Login Register for free news, tips & videos
 
 
 

Ask The Experts: Cycling nutrition, climbing, the “Fat Burning Zone”, lifting weights and cramp.

Home / Physical Preparation : Planning for Performance

Knowledge level:

Article posted: 24/09/2013

Share |

In this Ask the Experts feature we look at cycling nutrition, climbing, the “Fat Burning Zone”, whether you should be lifting weights and the painful issue of cramp.

There’s loads of great advice on how to fuel long days in the saddle on the site, including tips from Nigel Mitchell, British Cycling and Team Sky Nutritionist. For a day where you’ve got a long training ride or a sportive planned, it all starts with breakfast. Experiment with what suits you best but a great option is some porridge and a two or three egg omelette. The most important thing though is to allow at least 90 minutes before starting your ride. On the bike, depending on your weight and how hard you’re riding, you should be looking to take on 20-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour. This could be a gel or two, 70 grams of raisins, 400 ml of isotonic sports drink or 65 grams of jelly babies. It’s very much an individual thing and you should experiment with exactly how much and what you eat in training until you find what works best for you. It’s vital though that you fuel right from the start of your ride and eat little and often. Try to take something onboard every 20-30 minutes. One of the most common nutritional mistakes riders make is to fuel using a particular product or food in training and then, on the day of their main event or sportive, gamble on using what’s available at food stations. This often results in upset stomachs and a sub par performance. Find out what’s going to be supplied beforehand and try it out. If you can’t do this, adopt a more self sufficient approach and carry your own tried and tested food. Finally, if you’ve done a long ride, don’t forget to kick start your recovery as soon as you get home. This doesn’t have to be an expensive recovery drink as a banana blended into 500 ml of whole milk provides the perfect mix of carbohydrates and protein.

Many of you seem to be struggling with hills or simply want to be able to ride them faster. Technique certainly plays a part, so check out this video for climbing in the saddle and this video for climbing standing up. One of the most common mistakes is bad pacing, especially going too hard at the bottom of hills. Ideally you should aim to build power as the hill goes on and to crest it riding strongly. Shift low at the start of the hill and make a conscious effort to ride within yourself, concentrating on a smooth and relaxed technique and a consistent cadence. If you’re using heart rate or power, you should be below your threshold. As the hill goes on this will give the option to increase intensity or, if it’s a long or tough climb, to maintain a sustainable effort and avoid painfully running out of gears and power before you reach the top. The best way to build hill fitness and technique is to ride lots of them. If you avoid them in training, they’ll always be tough for you. If you live in a flatter area, you might have to resort to hill reps and don’t forget to use the downhill recoveries to practice your descending technique. Finally, if you’re carrying a few extra pounds, you’ll always notice them when the road kicks up. Paying some attention to your diet and losing some fat in a controlled and sensible way will always improve your climbing prowess. Look here for a comprehensive article on improving your climbing.

The so called Fat Burning Zone is a case of a bit of science poorly interpreted. At lower intensities your body will burn a higher proportion of fat relative to carbohydrates but, because you’re not working that hard, the actual number of calories burnt will be relatively low. Train harder and, although you’ll mostly be burning carbohydrates, you’ll get through a lot more calories. At the simplest level for fat loss, consistent net calories in vs calories out is the key thing. That’s not to say that long duration low intensity work isn’t important for cyclists as, by training at those low intensities, you do improve your bodies ability to use fat as a fuel which is key to performance in longer distance events. This reason for this is that your body only has enough carbohydrates stored for 60-90 minutes of exercise and, once this is used up, it can’t take in and process enough carbs to fuel exercise. This means you have to tap your fat reserves and, being able to do this effectively, means you can ride harder for longer. This long and slow base work is traditionally done over the winter months but, for the necessary physiological changes to take place, you really need to put in months of consistent significant low intensity miles, without any higher intensity efforts. For many time strapped riders, who may also be trying to lose weight, this sort of training investment isn’t realistic, practical or effective and their performance and weight loss goals would be better served by training at a variety of intensities. By paying close attention to pacing and fueling, you can still ride long but just won’t have that deeply ingrained endurance adaptations that professional cyclists develop from the hours they spend riding. There is some evidence to suggest that a 60-90 minute ride at low intensity in a pre-breakfast fasted state can enhance fat burning ability and, if you commute in the morning, this can easily be included in your training.

How, when and even if to include weights work in your training is still a controversial area for cyclists. For track sprint racers the benefits are obvious but for more endurance focussed cyclists, including sportive riders, they’re less clear. If you’re really pressed for time, can only manage 3-5 hours of training per week and cycling is your priority, you’re biggest gains will be made by riding your bike. Don’t forget that a quality strength session will also require fresh legs to complete and will need at least 48 hours to recover from, so this needs to be factored in too. Weight training won’t necessarily directly improve your cycling performance. However it will make you more robust, less prone to injuries and can help iron out tightnesses and imbalances caused by cycling and everyday life. Many cyclists fall into the trap of thinking that they should lift low weights for high reps to mimic the endurance requirements of cycling. This is a complete fallacy as, even if you perform 3 sets of 50 reps, this is still nowhere near the thousands of pedal strokes you’ll make during a typical ride. To build strength you need to keep the weights fairly heavy and the reps relatively low. For an ideal cycling specific weights session from Phil Burt, Lead Physiotherapist at British Cycling and Consultant Physiotherapist to Team Sky and Martin Evans, head of Strength and Conditioning with British Cycling, go here.

For such a common occurrence it might surprise you to know that the exact reason for cramping is still unknown. Many people blame inadequate hydration or electrolyte levels and, although some studies have shown that consuming a 6% carbohydrate sports drink can help prevent them, other studies have failed to back this up and, recent work with Ironman triathletes found no link at all. Some studies of long term sufferers of cramp have shown magnesium supplementation to be helpful. Another factor is a sudden increase in exercise intensity. So, if you suddenly ride harder or longer than you’re used to, you can expect to cramp. However, exercise intensity can’t be the only factor as it doesn’t explain night cramps. Anecdotal evidence suggests that stretching can help to alleviate cramp and that regular stretching can help prevent cramp in muscles that are prone to it or that have previously been injured. If you are regularly suffering from cramp on your rides, we’d suggest a covering all bases approach.

- Ease back on your pace and/or distance. Check you threshold power or heart rate, find your training zones and ride strictly to them. If you’re out for a long ride this should mean spending the majority of the time in Zone 2. Don’t suddenly ramp up time, distance or climbing. Follow a structured training plan that builds in a gradual progressive way like the British Cycling Training Plans.

- Take on fluids containing electrolytes continually throughout your ride. Even in cooler conditions aim to take on 500-750 ml per hour. Look here to find out more about optimum hydration.

- Stretch regularly using this routine from Phil Burt, Lead Physiotherapist at British Cycling and Consultant Physiotherapist to Team Sky.

- Eat foods rich in magnesium and calcium and, if necessary, consider magnesium supplementation.

features

Missing training sessions

Posted: 15/04/2015
What happens if you miss the odd training session or...
Knowledge level: Intermediate

Intermediate / Advanced Modular Training Plans

Posted: 15/04/2015
Training in the lead up to an event and through the...
Knowledge level: Intermediate

Gluten free cycling

Posted: 08/04/2015
Cycling on a gluten free...
Knowledge level: Intermediate

latest content

Missing training sessions

Posted: 15/04/2015
What happens if you miss the odd training session or...
Knowledge level: Intermediate

Intermediate / Advanced Modular Training Plans

Posted: 15/04/2015
Training in the lead up to an event and through the...
Knowledge level: Intermediate

Roger Hammond's Sportive Tips

Posted: 15/04/2015
Roger Hammond’s spring and summer cycling...
Knowledge level: Beginner

most popular

How to lube your chain

Posted: 17/05/2013
How to lube your chain and keep you bike running...
Knowledge level: Beginner

Getting your ride position right

Posted: 22/03/2013
How to set up your bike for on bike...
Knowledge level: Beginner

10 steps to improve your climbing

Posted: 12/02/2014
10 steps to improve your...
Knowledge level: Beginner

meet the experts

DIY road and mountain bike fit

Posted: 07/01/2015
Expert advice from Rëtul founder Todd Carver on getting the...

Andrew Evans

Posted: 12/05/2014
Andrew...

Ask the Experts: Threshold test pacing and struggl...

Posted: 09/04/2014
Ask the Experts: Threshold test pacing and struggling to hit...