Whilst we are often pushed towards specific sports nutrition products such as gels, carbohydrate drinks and energy bars, these products are often expensive, not particularly good for us and may actually not meet our training requirements. Instead we recommend using a range of alternatives, supplemented with sports products.
Food Requirements During Endurance Exercise
The primary functions of foods and drinks taken whilst we are riding are to provide fuel and maintain hydration. Additionally, nutrition taken during training rides can be used to find our personal preferences and train our bodies to take on board the amounts of food needed for an event. Furthermore, there is increasing evidence that what we eat during training sessions can impact on recovery and muscle adaptation.
Carbohydrates are the most important fuel source during endurance exercise and sports nutrition products are designed to provide the maximal supply of this nutrient. If using food alternatives, it is important to make sure you are choosing foods that contain easily digestible carbohydrate sources and are relatively low in fat and fibre such as by choosing refined grains in place of whole grains and switching flapjacks for cereal bars.
Traditionally, protein intake has been emphasised post-training as a way of enhancing recovery. Whilst the evidence that protein can boost performance during exercise is far from compelling, there is increasing evidence that moderate protein consumption during training may help enhance training adaptations by priming our muscles to recover more quickly once the session is finished.
Foods or Sports Nutrition Products?
Despite all the associated advertising, there is nothing special or unique in a nutritional sense about sports nutrition products and it is possible to make equally effective alternatives yourself, or find them in your local supermarket. That said, sports products are convenient to carry and eat quickly and easily whilst on the move and are an extremely concentrated source of the nutrients we need to get us to the finish line as quickly as possible. In many events, there simply isn't the opportunity to eat enough 'real food' and a combination of gels and energy drinks may be the only practical strategy
During training, we are generally not under quite so much pressure and are usually burning calories at a lower rate. Furthermore, supermarket and homemade foods are often a lot cheaper and have a far better micronutrient content than sports products. We therefore advise using foods where possible and adding in sports nutrition products when needed.
In addition to a high carbohydrate intake prior to your ride, we recommend aiming to take in around 30g / hour carbohydrates from a range of sources during moderately strenuous training such as a 3 hour club ride. Adjust this accordingly for higher intensity and longer sessions up to 60g per hour. Additionally, if you are training for an event where high carbohydrate intake is beneficial, it is important to test nutrition strategies in training to find which products work best for you. It is advisable to include moderate amounts of protein as part of your training ride foods (5-10g per hour). Once you have completed your ride, aim to consume 20-25g protein as soon as is convenient and sufficient carbohydrate to restore glycogen stores over the hours following the session. A few examples of foods are given below each of which contain 20-30g carbohydrate so having one portion every 40-60 minutes is a good starting point.
Excellent source of carbohydrates as well as counting towards your daily fruit intake. Best eaten early on to avoid them getting mashed!
Very concentrated source of mixed sugars as well as counting towards your daily fruit intake. Consume in moderation due to high fibre content.
Easy to make and a good mixed source of carbohydrates to fuel your ride.
High carbohydrate and moderate protein content, a good and very affordable savoury alternative.
Available from all supermarkets, cheap and easy to carry, Cereal bars are a convenient and carbohydrate rich food. Avoid those with chocolate pieces as they are prone to melting
High Protein Cereal Bars
Higher protein bars may help kickstart your recovery. Consume in moderation as higher carbohydrate foods are the priority during training.