Just like bike design, fitness food is constantly evolving. Covering every aspect, from pre-exercise fuelling to recovery, this is a guide through the foods and supplements that are believed to offer a winning edge.
A IS FOR ALANINE
An essential amino acid, beta-alanine increases the body’s levels of carnosine, a compound stored in the muscle which buffers acidity throughout high-intensity training. Daily supplementation of about 4-6 grams for 2 to 4 weeks can benefit performance throughout short bursts of demanding training, such as sprints and breakaways.
B IS FOR BEETROOT
Beetroot may seem an unlikely cycling companion, but the earthy vegetable is rich in nitrates — compounds that improve blood flow and enhance oxygen efficiency. Beetroot is now a regular on every pro rider’s menu. In a 2011 study of club-level competitive riders, a 500ml dose of beetroot juice 2.5 hours pre-race improved time trial performance by about 3%. For an easier way to get the same result, consume a 70ml sports shot.
C IS FOR COCONUT WATER
Due to its electrolyte content, coconut water has gained popularity as an all-natural sports drink and rehydration fluid. It contains five times the potassium content of isotonic drinks, but that’s where the good news stops. The American Chemical Society discovered that the sodium content of coconut water isn’t enough to replace sweated-out losses. Since sodium is vital for maintaining blood volume required to transport oxygen and dissipate heat throughout training session, you may be better off with a sports drink. One to save for recovery.
D IS FOR DAIRY
With the inflow of alternative, trendy milks such as coconut and almond, the cow type has received a bit of a bashing. But its advantages for cyclists are still important. Milk contains slow as well as fast-release proteins, sodium and natural sugars in quantities that make it the perfect recovery drink. In a study from Texas, trained cyclists consuming chocolate milk after a 1.5-hour training session performed better in a subsequent time trial than those who drank a carb-only drink. And one should also not forget the calcium benefits: not only does milk improve bone health, it also helps regulate body fat.
E IS FOR ELECTROLYTE TABS
If you’re cycling for an hour or more, plain water may not suffice. You will benefit from replacing sodium lost through sweat to maintain blood volume and muscle contraction. Try adding electrolyte tabs to plain water; they’re perfect for rides of 60-90 minutes or in hot weather. Just keep in mind to also consume some carbs if you’re on a longer ride.
F IS FOR FLAVONOIDS
Present in plant foods, flavonoids act as antioxidants, helping buffer the increase in oxidative stress that comes as a response to an intense training session. Studies show that high intakes of flavonoids can limit exercise-related inflammation and muscle damage, as well as protecting against heart disease and cancer. Get your kick from brightly colored vegatables and fruits, tea and red wine.
G IS FOR GREENS POWDER
Greens are healthy, but if you don’t like eating them, consider putting them in a drink or on your porridge in the form of a powder. A concentrated source of so-called “superfoods” are spirulina, chlorella and wheatgrass. It’s claimed that green powders can fulfil shortfalls in your fruit and veg intake, helping to improve antioxidant defences. The scientific jury is still examining the benefits, but that hasn’t stopped the British cycling team using them.
H IS FOR HONEY
As the popularity for natural fuel grows, honey has been recognized as an alternative sports gel. The substance lovingly created by bees is a combination of two sugars (fructose and glucose) and scores medium on the glycaemic index, meaning it releases energy steadily. Evidence is limited, but exeprts from the Exercise and Sport Nutrition Lab at Memphis University discovered honey combined with water was as effective as a dextrose gel for fuelling time trial performance in trained riders. Two to three tablespoons an hour will meet the advisable 30-60g of carbohydrate required to delay fatigue — squeeze into the corner of a sandwich bag, twist, and tie the top to make DIY gels.
I IS FOR ISOTONIC GEL
Manufacturers of the “world’s only truly isotonic gel,” sports nutrition leader SiS says the specially formulated Go Isotonic energy gel offers a faster supply of energy to the muscle than regular gels because it contains the same ratio of water to solutes as your body’s cells and blood, making it more easily to be absorbed.
J IS FOR JELLY BEANS
According to scientists from the University College Davis in California, sports beans (jelly beans with added B vitamins and electrolytes) are effective for fuelling endurance exercise. In a study, riders who ate the sports beans during a 10K time trial performed 32-38sec faster than those who consumed only water. Jelly beans are a viable alternative to gels when it comes to fuelling your training, as they’re a source of fast-digesting carbohydrate.
K IS FOR KETO-ADAPTATION
Since the body’s limited ability to store carbs is one of the major causes of fatigue during tough exercise, using fat for energy has an obvious benefit. In theory, the idea is great: adapt your body to use fat over carbs and effectively you’ll never bonk. Sadly, the science has failed to prove any clear benefit. Yes, you burn more fat after exposure to a low-carb diet, but this doesn’t lead to any improvement in performance. It’s also possible that this approach could actually blunt your body’s ability to use the carbs needed for high-intensity training sessions.
L IS FOR LEUCINE
An essential amino acid (or protein “building block”), leucine has been discovered to be the key to “switching on” new muscle synthesis. There’s no need to splash out on a leucine supplement — consuming about 20-25g of protein from a leucine-rich food after high-intensity training suffice to max out the effect. Best sources include whey, eggs, milk, fish and poultry.
M IS FOR MULTIPLE TRANSPORTABLE CARBS
When taking about delaying fatigue during training, two carbohydrates are better than one – so says the research behind the newest range of products such as Power Bar’s C2Max, which boast a number of transportable carbs. Studies suggest carbohydrate uptake during training is limited to the amount the gut is able to absorb, i.e. 60g an hour, in the case of glucose. Fructose, however, is absorbed along a different pathway, so by adding the two together you can increase the amount of carbohydrate available to the working muscle. In a 2007 study from the University of Birmingham, this lead to an 8% improvement in time trial performance.
N IS FOR NATURAL FUEL
Sports food might be evolving, but the desire for simpler and more natural foods — as well as transparency in terms of ingredients — is increasing . Based on a 2013 survey from Mintel, 67% of UK consumers rate natural as better than synthetic as far as fitness foods are concerned. Working together with endurance athletes, the well-known Clif Bar brand is introducing sports fuel using real food ingredients; their raw sources include sweet potato and sea salt and pizza margarita.
O IS FOR OMEGA 3
Various studies suggest the healthy fats present in oily fish are one of the best natural defences against muscle soreness and exercise-induced inflammation. Greek researchers discovered adults consuming more than 300g of fish per week had 33% lower levels of inflammatory signs than those consuming no fish. A lesser-considered benefit is on cycling performance. In a 2014 study from the University of Wollongong in Australia, two months of low-dose fish oil supplementation improved oxygen efficiency and heart rate recovery. Aim to chomp through two servings of oily fish per week — or consider a supplement.
P IS FOR PROTEIN
If there’s one macronutrient with a health halo, it’s protein. The perfect accessory for weight loss, muscle recovery and strength gains, protein products are dominating sports diet sales all over the world. And the science seems to support the findings, with clear benefits for weight loss — up to double the recommended daily intake (1.6 vs 0.8g/ kg) has been proven to boost the rate of fat loss while preserving lean muscle. Incorporate a generous protein source in every meal and snack to benefit. Also, plant proteins are set to be the next important thing.
Q IS FOR QUERCETIN
A flavonoid present in vegetables and fruits, quercetin leapt into the limelight as a efficiency- booster following research suggesting it could increase VO2 max and relieve post-exercise inflammation. In a 2009 study of healthy untrained cyclists, seven days of supplementation increased time to fatigue by an impressive 13%, but not all studies have been showing as much benefits, particularly in trained participants.
R IS FOR RICE CAKES
If you’re fed up with guzzling gels and energy bars to fuel your training, try eating rice cakes. Developed by a sports physiologist and cycling coach, the savoury cakes are well-liked among Garmin and Team Sky riders. High-glycaemic, low-fibre, rice is cooked and combined with egg, bacon, salty soy sauce and a pinch of sugar to supply the carbs and sodium required to restore energy and electrolytes. Check online for recipes.
S IS FOR SODIUM BICARBONATE
One of the trendy buffering agents, sodium bicarbonate will help regulate muscle pH during training. Research shows it can reduce pain and muscular fatigue when taken in doses of about 0.3g per kilo of body weight pre-exercise. Taking bicarbonate in capsules can help to reduce any GI unwanted side effects — but as with all supplements, it should be tested during a training session, not on a race day.
T IS FOR TOMATO JUICE
The claimed hangover cure tomato juice is definitely worth having in your fridge for after a training session — not just for after a fun night drinking alcohol. The sodium-rich juice is perfect for replenishing salts and fluid lost during tough training. What is more, the lycopene in processed tomatoes will help your muscles to recover faster too. According to Swedish researchers, a dose of 150ml of tomato juice after training can help reduce the increase in oxidative stress associated with high-intensity training.
U IS FOR ULTRA COLOSTRUM
Offered by sports nutrition supplier Myprotein, ultra colostrum is a powdered supplement made from bovine milk. Containing high levels of antibodies and immune-boosting compounds, the dairy-based supplement is offered on the basis of research proving benefits of immunity and gut health. Initially well-liked with professional cycling teams, WADA’s recommendation to avoid the supplement because of its naturally high levels of growth factors led to decrease in popularity among the pros.
V IS FOR VITAMIN D
Getting enough of the sunshine vitamin isn’t just crucial for strong bones, it can also prevent you from getting sick. Experts from Loughborough University discovered endurance athletes with the highest levels of vitamin D had had the fewest chest infections and severe symptoms throughout winter training season. Oily fish and eggs are the only dietary vitamin-D boosters, so it may a good idea to consider a supplement during winter.
W IS FOR WHEY
High in branch-chain amino acids and fast-digesting proteins, whey has ensured its crown as one of the most widespread sports diet products available. Add a scoop of the milk-based protein into a post-exercise shake to improve muscle recovery or use as a convenient top-up between meals to stamp out hunger.
X IS FOR XYLITOL
With sugar under fire, other sweeteners are gaining traction. Produced from plant material, xylitol includes one-third fewer calories than sugar and, although it tastes sweet, decreases levels of decay-triggering bacteria in the mouth. Try instead sugar reduce calories, tooth decay and maybe even lose weight.
Y IS FOR YOGHURT
Greek yoghurt has soared to the top of the charts thanks to its protein content, but there’s one more reason to incorporate it to your diet — the natural probiotics can help encourage immune function, which could strengthen your defences during weeks of intense training.
Z IS FOR ZINC
Most closely connected to the function of the immune system, low levels of zinc can interfere with wound healing and tissue growth. Therefore, getting enough zinc is vital for warding off illnesses, especially during periods of tough exercise. Protein positively affects zinc absorption, so eat lean meat and fish together with zinc-rich foods such as seeds, nuts, cocoa and beans to increase zinc levels the natural way.