Cycling is an energy-intensive activity, and for a cyclist it is essential to ensure that the “engine” has the right amount (and quality) of fuel to make it perform at its best and for a long time.
Our body under stress tends to consume sugars and proteins at different rates, and it is on this basis that we ought to nourish ourselves, if we want to avoid the dreaded “hunger crisis”.
Without neglecting the pre and post “workout”, both very important for proper management of performance and recovery, special attention should be paid to what we eat while pedalling.
As the old cyclists used to say, when the science of sports nutrition did not yet exist: “Don’t wait until you get hungry to eat, otherwise it’s too late”.
This certainly doesn’t mean you have to “gorge yourself” without stopping for 5 or 6 hours… you simply have to take the fact into account by eating regularly during the ride, and remember that the various substances have different intake times. The same principle also applies to liquids: drinking regularly without waiting until you are thirsty helps to keep up water and salt levels in the body. Losing more than 2% of your weight due to sweating would mean facing significant drops in performance.
If complex carbohydrates provide energy in the long term, sugars are instead ready to be assimilated and immediately recharge the batteries, but they are also a double-edged sword, because too much risks a “rebound” with relative hypoglycaemic crisis and weak legs.
How much should I eat? It all depends, of course, on how much you consume, but in general we can simplify things by saying that during the sports activity 30-60 g of rapid-absorption carbohydrates every hour are fine.
What about fats? Often demonized by sportspersons, in actual fact they represent a long-term ready-to-use energy reserve. In endurance sports they should account for about ¼ of total calorie intake.
The back pockets of your jersey do not have unlimited capacity; it is therefore best to carefully choose what to put in them, so as to be able to cover the entire performance period and avoid being in trouble and with exhausted stocks half way through the ride…
1 – Bars
Never again without. Practical and compact, ideal to keep in your back pockets, energy bars are obligatory companions of every cyclist… they come in many types, making it difficult to choose, but keeping to known brands, it becomes just a matter of taste, inasmuch as they are all reliable and specially formulated with a set of nutrients readily available for the body.
2 – Gels
Gel products are even more versatile and suitable for prolonged efforts: based mainly on carbohydrates of different types, such as maltodextrins, fructose and other sugars, sometimes with the addition of caffeine, they make the “energy dosage” easier and more measurable during the ride. Be careful, however, not to overdo quantities so as not to run into any gastro-intestinal problems. Drinking a lot of water (at least 1 litre per hour) ensures these substances are more easily absorbed and makes it possible to maintain correct body hydration levels.
3 – Bananas
The convenience of bars and gels should not make us forget the value of natural foods. Bananas first and foremost. A great “classic” in the sportsman’s diet, they provide a good supply of essential mineral salts to the muscle contraction mechanism (especially potassium and magnesium …), but also carbohydrates which are well-balanced as regards absorption (fructose, glucose and sucrose).
A perfect natural supplement already wrapped in its practical skin… The only suggestion: eat it just before other products, because the soluble fibre slows down the absorption of sugars.
4 – Dried fruits
Walnuts, almonds, dehydrated apricots, etc. are all excellent sources of concentrated energy that do not weigh down the digestion and are therefore perfect as supplementary foods in sporting activity. Dried fruit is practical to keep in your pocket because it does not crush or dirty, is also rich in magnesium and potassium and gives you a very “filling” feeling.
5 – Mini-sandwiches
The palate wants its share too. Small single-dose sandwiches, perhaps filled with ham, cheese or omelette are pills of “satisfaction” during the ride. Tasty, but also well-balanced on the carbohydrate-protein-fat front, they help to vary the menu of the bar-dependent cyclist. Wrapped in transparent film, they can be carried conveniently in your pocket.