Taking on nutritional advice is a wise thing to do if you’re looking to improve not only your diet but also your cycling performance. However applying basic nutrition rules across all situations may not ultimately result in an efficient race day strategy.
>>> Food swaps to boost your cycling fitness (video)
Some meals may also seem like they follow certain dietary rules but the body may not process them in a way that will produce an effective performance on race day.
The food that the body requires before a ride can vary to what you may need in an everyday diet.
It is well publicised that everyone should eat a well balanced diet, which consists of a variety of food groups and ideal portion sizes. However the body doesn’t require certain food groups as much immediately before a ride, these include those that are high in vitamins but low in carbohydrates.
The need for carbohydrates and consequently energy is much more important for high intensity exercise, so this must be a priority for any cyclist.
>>> Five pre-ride breakfasts for cyclists (video)
Not all carbohydrates are the same and they can vary greatly by where they place on the Glycemic Index (GI). High GI foods are digested immediately and give the body an instant lift in blood glucose levels, however this doesn’t last long and it is not ideal for a cyclist that is heading out for a long ride.
Low GI foods are digested slower, which makes the body feel fuller for longer. This slow digestion rate also means you are less likely to snack throughout the day, especially if you start off the day with a low GI breakfast.
Here are our top five foods not to eat before heading out on a ride:
It may seem odd to even think about not having porridge before going for a ride, however corn flakes are a common breakfast option, which may not seem too bad on the surface.
Yet dig a little deeper and its high GI rating means you will be burning off the carbohydrates too early in a ride compared to a whole grain breakfast that will steadily release energy over time.
This once again proves why porridge is the ultimate cyclists breakfast.
You might be thinking what can possibly be wrong with a salad? Everyone sees the green leaves and assumes it is the perfect addition to a dinner or a good choice by itself. This is true as part of a balanced diet but as a pre ride meal it just doesn’t tick the boxes due to its low carbohydrate content, which will see you flagging early on.
The high levels of sugar that are in fizzy drinks are commonly known and condemned, however the sight of seeing a professional rider sipping on a can of fizz after a race may make you think that they are the ideal tonic for a cyclist. Despite giving an immediate sugar boost, the effects wear off quickly and can give unpleasant side effects that can disturb your rhythm on the bike.
Last night’s takeaway
This may sound like a no-brainer in terms of an unhealthy meal, however chicken and rice are excellent sources of protein and carbohydrates and when cooked in a healthy way can provide a decent source of fuel for your ride.
In spite of this takeaways are not. They contain high levels of fat and spices that can play havoc with your digestive system and cause other issues such as heartburn when out on a ride.
Pasta before a ride may seem like a good idea, as both white and brown pasta rank low on the Glycemic Index, however like most meals it is what accompanies the pasta that may make it unhealthy.
>>> Recover right with these four post-cycling meals (video)
A pasta carbonara sauce is high in fat, which means it can be tougher to digest, making your ride quite uncomfortable. This can also be transferred to other high fat sauces; a healthy alternative to these can be olive oil or pesto.
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Paul Knott is a fitness and features writer, who has also presented Cycling Weekly videos as well as contributing to the print magazine as well as online articles. In 2020 he published his first book, The Official Tour de France Road Cycling Training Guide (Welbeck), a guide designed to help readers improve their cycling performance via cherrypicking from the strategies adopted by the pros.
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