I admit that when it comes to nutrition, I am at a disadvantage. It's not that I don't know the correct things to eat – it's just that me and food have a long-standing love-hate relationship. I love food, but hate what it does to me. I could seriously eat all day long if there was some way I could get away with it. Yes – food is definitely my arch nemesis.
So it's no surprise that I struggle to eat the right things at the right times. This may come as a surprise to people who think that all of us 'elite' athletes are incredibly picky about our diet. I suppose most are – I'm just hopeless a lot of the time when it comes to doing the 'right' thing.
It's not news to any of my readers that I used to be seriously overweight before I took up cycling (again) and got fit. And of course, to stay at the top of my game these days I must monitor, to some degree, what I eat and try and counter what I am burning off while on the bike.
However, this post isn't about my eating habits off the bike so much as it is about what I eat to stay fuelled whilst ON the bike. I have learned, perhaps the hard way, that it is curtail to eat and drink the right things in order to maximise your training sessions. And even more important to get it right when it comes to actually racing. It's a regime within itself – from your pre-ride nutrition to what you on the ride and finally what you take in afterwards to help your recovery.
Last year, whenever I was away with the Irish team, I was able to use sports nutrition products from ZipVit (www.zipvitsport.co.uk). After winning the World Championships while using their products, it was a no-brainer for me to decide to use their products exclusively again this year. The have so much to offer, and because their stuff actually tastes good, I'm more inclined to use it on a daily basis.
My day starts off with some of ZipVit's vitamin supplements. They do a good variety of them, designed to do different things for different types of riders. I personally go for the ones that help improve my endurance on the bike. (I don't want to be TOO specific and give away all my secrets!)
On days that I'm at the track or on race days, I like to warm up with a couple of their caffeine gels in me. I'm using the Cola flavoured ones these days. They are also useful to carry with you on longer rides when you need an energy boost. (I take along the plain orange flavoured gels for these types of rides, as well as for road races to help keep me fuelled on the go).
To help on the fluid front, ZipVit do several different flavours of sport drink (crystals) also. I'm a lemon man myself. They even do electrolyte tabs that you can drop into your bottle. Taking on enough fluid during training (and especially during racing) is perhaps one of the biggest failings of many athletes (and probably even more so if you're just an amateur). You can and will sacrifice a huge portion of your performance if you become even mildly dehydrated during a ride.
Here's a simple test you can do to see if you're hydrating properly: before going on a ride weigh yourself (preferably naked). Then go on your ride. At the end of your ride – weigh yourself again (also naked) as soon as you can. As long as you haven't stopped along the way for a toilet break, you should weigh the same as when you left, assuming you have properly hydrated yourself. (There are other assumption where regarding any food you may have consumed, but I'm trying to keep it simple).
A litre of water weighs around 1KG. So for every kilogram (2.2 pounds) lighter that you are at the end of your ride – that's 1 litre of fluid (2 standard water bottles) that you should have consumed. The length of your ride, the air temperature, how much you sweat, etc will all play a role in how much you fluid you need, but I would wager that most people will return home from a ride of 2 hours or more mildly dehydrated.
Most sports drinks will throw some fancy science at you as to why they are better than water, and how they help you hydrate better, faster and so on (and I'm not going to debate any of this), but I will say one thing they CAN do very well – and that is to encourage you to drink MORE. Why? Because if it tastes good, you'll drink more of it. It's that simple (and this HAS been proven). Let's face it – water is dull. But something that tastes sweet (or to your liking) will make you want to drink more of it. This is where my ZIpVit Energy Drink serves me best.
Lastly, there is my post-ride nutrition. If at home, I go for a recovery shake (for me it's the ZIpVit chocolate mixed with either water or skim milk). If I'm at the track or on the road, I'll usually opt for the Protein Recovery Bars. I swear – their Chocolate Orange flavour bar tastes as good as most chocolate bars from any corner shop. Both the shakes and bars are a mix of protein and carbs that help your body to start repairing your muscles from the day's efforts to get it ready for the next workout. The more often and faster you recover – the better your next workout will be.
Since I started taking my nutritional (on the bike) a little more seriously, and started using these products on a regular basis, there has been a marked improvement in my performance. Not only do I actually FEEL stronger on rides (and can last longer before fatigue starts to set in), but I have seen my power increase. I have less muscle soreness on a day to day basis and can simply train harder than before. I suppose the true test will come once competition starts again, but I am confident that the gains being made in training will transfer seamlessly to my races.
Everyone has their own personal tastes when it comes to nutritional and sports supplements. But I highly recommend having a look at the ZipVit range of products. They offer 'starter' packs for a low price that allows you to try some of the bars, gels and drink mix that I have mentioned. If you don't like it, then you're not out of pocket for a big wad of cash! (Plus they throw in a nice water bottle so all is not lost!)
Now, I just have to sort out my nutrition OFF the bike and 2012 will be a breeze!