Fuel up for Cycling

BY Cara Cunningham, MINDI, Community Dietitian

The Tour de France is under way. With the race being contested by 176 riders from 22 teams; the Irish are represented this year by Nicholas Roche and his cousin Dan Martin (son and nephew to previous tour winner, Stephen Roche ).

The tour is the extreme end of the sport with 21 stages covering a mind boggling 3,480km (that is 2,162 miles, in ‘old money’ ). Cycling has become a hugely popular sport and although amateur cyclists will cover (maybe ) not as many miles; it is important to have the right mix of fuel on board to combat fatigue and optimise performance.

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

During training it is important to eat a healthy diet rich in carbohydrates, this will provide energy to cover the increased requirements; without this increase in calories a person will just lose weight (and this includes muscle weight ) which is fine for most of us looking to lose weight, but people who are serious about sport in general 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 would be fruit and yoghurt, milkshake, meat sandwich, etc.

Hydrating the body and having enough fluids is also vital, dehydration will lead to a drop in performance. 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 150-200ml every 10-15 minutes, more in hot weather like we have been having. 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 appears to not only hydrate you but also supplies your 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 information on any of the issues discussed above, or for more information on diet and nutrition, contact Maria at The Community Nutrition and Dietetic Service, HSE, CHO Midlands, by phoning (044 ) 9395518 or emailing [email protected].

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