So what foods should cyclists eat? You should be aiming to eat an extremely varied diet which will compliment your cycling training programme.
The bigger and longer the ride, the more calories you will need to consume. There are, however, certain foods that rise above the rest and this article picks out a selection of these so that you can make sure they find their way into your shopping basket and onto your plate.
Whole wheat pasta is an incredibly carbohydrate dense food that is easily digestible and full of slow releasing energy. It is particularly useful before longer training sessions or races, when you want to fill your glycogen stores, and after these sessions / races, when you want to replenish those stores.
Bananas are a great pre- and post-workout choice for cyclists. They are a fantastic source of carbohydrate, which will help you to either fill or replenish your glycogen reserves. Bananas are also a great source of potassium, which is lost in sweat when we exercise.
Oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, trout and sardines, is an excellent source of omega-3 essential fatty acids, which are beneficial both in terms of performance and general health. Omega-3 fats boost heart health by creating more elastic blood vessels and improve nervous system functioning. They also have an anti-inflammatory effect, which is a huge positive for cyclists given that they are prone to join pain and post-exercise muscle stiffness.
If the super vegetable, kale, has not made it on to your shopping list before, now is a good time to put it there. Kale contains high levels of vitamins A, C and K, as well as B-vitamins, iron and calcium. It is also one of the most antioxidant-rich vegetables available. As if this was not enough, kale also has strong anti-inflammatory properties.
Note: if kale is not quite your vegetable of choice, simply choose another leafy green (or ‘cruciferous’ vegetable) such as broccoli, spring greens (also known as collard greens), cauliflower or watercress.
Tomatoes contain a huge array of vitamins and minerals that are helpful to cyclists, including vitamin-B6. Studies have indicated that this vitamin is needed to store energy in the form of muscle glycogen. Tomatoes are also cheap, hugely versatile and add a great deal of taste without adding unwanted calories.
Porridge is arguably the number one breakfast choice for cyclists. Starting your day with porridge is a great way to boost your overall carbohydrate intake and because porridge is a slow-releasing, low-GI food, the energy provided will be long-lasting. It is also excellent mixed with skimmed milk and/or served with yoghurt, nuts, seeds and fruit (see elsewhere in this article for the benefits of these).
Dairy products, such as milk and yoghurt, provide a good source of muscle building protein as well as calcium, which is essential for maintaining healthy bones. It can also help the body recover. A number of studies have concluded that skimmed milk is an ideal post-exercise recovery food choice - the reason being that muscle glycogen stores are replenished and muscle tissues are repaired fastest when carbs and protein are consumed together (as will be the case with a product like skimmed milk).
Note: a number of studies have actually found skimmed chocolate milk to be an ideal post-exercise food for cyclists, which might present you with the perfect way to satisfy your taste buds as well as your nutritional requirements!
Berries and cherries are a fantastic addition to a cyclist’s diet. Cherries are amongst the most antioxidant-rich fruit on earth and can therefore offer a number of benefits, ranging from maintaining healthy blood vessels to cancer prevention. A great addition to your shopping trolley is a bag of frozen mixed berries. The colourful compounds that make blueberries blue, blackberries dark purple and raspberries a rich red are called anthocyanins, which are a powerful group of antioxidants that have been linked to both staving off Alzheimer’s disease and some cancers, as well as increasing performance by assisting with post-exercise recovery and muscle repair.
Nuts and seeds not only offer a number of nutritional benefits, but they are also a great snack that can help you avoid junk food like crisps and biscuits. They are a great source of protein, which helps repair and rebuild muscle damaged through exercise, as well as essential fats and various vitamins and minerals. To take just one example, walnuts boast an incredible number of antioxidant properties and are also rich in omega-3 fats, B-vitamins, vitamin E, fibre and various minerals, such as potassium, calcium, iron and zinc.
Lean meat should be high on your shopping list as a cyclist. Processed meats should be avoided and you should choose meats such as turkey and chicken, which will provide you with the protein necessary to accelerate muscle growth and speed up recovery by rebuilding muscle fibres stressed during a ride. And because protein literally helps muscles heal faster, cyclists who consume the right amount are less likely to get injured.
We also want to mention the benefit of protein shakes to cyclists for two main reasons. Firstly, because ‘endurance nutrition’ traditionally focuses exclusively on carbohydrates to the exclusion of protein, while protein is crucial for repairing damaged muscle fibres and building new muscle tissue. Secondly, because many people find it difficult to include sufficient amounts of protein in their diet, introducing a protein shake can prove to be a cheap and convenient way to tick this box. Vegetarians and vegans, who may find it particularly difficult to get enough of this vital nutrient, can take advantage of a growing number of dairy-free protein supplements.