1 Mar 2016


Whatever level of cyclist, you are, your power output and your bodyweight both matter. Just as you choose cycling products to optimize weight and power considerations (wheelscranks etc), you must also view your own body as the ultimate cycling accessory, and fine-tune it accordingly.

To maximise training gains on the bike, you need to fuel correctly. That doesn’t mean you need to diet on celery and lettuce – far from it, in fact. But what it does mean is following what’s known as a ‘periodised model of nutrition’. Broadly speaking, this is where the demands of training dictate the composition of your diet. There are various terms to describe the different phases in this model but we’ll go with ‘preparation’, ‘build’, ‘competition’ and ‘recovery’…

In the winter phase where the weather and, in the Northern hemisphere at least, Christmas gluttony has inevitably piled on a few unwanted pounds, the aim is to reduce these fatty stores. And the best way to do that is… by cutting carbs and increasing the fats.

It sounds counter-intuitive but by depleting glycogen levels (your body stores glucose as glycogen, predominantly in the muscle and liver), you’ll derive greater energy from burning fat stores. And as many of us will be training at a lower intensity at this time of year, in search of greater stamina and improved aerobic capacity, fuelling on good fats is the way to go.

At this time of year, you’re looking at around 6g of carbohydrates per kilogramme bodyweight with protein intake around 1.5g/kg and good fats (nuts, seeds, fish and olive oil) at 1.2g/kg. For a 70kg male that works out at 420g of carbs, 105g of protein and 70g of fat; calorie count equates to 1,680cals (carbs), 420cals (protein) and 756cals (fat) for a 2,856 daily calorie total. And that breaks down as 59% carbs, 15% protein and 26% fat.

It’s also good to pack in the antioxidants because of the increased chances of picking up a cold, so cut back on the pasta, replacing with colourful vegetables like broccoli, carrots and greens, which are bursting with vitamins and minerals.

As winter moves into spring, the weather improves. Cycling time increases as should intensity to add speed to the stamina foundations. That means shifting your nutritional strategy to one that’s more reliant on intensity-fuelling carbohydrates.

Carb intake should rise to around 9g/kg with protein remaining at 1.5g/kg. Good fats should drop slightly to 1g/kg. For our 70g athlete, that means 630g of carbs, 105g of protein and 70g of fat, which breaks down as 2,520cals of carbs, 420cals of protein and 630cals of fat. That total of 3,520 calories comes from 72% carbs, 12% protein and 16% fat.

The extra calories count comes from those carbs, which you can slot in via healthy snacks such as maltloaf and bananas. You should also be consuming more sports drink, gels and bars while riding than you did in the preparation phase.

So your sportive is near – this is what you’ve been training for. Now it’s time to sit back and revel in your new-found fitness? Sadly, not quite – but you certainly need to cut right back on training. This is the taper, which can last up to two weeks, and is where you reduce volume to ensure you’re fresh and energized, come race day.

Tapering aims to pack your cells with glycogen so they’re fully topped up to unleash your best. In general, that means two choices: you either eat extra carbohydrates in addition to what you’ve been eating in the build phase or simply continue ingesting the same carb volume as the build phase (remember: you’ll be burning fewer calories because you’re training less).

You should also avoid too much fiber in the build-up week to lower the chances of gastro-related issues on race day. So leave the wholemeal in the larder and go for white pasta and white rice. A high-carb breakfast around 3 hours before your race is ideal for digestion purposes, and keep sipping water until race start. When it comes to the race itself, studies show between 60-90g of carbs per hour, ideally from a mix of glucose and fructose, is the aim.

Once you’ve crossed the line, it’s time to begin recovery. Science suggests that a recovery drink containing a ratio of carbs to protein of 2-4:1 is perfect. This high-carb and high-protein focus continues within an hour of finishing, so choose a meal like steak and sweet potato, salmon and rice, or a Thai green chicken curry.

How long you continue this high carb/protein model is dependent on fitness. If you’re an elite, recovery will be short. If you’ve just completed your first sportive, it could take a couple weeks. All that’s left next is to have a glass of wine or two, enjoy your glorious race and, if you don’t race again until 2017, revert to the ‘preparation’ nutrition template in search of a new PB.