Fuel like a pro: The scientific strategies that maximise performance

We all know that food equals energy, but just how scientific in your fuelling do you need to be to maximise cycling performance?

Pro nutrition
(Image credit: Future / Daniel Gould)

“You take this application device,” says Graeme Obree to the BBC Panorama reporter, waving a cutlery knife in the air, “scoop the jam onto the sandwich and spread it in an even manner like so” – and with that his fuelling ‘secret’ is revealed. In characteristic deadpan style, the Scotsman is making the point that carbohydrate is carbohydrate and serves the same function in whatever form, simple sarnie or supposedly advanced drink formula. For Obree, putting a diagonal slice through two slices of bread is as cutting-edge as any cyclist’s nutrition needs to be. “He doesn’t use sports drinks,” booms the voiceover. “His energy-booster is nothing more sophisticated than a jam sandwich and plain, old-fashioned water.” 

That BBC documentary, providing a highly sceptical take on sports drinks, was broadcast nearly a decade ago, but it always sticks in my mind when the topic of fuelling comes up. Not because there was anything revolutionary in Obree’s dismissal of fancy carb products, but because of the paradox it so neatly encapsulates. Yes, the carbohydrates in a £1 jar of jam are basically the same, in terms of their nutritional value, as those in a £10 pack of sports drink – and that’s a valuable truth for any leisure cyclist seeking to save money while training for long rides. But at the same time, it’s an oversimplification and potentially misleading for serious racers who want to optimise their fuelling for high performance. 

Thank you for reading 20 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

David Bradford
Features editor

David Bradford is features editor of Cycling Weekly (print edition). He has been writing and editing professionally for more than 15 years, and has published work in national newspapers and magazines including the Independent, the Guardian, the Times, the Irish Times, Vice.com and Runner’s World. Alongside his love of cycling, David is a long-distance runner with a marathon PB of two hours 28 minutes. Having been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) in 2006, he also writes about sight loss and hosts the podcast Ways of Not Seeing.