What to eat before, during and after your ride

What you eat around training can make a huge difference to your performance, providing the right fuel to help you to train to your best. Correct fuelling will help you to make it up those steep climbs, pedal faster and recover faster too. From fuel charged breakfasts to power snacks on the bike and cosy recovery meals once you’re back in the warm, Lynn Clay shows you how to get your sports nutrition needs right.

Before you hit the road it is advisable to start the day with a good breakfast. Going out hungry can lead to an increase in release of stress hormones which has been shown to increase muscle breakdown and negatively impact the immune system. It can also mean you have little ‘fuel in the tank’ leading to a sub-optimal training session. I am aware of the trend to get on the bike without prior fuelling in the belief that this will increase fat loss. I am yet to be convinced. The evidence shows that those who get on the bike fuelled up, train harder for longer and subsequently burn more calories. Due to correct fuelling and reduced stress on the body, they also tend to stay in training for longer, side-stepping colds and bugs. Being able to increase ‘training load’ and staying in training both impact long term calorie burn, and therefore fat-loss, much more significantly than a starvation ride! So what should be on our breakfast plate?

Timing of your ride is the first consideration here. In an ideal world breakfast should be eaten at least two hours prior to training, but if you’re planning on an early morning ride this can be impractical. It is therefore important to offer two strategies:

Time for breakfast strategy

Choose a moderate size carbohydrate based breakfast which also contains a little protein and is low in fat. Prior to longer rides aim for at least 150 grams of complex carbohydrate with rides under two hours only requiring half this intake. Effective simple pre-ride breakfasts include:

  • Porridge made with semi-skimmed milk
  • Scrambled or poached egg on wholegrain toast
  • Wholegrain cereal and milk

You will also need to ensure you are fully hydrated for your ride as dehydration can have a negative impact on performance and health. You can generally tell if you’re well hydrated by looking at the colour of your urine. It should be a very pale yellow, so if it isn’t you will need to drink up. Sip on one to two glasses of water up until your ride or choose Viper Active to accelerate the hydration process.

No time for breakfast strategy

If you have less than 90 minutes after waking until you are on the bike your strategy will need to be different. You will not have time for your body to digest a more significant breakfast as your digestive system has reduced blood flow during training which could results in stomach cramps or bloating during your session. For this reason I would advise you have a light snack or just rely on an energy and hydration formula. Snack on a small portion of the following foods if you have more than one hour to go:

If you have less than one hour a bottle of Viper Active mixed to a 2-4% (20-40g of carbohydrate in 1000ml water) is a practical and effective choice which you can take with you if you are travelling to an event or to meet your mate for a ride. Ideally sip approx 500ml during the hour period stopping drinking twenty minutes prior to your ride.

Nutrition on the bike.

Carbohydrate is the body’s primary fuel source during exercise. This carbohydrate is not only important to provide fuel for the working muscles, but is also essential for the central nervous system. As the brain uses glucose as its energy source, a lack of this can result in weakness, dizziness and low blood sugar. Reduced blood sugar during exercise decreases performance and can lead to mental and physical fatigue. Ultimately if you work to replace some of the carbohydrate you are using during training you will power your performance and feel better during training.

Your three nutritional goals during training should be:

  • To remain hydrated
  • To replace used energy
  • To replace the salts you lose in sweat

Some choose to satisfy these goals using fluid products such as sports drinks and others like to rely on a few snacks or gels on their ride. To some extent this is dependent on the length of your ride with rides lasting longer than 90 minutes requiring regular refueling. When you’re on a particularly long ride you may be tempted to stop for a ‘big feed’ but taking your food on board gradually throughout your ride, in smaller snacks, is much better for the digestion and performance. Carrying snacks can be an issue however. Some foods melt, others become soggy (unless stored well) and some are really difficult to unwrap and consume. You should ideally aim to take on board 60g or carbohydrate per hour with the science showing a performance improvement from 30g per hour. If you are considering going over 60g per hour, increase your intake gradually and exercise caution. Many will not be able to stomach taking on more carbohydrate than this and eating too much carbohydrate on the bike can mean that the blood is shuttled to aid digestion rather than supporting your performance. Your ‘fuelling schedule’ should allow you to snack every 15 – 20 minutes, using Viper Active drink, Gels and Bars.

The importance of salts

Some foods will help to replace the salts you lose during sweat but the most effective way to replace these during your ride is by using a sports drink such as Viper Active. Aiming to take on board 750ml per hour of cycling with the inclusion of electrolytes (salts) will provide superior hydration. Failing to include these in your drink on longer rides, particularly sodium, can lead to headache, nausea, cramp and confusion. Just drinking water, squash or a sports drink without these salts can lead to an increase in your need to urinate, which is not ideal during your ride. Salts have an added advantage of reducing urine output and keeping you on the bike rather than queuing for the toilet, so make sure they are in your drink.

Once you’re off the bike

At the end of your training session it is important to refuel the body to allow it to restock its energy stores in the muscle and repair muscle tissue. Ideally you will have been using a drink containing Branched Chain Amino Acids, such as Viper Active to reduce muscle damage during training but you should still focus on replacing energy after your ride too. Carbohydrate depletion in the body is linked with an increased incidence of infection and although you have been replacing a portion of used carbohydrate during your training, topping this up with a recovery meal is a sensible strategy to stay well and keep in training. Your location may influence this meal, with some choosing liquid recovery formulas. Whether your food is ingested in liquid or solid form it should ideally contain a mix of carbohydrate and protein (ideally a 3:1 ratio) as this will improve refueling. Recovermax is perfect for this need and providing extra glutamine too, you can benefit from improved immune support and recovery. Once you have taken on board your recovery food it’s probably time to hit the shower, aiming to eat again within 1 to 2 hours to further refuel your body and support the repair process.

Choose anti-inflammatory foods

You might be tempted to load up on junk food as a reward for your training efforts and this is okay occasionally. If this is general practice however, you should look to replace chocolates and processed food with food that will provide better support for your recovery. Processed foods can increase inflammation often adding too much sugar and salt to the diet so ditch the reward pizza or burger and go for some healthier options during the recovery period.

So what foods should you choose. Certainly omega 3 healthy fats found in fish, walnuts, flax and pumpkin seeds are great for keeping inflammation at bay as are fresh fruit and vegetables. Leafy green vegetables and brightly coloured fruits will provide plenty of antioxidants and flavonols, known for their anti-inflammatory properties. Apples and red onions can be especially helpful as their active ingredient, quercetin, is also known to reduce inflammation.

Re-hydrate

It’s time, again, to check your urine. If you have struggled to replace adequate fluid during your ride, now is the time to make up the difference. Ideally ensure that you drink at least six ½ pint glasses of water per day in addition to your fluid around training. Check that your urine remains a pale yellow and if not drink a little more.

Putting all of this info together will require a little organisation, ensuring you have the right foods available in the kitchen and for transportation on the bike. A well planned shopping list and therefore a well stocked kitchen is the key to success. Keep your menu’s simple around training as once they become too complex or time consuming to prepare you are less likely to stick to your plans. All you have to do now get your gear on and get out on the bike.