Ask the Experts: The Importance of Performance Nutrition for Cyclists

Ask the Experts: The Importance of Performance Nutrition for Cyclists


October is sportscotland's Nutrition and Sport month, focusing on why what athletes in all sports eat matters. At the most basic level, nutrition is important for cyclists because it provides a source of energy required to perform at the highest level. The food a rider eat before, during and after training impacts on their strength, training, performance and recovery.

With this in mind, we speak to Performance Nutritionist for the Scottish Institute of Sport Nikos Jakubiak to find out more about how the riders on the Scottish Cycling Performance Programme fuel themselves to perform at their best.

Why is nutrition important for athletes on the Scottish Cycling performance programme?

All of the athletes who join the Scottish Cycling Performance Programme push their limits on a regular basis so that they can achieve the level of performance necessary to excel at the World stage. They need adequate intake of nutritionally dense foods to fuel their efforts, to support their recovery between sessions, to optimise their training adaptations from each training block, to keep their immune system strong, and to achieve the optimal physique for their event.

What is the biggest challenge facing riders around nutrition when they start working with you?

 Their first challenge is to get in the habit of using smart food choices around, and during, their training sessions to fuel their efforts and maximise their recovery. Young riders often underestimate how much more food they need when they train hard and they misunderstand when the best time to consume the extra food is.

What are the differences in fuelling for a track sprinter vs an endurance rider?

There are plenty of differences but here are a couple of examples. Endurance riders face very drastic changes to their daily nutritional needs across their training season because the volume and intensity of a training ride or race can vary greatly. To fuel for the longer rides endurance riders need to learn to eat on the bike so that they can condition their gut to take food during exercise, which will enable them to have enough energy left for the final push in a long race. Sprinters have more consistent requirements in a given training block but they have much higher requirements in daily protein needs compared to other cycling disciplines and whilst they do not need to worry about eating on the bike they still have to develop good habits with their food including having high protein snacks or drinks around their track and gym sessions.

Can you give 5 of the bests foods athletes of any level should be incorporated into their diets?


A classic Scottish food, it is versatile, cheap, easy to make, high in fibre and slow release carbohydrate that makes it ideal for any athletes to have in the morning. Oats are also a good ingredient to add to a blender when making smoothies.


An ancient food that is very popular around the World. Especially strained yogurts like Greek yoghurt or Skyr (Icelandic yoghurt) are much higher in protein than other yoghurt like products in the market and they are wonderful additions to a smoothie, as a dessert with honey and walnuts, or as a standalone snack.


More of a food group rather than just a food but vegetables are so nutrient dense that their importance cannot be overstated. Generous helpings of a wide variety of different vegetables every day contributes remarkably to our athletes’ daily needs for vitamins, minerals, nitrates, and dietary fibre.

Oily fish

Scottish riders are very lucky to live in a country with easy access to some of the best fish available in the World. Fish is a very easy, and quick, food to cook and oily fish (e.g. salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, and sardines) is high in protein and rich in important fatty acids for health and performance.


Liver is perhaps one of the most underused foods despite the fact that it is a packed with lots of useful nutrients such as iron, vitamins, and protein content as high as any beef steak whilst at the same time it is low in fat. Beef liver is very cheap and easy to find in most supermarkets or at your local butcher. Just make sure you look for the ‘Quality Meat Scotland’ logo on the package as it means it has gone through the necessary strict quality checks. A common mistake is for people to overcook liver but recipes such as liver stroganoff or liver curry with spinach may win you over.

What is your favourite food?

Briam (μπριάμ)! This Greek oven dish is a celebration of vegetables and fresh herbs and is best served with rustic bread and feta (what else?). This meal tastes great, it looks superb, it bursts with flavours, it is easy to make, it is cheap, and it is full of nutrients!

Thank you Nikos for providing an insight into the importance of performance nutrition for cyclists. You can follow sportscotland Nutrition and Sport month on Twitter @sportscotland