Dame Sarah Storey: you must get post-ride nutrition right

One of the most successful Paralympians of all time made the switch from swimming to cycling to become one of the best para-cyclists in the world

Age: 36
Team: Team GB
Best result: Five gold medals at the Paralympics in swimming, six in cycling

One of the most successful Paralympians of all time made the switch from swimming to cycling to become one of the best para-cyclists in the world

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After a terrific swimming career, in which she won five Paralympic golds, Sarah Storey switched to cycling in 2005 and went on to even greater success. As well as 22 Paralympic medals, Storey has won able-bodied national cycling titles, and in 2010 she became the first disabled cyclist to compete for England in the Commonwealth Games.

She dominated the Paralympic cycling programme in 2012, after which she became a Dame Commander, to add to her MBE and OBE titles. Dame Sarah is now racing again after the birth of her daughter in June 2013, and she’s winning.

What’s most important, good nutrition or good training?
SS: They are equal. It’s a partnership really; you can’t do one without the other.

What’s your favourite pre-ride meal and why?
SS: I don’t have a favourite in case I’m away somewhere and it’s not available. I make sure I eat things with slow release carbohydrates first thing, then I might have an energy bar within an hour before a race.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given and who gave it you?
SS: There’s two, and they both concern hydration. One is from my coach Gary Brickley, ‘drink before you are thirsty’, which is something I keep in mind all of the time.

The other is from Jamie Pringle: ‘If you are sufficiently hydrated before a race, or a training session of up to one hour, you don’t need to drink during it.’

When it comes to nutrition, what do amateurs tend to get wrong?
SS: The recovery aspect. They are well drilled on what to do before and during a race or training ride, it’s afterwards they sometimes get things wrong.

Very often it’s because if you’ve gone really hard you don’t feel like eating, and can even feel nauseous, but there are ways to calm your stomach down and keep your appetite. You need to get refuelling right to keep improving.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when starting out?
SS: That protein doesn’t make you bigger, not if you are an endurance cyclist, but you need it to feed the muscles for recovery and repair. It’s another thing people can get wrong, they don’t realise how much protein you need when training or racing hard.

What’s your favourite naughty food?
SS: Chocolate

Tell us about a time when you got your nutrition wrong. What happened?
SS: My first ever 25-mile time trial. I hadn’t drunk enough or eaten enough before it, so I ended up totally empty. I could barely get in my car with cramp.

I was a swimmer on a bike basically, someone who thought five minutes was a long race. I had no cycling technique, no idea of pacing. One hour and seven minutes, I think that was my time, was a very long effort for me.

Do you prefer real food or supplements when you are racing or training?
SS: In training I prefer real food like bananas or flapjacks, but I use gels in racing. Gels are so easy; they give you just what you need in a race.

What’s the key to constant improvment?
SS: Never being satisfied.

If you packed up riding right now, what are the three most important things you have learned from participating in this sport?
SS: If I had to pick three things, they’d be: hard work takes you a long way, always enjoy what you are doing and never take anything for granted.