It’s great to see so many people taking up cycling as a sport. The Tour de France started in England this year and is a long gruelling race that doesn’t finish up until July 27 in Paris. Although the Tour de France is the extreme end of the sport with 21 stages covering a mind-boggling 3,664km (that’s almost 2,280 miles ), amateur cyclists cover the miles too - so 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 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, and we can ‘train’ our 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 (including muscle weight ) - fine for those looking to lose weight but generally people serious about sport want to maintain their weight, and gain muscle. There are no shortcuts 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 seems to help the muscle build up. Good options would be fruit and yoghurt, milkshake, meat sandwich, etc.
Hydrating the body and having enough fluids is also vital, as any amount of dehydration will lead to a drop in performance. Don’t 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. 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.
By Cara Cunningham, community dietician. For more information on diet and nutrition, please contact Maria at the Community Nutrition and Dietetic Service, HSE Dublin-Mid Leinster on (044 ) 9395518 or [email protected].