Plenty of rest and a healthy diet can make the difference in avoiding this ailment, explains Vicky Ware
Saddle sores are painful and may interrupt your training. A troublesome saddle or ill-fitting shorts are the commonest causes, though susceptibility to sores may be increased by poor nutrition and/or stress.
Dr Tamsin Lewis has spent many hours in the saddle and treats athletes suffering from hormonal and nutritional problems at her London practice. Does ‘total body inflammation’ cause saddle sores?
“Theoretically, yes, but whether having a lower total body inflammation correlates with a reduced number of saddle sores is unknown,” she explains.
Lewis thinks good nutrition may help: “More important is addressing overall nutrient status — good levels of vitamin C and zinc for collagen formation help skin maintain its barrier and plumpness.”
- Fuel your ride with carbohydrate
- Get 1.7-2g of protein per kg of body weight
- Cut out foods that make you feel sluggish
- Eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables
- Get enough sleep
- Rest to recover from stress
Zinc is lost through sweat, so (sweaty) cyclists need more from dietary sources. Lewis suggests hormone levels also affect healing: “Many endurance training women have imbalances in their female hormone levels, and low oestrogen is linked to impaired collagen formation.”
Poor recovery may exacerbate total body inflammation. “If you are skimping on sleep, if there is stress in your life and if diet is inadequate, then total body inflammation can be increased,” Lewis explains.
Consuming enough protein is also key to recovery; Lewis recommends 1.7-2g per kilogram of body weight on training days. Lots of vegetables will also help reduce inflammation: “Consider vegetables with added lemon or lime to encourage alkalinity.”
On whether high-sugar diets from energy drinks contribute to inflammation, Lewis says: “The jury is still out. I think we should try to reduce our reliance on them and choose home-made versions to support energy.” It is difficult to go without refined carbohydrate, she says, when training levels are high.
Certain foods may cause inflammation in some people and not in others. Lewis advises: “Learn about what suits you and what doesn’t and eliminate foods which you feel cause gut symptoms, headaches, brain fog or sluggishness as these will be causing inflammation.”
Make sure you’re riding on the right saddle. Discomfort in the saddle region means unwanted pressure and abrasions will occur, which can lead to saddle sores where an abrasion or hair follicle becomes infected.
Stop eating foods that don’t agree with you, as they may be causing inflammation that could lead to an increased chance of developing a saddle sore.
You shouldn’t need bucket-loads of chamois cream. The right saddle and shorts, and diet, should allow you to ride your bike without discomfort. Build up riding miles slowly to let skin grow accustomed to the pressure and abrasion of riding. If a slow build isn’t an option, getting your diet right will help your body heal.
Invest in some good shorts. A well-fitting pair of shorts should hold the chamois in the correct position so you’re padded where you need it most, and don’t have any folds of material in places where they’ll rub.
Change out of your cycling shorts as soon as you get home, or bacteria can breed and potentially
cause a saddle sore. Get changed into clean clothes straight after riding, even if you can’t shower.
Focus on diet to give your body the building blocks it needs to rebuild skin damaged by prolonged rubbing against your saddle — zinc and vitamin C are key to collagen formation needed in this process.
This article first appeared in the June 4 edition of Cycling Weekly