 

So, if you do enjoy a little treat at the end of a long day, before you rush out and demolish and entire block of chocolate, keep in mind that a treat should always be a small treat no matter how many times a week you train. This means one to two drinks, a row or two of chocolate or a couple of bickies, not the packet. 

Not enough nutrition

It is easy for busy people to get into the habit of eating quick and easy meals that they are familiar with, but that are not necessarily giving them the nutrition they need to be at their best. It can always be a useful reminder that even the most active, fit individuals still need two to to three cups of brightly coloured salad and vegies each day; meat eaters, lean red meat three to four times each week, three to four serves of calcium for healthy bones and enough dietary fibre for regular bowel function. While banana bread, toast, sports drinks and snack bars may provide easy to grab fuel when you are busy, it does not change the fact that you still need at least two nutritious meals every single day. 

If you find that time is the issue, plan ahead and prepare meals in bulk in advance. Pasta dishes, stir fries and soups all freeze extremely well. Alternatively order your fresh food or even groceries online so that you always have a supply of key ingredients to cook quick meals with, even when you are tired. There is also a growing number of home delivery, healthy meal services including Dietlicious (http://www.dietlicious.com.au/), Eat Fit Food (http://www.eatfitfood.com.au/) and Muscle Meals Direct (http://www.musclemealsdirect.com.au/) that can deliver nutritious meals to your door if you have no interest in meal preparation. 

Meatball Fettuccine

350g fettuccine pasta

½ cup shredded parmesan cheese

500g peppercorn extra lean beef meatballs

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 punnet of cherry tomatoes

2 tbsp. chopped parsley

1) Cook pasta in boiling water for 10-12 minutes. Drain. Drizzle with olive oil.

2) Heat frypan with olive. Add meatballs and cook until browned.

3) Add chopped cherry tomatoes.

4) Toss with cooked pasta. Stir through parsley and parmesan. 

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