Carbohydrates and the KISS principle.
Back in my uni days I had sports nutrition lecturer refer to a healthy diet as following the KISS principle. Keep It Simple Stupid. There is no magic pill that will make you ride faster, a low carb diet (unless you have a diagnosed digestion problem or allergy) will not give you more energy and there are no amount of supplements that are going to increase your race performance.
Nutrition is something that is so simple, yet so over complicated. This extends well beyond the realm of cycling. Every other week there is a new diet craze that “you must try” with a plethora of people boasting amazing weight loss results, improved energy and an overall feeling of better health. Throw in an unqualified celebrity endorsement and bingo, you’ve got yourself a new trend! Narrowing the nutrition topic down to be cycling specific, how are we, as cyclists meant to know how to fuel our bodies correctly with all this conflicting misinformation? The answer is KISS.
Let’s set the scene. You’ve just completed your morning workout, and now it’s time to spend your day replenishing and recovering to make sure you are ready to tackle the next workout that your amazing Kilowatt Cycling coach has in store. What do you do first? Do you head straight for 2 litres of alkaline infused water with the “eating is cheating” moto. This may have worked for Tyler Hamilton, however he had a lot of PED’s to help him recover. A simple and effective cycling diet should consist of what we have always known to be healthy.
So what is the best energy for a cyclist. Although fat is an energy source, the quickest form of energy and the most easily absorbed and utilised energy is the poor misunderstood carbohydrate (comment below if you want the scientific definition of how carbs work). It is so important in recovery and performance, we need to constantly replenish our energy stores, and nothing provides energy as easily and quickly as the humble carb. It is important to note that not all carbohydrates are created equal. Sugar is a carb, and a dangerous one. Soft drinks, energy gels, gelatine based lollies and cakes (to name a few), can be helpful in creating a quick source of rapid energy, but when consumed in bulk off the bike, it can be detrimental to performance as well as posing long term health risks such as diabetes, obesity and pancreatitis. The best carbohydrates for replenishing our bodies energy stores post ride are rice, pasta, bread, potatoes and fresh fruit (Fruit is also great during a ride). This may sound over simplistic but remember, it’s a very simple science.
So how many carbohydrates do we need. This can be split into two answers.
On the bike whether it be racing or training for a period of two or more hours, we need 20-40 grams of carbohydrates per hour (depending on the weight of the rider). This can be very simply delivered by a piece of fruit, some banana bread, some dried fruit, a sports drink, etc. Get creative. One thing I will encourage is to stay away from rapid energy sources until the last hour of the ride (I’m looking at you gels!). I was recently having this exact discussion with a friend who was a legend in the Australian track scene in the 1980’s and has gone on to coach world champions and grand tour riders (if you know me personally you’ll know who I’m talking about). He assures me that his athletes would graze on dried apricots and eat banana bread for races such as the Melbourne to Warrnambool and would only resort to gels within the last hour when they need a quick burst of energy for the finish.
Off the bike it’s very simple. Throughout the day it is a good rule of thumb to get 3-5 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight from the healthy carbohydrate sources mentioned above. Keep in mind that some food sources are more dense with calories than others. 100g of rice does not equal 100g of pasta. Be careful to read labels and serving sizes.
All of this may sound boring and simplistic, however nutrition is exactly that, boring and simple. It only becomes complicated when we listen to unqualified and misleading advice from people who have a nutritional product to sell. Remember, when it comes to fueling your ride both on and off the bike, KISS it (Keep It Simple Stupid).