Food for cyclists

When training, it’s important to eat well to keep unwanted pounds at bay. Most people that are trying to lose weight or eat ‘healthily’ believe that reduced-fat or low-fat foods are better for you, lower in calories and that they can therefore eat as much as they want of these foods – but this is not necessarily true. You need to treat certain labels, such as ‘low-fat’, with care.

Although by law food labelling should not be misleading, according to the food standards agency ‘there are no legal definitions for ‘low’, ‘reduced’ or ‘high’ (except for in butter, margarine and other spread able fats).’

When marketing a product as ‘reduced fat’, the amount of fat must be at least 25 per cent lower than the standard product. However, these types of foods tend to be high in fat and energy in the first place, so the ‘reduced fat’ version can still have quite high amounts of both.

When fat is reduced or removed from a food, the fat has to be replaced, which often means extra sugars and thickeners are added to boost flavour and texture. This extra sugar (high on the glycaemic index, GI), unless eaten after training will then send your insulin levels haywire, promoting fat storage, unstable energy levels and resulting in cravings for more sugary food.

Labels stating that a food is low in fat, doesn’t always means it’s healthier. A ‘fat free’ French-style dressing may have a high percentage of sugar, plus several stabilisers, colourings, a lot more unnatural ingredients that your body won’t appreciate. A similar dressing – which doesn’t have ‘fat free’ splashed over its labels – made up of virgin olive oil, fresh herbs and lemon juice makes a better choice.

Normally the more ingredients listed, the more has been done to it.

Fat free and reduced calorie foods also make us believe that we can eat as much as we want – because it is better for us, but don’t be fooled. Moderation is the key – whether it is low in fat or not.

Refer to the Nutrition Facts panel on the product label and, even better, eat fresh foods like fruit and vegetables, which don’t need a label. If you are looking for weight loss to aid your cycling performance, look at the portion sizes of everything you eat. Eating too much of one thing will promote fat storage.


Snacking itself is neither good nor bad, in fact many nutritionists and individuals recommend it. Research has shown that healthy snacking helps to promote calorie and portion control during regular meals. You can make the decision to eat smaller, more balanced meals when it comes to lunch or dinner and enjoy it because you aren’t starving because you have deprived yourself all day. Snacking aids recovery, as well as keeping your metabolism ticking, your body nourished and your energy levels up, regular snacking or ‘mini meals’ may be essential for some individuals as the time gap between meals’ causes their energy and concentration levels to fall, this could stop you training or make your commute home harder.

To aid recovery, eat high GI carbohydrate foods within two hours after a ride, or if possible within 15 minutes, as this ‘window of opportunity’ is when glycogen restocking rates are at their best. When snacking on a normal, everyday basis you should stick to sensible, low fat snacks that fall low on the GI and provide more than just a quick flash of energy.

While white bread, jelly sweets and popcorn are ideal after a long ride or intense exercise, providing you with a readily-available source of carbohydrate and a major fuel choice in recovery, eating these foods when you are not exercising and relaxing means your body will quickly use this energy, leaving you feeling worse than you did before and reaching for the next snack. Everyday snacking should consist of foods that fall lower on the GI and provide longer-lasting energy. Dried apricots, fruits and vegetables, nuts or oatcakes will keep you feeling satisfied and your energy levels stable.

Snacking can be good for you, but not if you graze at random from one snack to another, or if it’s a snack of poor nutritional quality. Choose foods that can provide the fuel you need right away, along with the nutrients that will help you stay healthy and satisfied. Don’t waste your snack calories on something from the office vending machine.

Many of us eat and snack when we are bored, stressed or need comforting. If you are not eating because you are hungry you can lose track of the amount of calories consumed, resulting in unwanted weight gain and unstable energy and insulin levels.