If you’re serious about cycling - carbs are key

Cara Cunningham, MINDI, Community Dietitian

The Tour de France time has come and passed, with participants tackling 21 stages and covering a mind-boggling 3,540km on the flat, up and down mountains, and in time trials.

Carbohydrate is the fuel source for our muscles, and so the most important nutrient for all sporting activities. A cyclist needs to have energy stores providing a steady supply of energy to cover them for their long journeys. Muscles store energy as muscle glycogen. Importantly, a person can ‘train’ their muscles to maximise this storage.

During training, it is important to eat a healthy diet rich in carbohydrates, as this will provide energy to cover the increased requirements. Without this increase in calories a person will just lose weight including muscle. This is fine for people who are looking to lose weight, but people serious about sport generally want to maintain their weight and gain muscle. There are no short cuts when trying to build muscle - the only way is by hard work and training.

When training is done there is a window of opportunity to restock the muscle with glycogen by having a carbohydrate-rich meal or snack. Having some protein with the carbohydrates does seem to help the muscle build up. Good options, therefore, include fruit, yoghurt, milkshake, and meat sandwiches. for example.

Hydrating the body and having enough fluids is also vital. Do not wait until you feel thirsty to drink because at that point you will already be dehydrated. During exercise you should aim to drink 150ml to 200ml every 10 to 15 minutes. Your body needs to be used to you taking on board this amount of fluid so drinking regularly should be part of your training regime.

After the event, you need to replace lost fluid. A great option is to go for milk as it not only hydrates but also supplies the body with protein for muscle repair. Eating well needs to be part of training. There is no point having an ideal snack or drinks only on the day of the event. It is only by having optimum nutrition on a regular basis that your body will be fuelled up and ready for action.

For more details on any of the issues discussed above, or for more information on diet and nutrition, contact Maria, The Community Nutrition and Dietetic Service, HSE Dublin-Mid Leinster, by calling (044 ) 9395518 or emailing [email protected].

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