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Cycling Training – Nutrition

The body’s main store of energy is called Glycogen (Pronounced gly-ko-gen), Glycogen consists of lots of glucose molecules joined together to form a chain. Stocking up your glycogen stores is crucial for your road bike training.


When you eat carbohydrates, your body stores them as glycogen. There are two types of Carbohydrates, simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are individual glucose molecules, and are metabolised quickly. That is why cyclists eat a mars bar or something else sugary when they feel like they will hit the wall, it gives you a quick spike of energy to keep you going that little bit longer.


If all you ate was mars bars before a long ride or road bike training session, you would run out of energy quickly, since the glucose will be burned off quickly. You could keep going if you ate a continuous supply of mars bars during the ride (but you would need the will power to eat 40 mars bars! I did that in one weekend once, but that’s another story!).


Before a long ride, or hard road bike training session, you need to eat complex carbohydrates, such as pasta and potatoes. Complex carbohydrates are metabolised slower by your body, since the enzymes need to break the bonds between the glucose molecules. Since the complex carbohydrates are metabolised slower, you have a continuous supply on energy available. Eating lots of carbohydrates leading up to an event is known as carbo-loading.


During a ride you need to eat both simple and complex carbohydrates. Cereal and energy bars are perfect for this, preferably ones with lots of oats, fruit and nuts in them. Someone in my club used to keep some boiled potatoes in their jersey pocket! (Whatever works for you is fine!)


If you don’t eat during a ride, or road bike training session, your glycogen stores will eventually run out, and you will hit the wall/bonk/knock (There are so many different terms for this). If you have had this happen to you before, you will know it’s a very unpleasant experience. If you are in a race and this happens, you’re done, you will more than likely have to drop out, and have a slow, uncomfortable journey home.


The first sign that your glycogen stores are running low is that you will start to get shaky. However, if you are on the bike, you probably wont notice unless you stop. The second sign is that lactic acid will build up in your legs, even if you aren’t pushing yourself very hard. If you know how fast you usually cycle down a particular section of your route, and you notice your legs are burning trying to keep up that speed, you are more than likely going to hit the wall.


The third sign is hunger, you should not be hungry at any point during your ride (remember the golden rule, eat before you are hungry, drink before you are thirsty).


The final sign is severe fatigue, you will feel weak, hungry, your legs will be screaming at you, and you will struggle just to hold 15mph on the flat. This really isn’t pleasant, and you want to avoid it at all costs. If you are cycling in a group, don’t be embarrassed to tell someone you are running out of energy. If the people in your group put you down, or make you feel stupid for running out of energy, you should really find another group to train with.


After your ride, or road bike training session, you need to eat plenty of complex carbohydrates to refill your glycogen stores. You will also need to eat a fair amount of protein to help your muscles rebuild and recover.


To figure out how much carbohydrates you should consume, you need to know how many calories you expect to burn on the ride and your body weight in kg.


The number of grams of carbohydrates your body can store is 15g per kg of body weight. I weigh 62kg, so my body has a capacity of 930g. Each gram of carbohydrate releases 4 calories, so my body can store 3720 calories.


Say I knew I was going to burn 5000 calories (roughly a Century ride), and I had loaded my body with carbohydrates, I would still be 1280 calories short, which is 320g of carbohydrates. If I consumed 50g in the morning, I would still need to carry 270g of carbohydrates, or about 10 energy bars.


Here are two formulae to simplify the above:


Grams of carbohydrates you should consume on your carbo-loading days = Body Weight in KG * 15


Grams of carbohydrates you should bring on your ride = (number of calories you will burn / 4) – (Grams consumed on carbo-loading days) – (Grams consumed for breakfast)


There is more information about road bike training on my lens and hub page.


For more information on how to train and prepare for road racing, sportives and time trials, head over to: roadcyclingtrainingtips.info for more information.

 

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