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The Perfect Day: Nutrition for Long Training Days and Sportives.

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Article posted: 01/01/2013

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As working cyclists you have perfected your working day’s nutrition around your commutes and training but the weekend can be a different challenge. You swap the office chair for long days in the saddle and a new set of nutritional needs.

At the weekends, the British Cycling Sportive Training Plan will prescribe back to back long steady rides, developing your ability to use fat stores to supply energy and in the process facilitating weight loss.

Finding the food balance over those two days of repeated training will be hard. Nigel Mitchell, Great Britain Cycling Team Nutritionist and Insight Zone expert is on hand to break down nutrition for the perfect long days training:

“So one of the first things you need to consider is how your stomach is feeling for the ride. If you have had a substantial meal for breakfast you will not have a comfortable stomach for about 90 minutes after that meal.”

In the morning of a long ride or a sportive event try to be positive with your nutrition, getting solid foods in the stomach on time before you start, this is done by adding some more content to your usual working week breakfast, to make sure you get through the long hours on the bike:

“If you are getting out for 0900 then you should have breakfast around 0730 or 0800, so about an hour or an hour and a half before you leave for your ride.”

“If you are rushing out of the door, things like porridge are really good as you can be exercising within 30 minutes to an hour after eating.”

“We also need something that is going to be a little bit more slowly digested on top of porridge for long rides. So a really simple thing to have in addition to porridge would be something like a two or three egg omelette.”

Once on the bike you should regularly eat small amounts of carbohydrates, this can be achieved through food, gels or liquids; the main point is doing what suits you in reaching your energy needs:

“Depending on how hard you are working you want to be really getting through 20-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour if you are working quite hard

If you prefer liquids then you could use a sports drink and have a gel but that 20-60 grams still applies so don’t take on board energy drink, gels and then bars or other solid food on top. Over fuelling can be as bad as under fuelling. 50 grams could be 70 grams of raisins, 400ml of isotonic sports drink or 65 grams of jelly babies.”

The reason why you are training on the bike is because this replicates what is going to happen at the event. Nutrition is no different whilst training, as the products you use in training should be the same products you are going to use on event days;

“The big mistake that people make when they come to event day of a sportive is that they do something completely different to what they’ve been practicing in training and, more often than not, this is usually in nutrition.”

You use one type of product for training but at the feed station of the event they have another brand of product. Invest the time in finding out what brand of product the event organisers will supply at the feed station and use that in training.”

If you drink and eat well on the ride you should have eaten just enough for the ride and be slightly hungry as you arrive back. If you return with hunger, resist the urge to raid the cupboards for sweets and biscuits.

“If you are going at a high intensity or a ride that is enough to bring your blood sugar levels down, you can have problems when you get in, you just want to raid the cupboard.

So, if you’re going to be training hard, and it is going to be over 90 minutes after training until you have your dinner, then it is a good idea to have some sort of a recovery meal, straight after training. If you are going to be having your dinner or your main meal within 20 – 30 minutes of getting back, there’s is not a lot of point.

What you need in that situation would be somewhere in the region of 15-20 grams of protein and 20 grams of carbohydrate, just to maintain the system and then have your main meal. But if you have run down your energy then you would need more carbohydrate. Remember you have been eating well beforehand so the system should be well stocked.”

The training is done, evening meal has been eaten and the urge to follow that up with a good glass of wine or chocolate can sometimes take over. This is not a bad thing but as with everything it has to be in moderation:

“As a dietician I think it is very important that people look at their diet overall and should not avoid anything completely, chocolate or alcohol, it is just about how we have them in moderation.”

When we look at chocolate for example what I would say is have dark chocolate. You have to eat a whole bar of brand chocolate to get the same cocoa hit of 3 chunks of 80% chocolate cocoa bars, so are having the treat without all the calories.

Alcohol again is very much empty calories, in a litre of 5% lager; you have 350 calories just from the alcohol side of it, without any of the sugars that might be there, so there are a lot of calories

Some people find it easier to cut it out when trying to lose weight. Some people find it easier to say right I won’t have anything to drink Monday to Friday and then I will have a pint over the weekend. The problem is when it sneaks in and people are having alcohol every day and the calories soon add up.”

By following Nigel’s tips, you’ll be ready and raring to ride on those big training weekends. Fuel your engine with our expert Insight Zone advice and you’ll maximise your performance in training and on sportive day.

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