It may seem obvious, but as an avid cyclist, it’s imperative to keep tabs on your health and up to date with all the information surrounding cycling nutrition.
You may have different end goals by keeping close tabs on your diet: perhaps you are trying to lose weight, improve your overall health and fitness or maybe you are just trying to enhance your cycling performance. And while the internet provides a wealth of information at your fingertips, dissecting the truth from the lies can be somewhat troublesome. The bottom line is that with many ‘fad’ diets and convincing marketing campaigns based on supposed ‘research’, there is a lot of confusing and often contradictory advice out there. That’s why we have decided to debunk some of the top cycling nutrition myths:
Myth #1: All fat is bad
‘Fat’ has become a small word with a lot of power. When thinking about cycling nutrition, we have been taught to fear fat and we have been made to believe that all fat is bad. The reality is, that it’s not about the ‘fat’ it’s about the type of fat that is eaten. In fact, part of a healthy diet, in general, requires the intake of healthy fats, those rich in omega-3 oils for proper body functioning, and not only that, there is no doubt that it provides a cyclist with an effective source of energy. Additionally, according to this article, “...fat also has important physiological functions in the body, such as forming part of many hormones and steroids which are a critical part of the body’s natural response to stress.”
The take out: include small portions of healthy fats into your diet. Some of the best healthy fats come from: olive oil (ideally, raw), flaxseeds, fish like salmon or tuna, avocado, olive tapenade and almonds.
Myth #2: Carbo-loading is key
Carbo-loading the night before, or even a few days before, a big race is a familiar concept when it comes to cycling nutrition. And look, I don’t need much convincing to delve into a wonderfully prepared, fresh, delicious plate of pasta myself. But according to this article “[Carbo-loading is] seldom necessary. Research has shown that carbohydrate loading has no effect on performance in races lasting less than about 90 minutes. Also, its effect is minimal even in longer races when adequate carbohydrate is consumed during the race.” But if you are going to carbo-load, make sure you do it overtime or well in advance of your race. According to this article registered dietitian Barbara Melendi stresses that you need to give your body time to digest the unrefined, starchy foods, because cycling on a stomach that is struggling to digest the pasta from the night before, is not is not going to enhance your performance.
The take out: if you want to try carbo-loading, go for it! But ensure that you give your body ample time to digest the food properly. Also, perhaps identify if you have any gluten intolerances as this could mean that carbo-loading does more harm than good. Keep in mind that Dave Scott, who won the Ironman six times, never actually carbo-loaded.
Myth #3: Taking supplements is a must
When it comes to cycling nutrition, cyclists tend to want to do everything (legal) they can to improve their performance. Supplement marketing campaigns always claim they are performance-enhancing and even totally necessary. According to this article “Athletes on the whole require more energy and, if they eat good-quality foods, this should provide the energy and nutrients that they need.” However, some choose to use supplements where it is easier to get the right amounts of certain nutrients such is the case with things like iron, omega-3 oils and probiotics. This article suggests however, that “…no nutritional supplement has ever been proven to enhance endurance performance significantly by a large number of studies without being counterbalanced by other studies showing no benefit.”
The take out: focus on a healthy well-balanced diet, and take supplements that you genuinely feel are beneficial for you, but don’t just do it because you feel you have to. If you are unsure, consult a dietitian.
Myth #4: Avoid simple sugars at all costs
Indulging in simple sugars when you are not exercising is a serious no-no. The studies showing the detrimental effects of simple sugars on health are manifold in this day and age. However, the benefits using simple sugars such as energy gels and sports drinks while exercising are great. According to Matt Fitzgerald “Sugar, in the form of glucose (and also glycogen, which is the storage form of glucose in the body), is the most important energy source for intense endurance exercise. Dozens and dozens of studies have demonstrated that supplementing your body’s supply of glucose/glycogen with glucose, fructose, and other simple sugars that are easily converted to glucose during exercise enhances performance in workouts and races lasting longer than an hour.”
The take out: do what works for you and your body. If you have specific health reasons that deter you from using simple sugars than don’t, but the benefit of them while exercising have been proven, so give it a try!
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