Getting to the finish line faster needs successful training supported by the right sports nutrition. As part of our sponsorship with Cycling Ireland in conjunction with PowerBar, we’re bringing you the essential guide to Sports Nutrition for Cyclists. For our first entry in a 3 part series, learn about the importance of hydration for all cyclists.
Why Sports Nutrition?
At first glance, mountain biking and road cycling are relatively simple sports: you sit on the bike, pedal hard and give it all you’ve got until your strength and stamina give out. Many cyclists reach this point sooner than they’d like.
In order to keep up the pace and finish strong the body must be supplied with the right amount of fluid and nutrients during endurance competitions or training. A healthy and varied diet that is adapted to your daily needs will give you a good foundation. Together with a targeted sports nutrition strategy BEFORE, DURING and AFTER training, you can get the most out of your training and improve your performance.
The following model explains training adaptation processes with or without sport nutrition usage.
Training and Sports Nutrition Adaptation Model
A sport nutrition strategy helps you getting more out of your training. For a better understanding of which products to use and when to use them.
By using a Before, During, and After Strategy – a well developed sports nutrition strategy will help everyone understand the best time to use sports nutrition products around their exercise. You can buy the full range of PowerBar in our online cycling store.
Building the Best Performance System
In order to achieve your potential while racing, you need to build your training plan to suit you. It has to be focused on providing the best results for the races you are targeting – and your nutritional plan is no different. You have to support your training with the right fuel and nutrients that maximizes the focused efforts of your training, and then transfer that to every race day as well.
Optimise your training success
While your daily energy needs can be addressed in your standard 3-4 meal setup, this deals with macro nutrition, overall calorie intake, and your micro nutrients that are required for every day function.
As a cyclist, it is important to remember that you not only have additional requirements to maintain a healthy immune system – but you need to design your diet to bring the maximum benefit to your performance and optimise your training success.
Sports Nutrition Key Principles
When building your sports nutrition strategy, you must incorporate the three key principles of sports nutrition. These are:
Hydration – supply of the body with sufficient fluids
Energy – fuel for your muscles
Recovery – nutrition strategy to optimize regeneration and help promote training adaptations
There’s a lot of information to go through when discussing the three key principles of sports nutrition, and so we’re going to focus our first entry on the importance of hydration for cyclists. We’ll follow up on this with detailed posts on optimising energy intake for cycling performance, and recovery to optimise regeneration and help promote training adaptations.
Dehydration (lack of water in the body) is one of the major causes of fatigue when taking part in sports. In general, physical and mental performance can be reduced when more than 2-3% of the pre-exercise body weight is lost as fluid.
Three simple steps to optimize your hydration level:
- Always start well hydrated
- During cycling and running drink at regular intervals
- When you have finished rehydrate to recover faster
The longer the distance and the higher the temperature and humidity, the greater the need for fluids. The individual’s fluid need during endurance activities depends on various factors, e.g. duration and intensity, climatic conditions and sweating rates. A general hydration strategy for endurance exercise lasting more than 60 minutes is to drink amounts of circa 400-800ml/hour, consumed regularly in small quantities over each hour (e.g. 150ml every 15 minutes). If you compete in a hot environment, you will need a little more fluid per hour than in a cold environment.
Understanding Isotonic Sports Drinks
Isotonic sports drinks (carbohydrates-electrolyte solutions, with e.g. C2MAX*) are the choice for most athletes. They have the same particle density (osmolality) as blood plasma and are therefore rapidly emptied from the gut, which quickly replace fluids lost by sweating and maintain hydration during prolonged exercise.
For many of us, a morning cup of coffee helps us to wake up, and a coffee after lunch gets us through the afternoon. Not only coffee contains the stimulant caffeine but also other caffeinated beverages or sports nutrition products. Caffeine has numerous actions on different body tissues. Already as little as 75mg caffeine per portion can increase mental performance.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recently stated that caffeine intake in an effective dose of 3-4mg/kg bodyweight one hour prior to the endurance exercise increases endurance performance and reduces perceived exertion. However, individuals respond differently to the effects of caffeine and it does not work for everyone.
PowerBar® ISOACTIVE and ISOMAX Isotonic Sports Drink are designed to maximise your rate of hydration while leaving you refreshed. Made up with water they provide a carbohydrate electrolyte solution which contributes to the maintenance of endurance performance. Sodium, the primary of the 5 main electrolytes lost in sweat, enhances the absorption of water during prolonged endurance exercise. In addition, sweat contains among other substances the minerlals chloride, potassium, calcium and magnesium.
With a fluid deficit the exercise task feels harder than it actually is. Almost every athlete has experienced this feeling.
Sweating is one of the most important cooling mechanisms that stops our bodies from overheating.
Intense and long-lasting endurance sessions, paired with high temperatures, can lead to very high sweat losses. The amount of sweat lost per hour varies according to intensity, ambient onditions, level of training/fitness, body weight, genetic predispositions and other factors, and can be anywhere in the region of 0.3 to over 2 litres.
A fluid – or water deficit (dehydration) is one of the main reasons for symptoms of fatigue and decreases in performance during longer periods of endurance exercise.
Even a fluid deficit of 2-3% of body weight (in relation to body weight pre-exercise) during exercise can reduce physical and mental performance.
Before, during, and after exercise the correct level of fluid consumption plays a vital role. Here are the three basic rules that endurance athletes can follow easily:
- Before training/competition ensure you are well hydrated
- During exercise you should drink at regular intervals
- Rehydrate after exercise to allow for optimal recovery
The recommendations for the amount of fluids to consume during exercise have drastically changed over the years and range from ‘drink nothing’ (early 70s) to ‘drink the maximal amount you can tolerate (1960s).
The actual fluid demand before training/competition depends on many different factors, such as e.g. climatic conditions, individual sweat rate, duration and intensity. The optimal fluid consumption level is therefore different for every athlete and earlier recommendations have since been disproven. Too much fluid, as well as too little can negatively affect exercise performance.
General fluid consumption recommendations can however be helpful for many of us for activities lasting >60 minutes: approx. 400-800ml of fluid per hour, drunk regularly in small sips (e.g. every 15 minutes approx. 150ml). In cooler conditions and for lower intensities the hourly requirements are more at the lower end of the scale, whereas warm conditions or high intensity sessions demand a higher fluid intake.
There is no easy method to find out the individual fluid demand before a training session. An easy to follow formula used by many athletes is described below.
Outside of training the colour of your urine acts as an easy guide for your fluid balance: If the colour of urine is light yellow/straw coloured, the fluid balance is correct. Slightly darker urine (similar to the colour of beer or apple juice) is a typical sign for an inadequate fluid intake, e.g. a fluid deficit. However, it must be taken into account that certain foods (e.g. beetroot), multivitamins or antibiotics can affect the colour of your urine. If this is the case then the colour of urine should no longer be used as a guide.
It’s not just important how much is drunk, but also what
For short endurance sessions, water or drinks without calories are the ideal choice. During longer sessions, many athletes like to quench their thirst with so-called isotonic sports drinks. An isotonic drink has the same osmolality (270-330 mosmol/kg water) as human blood, more specifically blood plasma, and as a result is absorbed very quickly by the body.
Osmolality refers to the concentration of osmotically active particles that are defined, amongst other things, through their amount of sugar and electrolyte particles. Isotonic drinks such as IsoActive Isotonic Sports Drink, or a home made special mix of juice and water are therefore specific carbohydrate-electrolyte solutions. They improve the uptake of fluid during exercise and as such help maintain continually high levels of performance during longer endurance events.
So, to bring to a conclusion this post on ideal hydration for cyclists – let’s finish with some tips on how to choose the right sports drink.
The exercise intensity and duration is crucial! During short sessions or to stimulate fat metabolism it makes sense to select drinks with no calories. In contrast, for longer and/or more intense sessions electrolyte drinks containing carbohydrates are the right choice. Sodium (part of table salt) is lost in the largest quantity through sweat and is therefore an important ingredient of sports drinks. Sodium is essential for water retention in the body, a well regulated fluid balance and for muscle and nerve function.
It needs to be well tolerated! Therefore try out beforehand what suits you personally.
It has to taste good. Select a drink that tastes god. If it doesn’t it is more likely that you will drink less of it.
Prevent monotony. Drinks with different flavours add to variety. Consider buying PowerBar 5Electrolytes as part of your hydration plan.
So, while that has been a lengthy article – we hope that it helped you to delivery an improvement in sports nutrition and cycling performance.
We’d like to say a huge thanks to Corinne Mäder, European Sports Nutrition Manager at PowerBar for putting this information together that we can pass on to you.