It is safe to say cycling has come a long way in the last century and beyond, especially when it comes to the professional sport. The history books are a true testament to this.
In the first years of the Tour De France in the early 1900s, riders routinely popped into local bars during the race to sustain themselves, often drinking copious amounts of beer, wine, and brandy, which were seen as safer choices than water from local wells or springs. The events 1904 winner, Henri Cornet, had a daily ration of one litre of hot chocolate, four litres of tea, champagne, and 1.5 kilograms of rice pudding. In 1988, while matters had improved considerably and the importance of nutrition was understood, it was still fairly rudimentary.
According to a study in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, participants in the 1988 Tour de France consumed around “24,700kJ per day and expended 25,400kJ”. 61% of their diet was in the form of carbohydrate, which they ate at a rate of 94 grams per hour while racing. Food came mainly from cakes, meat, special drink formulas, bread, spaghetti, and skimmed milk.
How should the average cyclist fuel themselves?
It really depends on the type of cycling you are doing. Long endurance events require more overall energy, and hence a sensible nutrition plan is essential. That said, the same approach doesn’t suit everyone, hence it is important to note what works for you, both in terms of giving you the energy you need to keep turning the pedals but also how you feel. Some cyclists put all of their faith in powders and gels to give them the electrolytes and glucose they need to keep them going, but for some, this can lead to abdominal discomfort. It is also important to consider your dietary habits in general, not just when you are going out for a ride or planning for an event.
According to Nigel Mitchell, Head of Nutrition at British Cycling and Team Sky, a variety of nutrients of high quality is key. He advocates strongly for wholegrain foods such as oats, rice, bread and pasta, all provide cyclists with both vitamins and carbohydrates. As he says, “It’s a basic principle – if people keep it simple and if they eat real food, they will get all of the benefits that they put in”. Our Pure Pasta product fits all of the criteria of wholegrain, quality, carbohydrate, protein, and it contains eight essential amino acids, which are the essential building blocks of life.
While some may advocate for the benefits of a low carbohydrate diet for cyclists, the reality is that this is simply not sustainable for endurance riders. No matter how fit you are, after several hours of serious energy expenditure on a bike, you will start to run out of glycogen (the store of energy in our muscles), and eventually the dreaded ‘bonk’ where even a single pedal stroke feels impossible. For this reason, it is always advisable to take food with you. Consider making some homemade date and coconut balls to sustain you. These are not only whole foods, but because they contain high levels of natural sugars, you will be able to replenish your depleted energy stores quickly.
The extent to which you are able to perform and keep going on your bike is affected by the nutritional choices you make, in the days before, on the day of your ride, and afterwards. Being prepared is key. And remember that once you have finished your ride, what you eat in the 90 minutes afterwards is crucial as this will help replenish what your body needs to repair and recover. For this reason, try to include high-quality protein sources as part of your post-ride recovery regime.
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