The ‘secret’ to improving your cycling performance is really no great secret. Ask any professional rider or top coach and they’ll sing as one: consistency of training lays the major building block to cycling success. But a drop in temperature, fewer daylight hours and the festive attack of coughs and snuffles regularly leads to illness and weeks on the cycling sidelines. Thankfully, Mother Nature created a host of foods that can prevent the most committed of colds…
Top performance biochemist Dr Rob Child recently spoke about how he, instead of prescribing painkillers to Katusha during Grand Tours, favored garlic. Why is down to its anti-inflammatory nature, rather than painkillers that while masking the pain lengthen a fully healed return to health. Garlic’s also the perfect food to stink out sickness thanks to an antimicrobial compound called ‘allicin’ with one UK study suggesting people taking allicin supplements suffered 46% fewer colds and recovered faster than the individuals who went without. Recipes involving garlic are endless but adding a few cloves to traditional dishes like bolognese and curry not only boosts immunity but adds taste, too.
The Big C
Vitamin C has gained celebrity status for fending off colds but research is equivocal on whether dosing up banishes the sneezes any faster than the RDA of around 90mg. Where it’s of more use is keeping capillary walls and blood vessels firm for better blood flow – useful when riding at high intensity. It also improves iron absorption, which has clear cycling benefits as iron helps oxygen bind to blood that’s then delivered to working muscles. There’s an argument that you shouldn’t take vitamin C straight after training as research shows it could blunt the adaptation process but this is equivocal. Just half a red pepper or one big orange will cover your daily allowance so no need for supplements.
Carbs are King
Glycogen-depleted sessions are popular in the professional peloton with the aim of increasing fat-burning and riding while fatigued – to replicate multi-stage race conditions – proving hard to resist. However, be warned: insufficient carbohydrate intake has been shown to raise levels of stress hormones, like cortisol, which suppresses the immune system and can result in illness. Depending on the amount of training you do, your carbohydrate intake should be between 6-9g per kilogram of bodyweight. Just ensure those carbs aren’t processed; instead, choose natural grains and seeds like oats, rice, quinoa (below) and barley. Also in the good category are fresh and dried fruit.
Beta-carotene has been shown to improve your body’s defenses; it’s down to the body converting beta-carotene into vitamin A. We need vitamin A for boosting the immune system, as well as healthy skin and mucus membranes. It’s also good for improving eye health and vision. So it’s no surprise that a rich source of beta-carotene is carrots as well as other orange foods like squash, pumpkin and egg yolks.
Supplement the sun
Studies show that vitamin D battles seasonal colds and influenza by boosting your immune system’s response to viruses and infections. The problem is that you derive very little of your recommended dose of vitamin D from food; instead, human skin makes vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, especially when the sun’s high in the sky. The lack of winter sunshine could explain why incidence of colds rise in the winter – a reported 80% increase in the UK alone. That’s why consuming a daily vitamin D supplement of 25-100mg is a good choice this winter. While you’re on top of what goodness you’re putting in your body, make sure you’re on top of other winter essentials – visit our sister site and ‘Beat the winter, ride more and win!’