A lot of people take up cycling to lose weight, and with good reason.
According to weightlossresources.co.uk, just 30 minutes of recreational cycling can burn up to 155 calories. If you go for a
vigorous bike ride, this number can go as high as 670 calories.
There’s no doubt about it, getting in the saddle can be an extremely effective way of shredding fat. However, regardless of how many miles you clock up, your good work on the road could be completely undone by mistakes made in the kitchen.
We’ve spoken to some cycling experts and qualified nutritionists to see where cyclists are going wrong with their diets.
49% of us would cut out carbs to lose weight
A survey conducted by Merlin Cycles has shown that many people who want to lose weight are planning to completely cut carbohydrates from their diet.
Indeed, 49% of our poll said they would steer well clear of carbs in their quest to get lean. Interestingly, the 18 to 24-year-old group were the LEAST likely to eradicate carbs from their diet (61% said they wouldn’t do so).
This food group tends to get a bad rap, although a recent study undertaken in Italy showed that pasta – when eaten sensibly – can help to stimulate weight loss.
George Pounis, who co-authored the report, said: “Our data shows that enjoying pasta according to individuals’ needs contributes to a healthy body mass index, lower waist circumference and better waist-hip ratio.”
Removing carbs from your diet in their entirety isn’t sensible. They help to fuel our body and give us the energy needed to stay active. That being said, many of us struggle to strike the right balance.
What to eat before cycling
This depends on the preferences of the individual, and the intensity of the ride. If it’s a particularly long-haul trip, Florida-based sports nutritionist Barbara Lewin (R.D) told ‘Bicycling’ that a meal “rich in mixed carbohydrates, plus a little protein and healthy fat” is the way forward. It’s important to note that the harder you ride, the more glycogen (carbohydrates) you require.
Farah Fonseca – England’s Strongest Woman in the under 63kg category – gave us some dietary pointers:
“You want to try to make sure you consume a protein source of some kind, whether it be fish, eggs, legumes, meat or beans to prevent any blood sugar fluctuations. People are now noticing how much more affected by wheat and gluten they are, with bloating and fatigue being one of the major symptoms. Sticking to quinoa, root vegetables, brown rice, oats and rice pasta is what I would recommend.”
You don’t want to feel bloated when you’re trying to beat your personal best – for this reason, avoid refined sugars and stick with whole wheat carbs instead.
When to eat before cycling
A lot depends on how far you’re planning to travel and how hard-going your ride will be. In the beginning, it can be a game of trial and error before you nail down what works for you and your goals. It’s worth it in the end, though.
Dave Smith, a national and Olympic coach and founder of Velocity and Vitality, told us that timing is key when fuelling up for a race or particularly strenuous trip.
“Nutrition should be geared towards what the goal of the ride is. Do you want to go as far and as fast as possible, do you want a greater training adaptation, do you wish to lose body fat? All of these can totally change your eating plan around a ride or event. A hard interval session in a fasted state may lack power and speed, but give a greater subsequent adaptation. I’ve done nine-hour rides fuelled only by a large breakfast, and short rides using gels. Consider the goal of the ride, and work back from there.”
He added: “You should aim to start a race or intense training session with an empty stomach, which usually means eating three hours before. However, for lower-intensity rides you can eat an hour before without any problems. Generally the more intense the session, the more important it is not to have food in the stomach.”
So, three hours is a sufficient enough eating window ahead of your ride. In three hours your food will have digested, leaving you streamlined for your journey.
Should you eat midway through a ride?
Again, this very much hinges on the distance you are travelling. While you won’t want anything too hearty in the middle of a ride, you’ll be flagging if you try to go long distances with nothing in your system.
Speaking to bikeradar.com, Mayur Ranchordas, Senior Lecturer in Sports Science and Nutrition at Sheffield Hallam University, said that there are general guidelines you can tailor to your own fitness objectives.
“The ideal time to eat slow-release, low to moderate GI foods is two to three hours before a ride. During the ride you want high GI, rapidly delivered carbs – also immediately after the event. Then back to low/medium GI two to three hours after, too.”
Energy gels offer a quick fix for when energy levels begin to wane, and can be stowed away easily in your cycle bag. They’re a quick and convenient pick-me-up – put them to use on your next long ride.
What to eat after cycling
There is a crucial window of opportunity post-ride, where if you don’t fuel your body correctly then your recovery will be much slower. Then there is the question of how much carbohydrate to consume; how much is too much?
It’s a common misconception that carbs are a purely pre-workout food, whereas protein is recovery fuel. There’s a lot to consider.
Callum Melly, fitness and nutrition expert from bodyin8, told us that it’s important for post-workout food to promote lean muscle growth as well as prioritising recovery.
“Immediately after exercising and depending on the intensity of your workout, I would consume 30-60g worth of starchy carbohydrates e.g. half (125g) or a whole pouch (250g) of basmati microwavable rice and combine this with a lean protein such as chicken or white fish in order to restore muscle glycogen and promote lean muscle growth, repair and recovery.
“Liquid nutrition is perfect post-workout as solid foods can take up to six to eight hours to digest, whereas liquids are between
one and two hours. The body can absorb about 1g of carbohydrates per minute, so 30-60g of carbohydrates is a good amount to ensure we replenish muscle glycogen with little excess that could be stored as fat. Again, the quantity of carbohydrates required is all relevant to the intensity of your workout on your muscles.”
Once you have your timing right, take note. By understanding what works for your ride, and why it works, you’ll be one step closer to realising your goals.
Eat carbs after a workout!
Carbs have been a much-maligned food group for some time now, and the infamous Atkins diet has done little to boost its reputation.
Farah Fonseca added: “Carbohydrates for most people are a worry. When should I consume them and what type of carbs should I be eating? For most people I always recommend to try and keep carbohydrates after you’ve been most active or ‘post workout’. It gets utilised in the body quicker and more efficiently at that time.”
By combining carbs with your proteins post-workout, you ensure a more exponential recovery time, allowing you to get back on the road as soon as possible.
Callum Melly provided us with a few key facts surrounding carbohydrates:
- Glucose will ONLY replenish muscle glycogen.
- Fructose will ONLY replenish liver glycogen.
- Starchy carbs ONLY post-workout.
- Fruit in the morning & 15 minutes pre-workout
With these tips in tow, you’ll be fully equipped to smash your personal best to smithereens.
What SHOULDN’T be in a cyclist’s diet?
There are a few surprises, here. While certain foods might be low in calories – and thus ideal for a weight-loss diet – they will do precious little for your energy levels.
In terms of supplying pure energy, it’s important for cyclists not to waste their time with empty foods. While a salad may shout ‘healthy eating’, it does very little for a cyclist as it’s extremely low in carbohydrates and won’t take you that far in terms of
energy. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with eating greens on your rest days – especially if you’re trying to shed a few pounds.
Although cereal might not seem like an obvious red flag, the most popular brands have high GI ratings, meaning that they won’t sustain you for too long before burning the energy off. Instead, go for a wholegrain breakfast that will release energy slower and steadier.
A more familiar culprit, carbonated drinks have been known to undermine many a healthy eating regime – don’t let it be yours. Fizzy drinks are particularly bad for cyclists, as they’re very bloating and can leave you sluggish and lethargic.
Adding to our shortlist of myth-busters, Callum looked at the suitability of fruit for a cyclist’s diet. Is fruit really a good option?
“A common misconception is that fruit post-exercise is good for you as it will replenish muscle glycogen; however, fruit will only replenish liver glycogen and not muscle glycogen. Glycogen is our muscles’ fuel source and will be used during exercise and therefore needs to be replenished afterwards with starchy carbohydrates such as rice and potatoes.”
Now you know what to avoid, you can stock your kitchen cupboards with the most beneficial, effective and supercharging foods to fuel your rides.
Keen to learn more about cycling nutrition and the range of products that we have here at Merlin Cycles? Please don’t hesitate to get in touch.