New rules of nutrition
There’s plenty of evidence to show how supplementing your diet with nutritional boosters not only has a positive impact on your performance in the saddle but on your overall health too.
Increasing numbers of cyclists are turning to supplements to assist in building stamina, applying focus and ramping up energy levels, but browsing the health food section of a supermarket can be a tour in itself such is the range of supplements available.
Cycling Plus asked three experts which ones you need and when to take them.
When you can’t afford to miss a session – Probiotics
“Probiotics help maintain a healthy digestive and immune system, which will minimise the risk of illness and increase the amount of time available to train or compete.” Says Team Sky nutritionist Marc Fell.
Fell recommends going for a daily dose of probiotic containing lactobacillus and/or bifidobacterium species containing at least 1010 live bacteria.
“Take them in the morning with breakfast, but be aware that probiotics need to be taken for several weeks before you see positive health effects,” says Fell.
For an energy boost – caffeine
“Caffeine has been shown t improve mental and physical performance by having a direct effect on the brain so we perceive the exercise to be easier,,” says Fell.
You can use caffeinated energy gels for a hit of caffeine or opt for your usual flat white from your go-to coffee shop. A 450ml cup delivers 277mg of caffeine, according to Fell. Remember, it takes around 30 minutes to peak within your blood.
Prep for time trials – Beta- alanine / Sodium bicarbonate
Hydrogen ions can build up in your muscles during exercise which causes muscle fatigue, says Fell, but this can be buffered by taking on sodium bicarbonate. “While prolonged intakes of beat alanine provide an intracellular buffer by increasing carsonine levels.”
Fell adds: “Using both of these supplements will, in turn, delay the onset of muscle fatigue during high intensity efforts, meaning higher speeds and power outputs can be maintained for longer.”
Get the doses right though
Beta-alanine: 4-6g per day divided into six to eight equal doses mixed with fluid throughout the day, for four to six weeks.
Sodium bicarbonate: 0.3g per kg body mass, 90 minutes before exercise (e.g. approx. 20g sodium bicarbonate for an athlete weighing 70kg)
Settle digestive issues – Prebiotics
“While probiotics introduce good bacteria into the gut, prebiotics act as a fertiliser for the good bacteria that’s already there,” explains Ramsay Sawi, personal trainer and health practitioner (ramsaypt.co.uk). “They help your good bacteria grow, improving the good-to-bad bacteria ratio.” Prebiotics can be found in raw garlic, raw dandelion leaves, roasted chicory root and Jerusalem artichoke – and fermented foods such as sauerkraut and pickles.
For intense training – Vitamins and minerals
Most people can get their required vitamins and minerals through a healthy, balanced diet. For those training hard, a pill can be popped for a boost. “Periods of heavy training have been linked to compromised immune systems in elite cyclists, which can also lead to a higher incidence of upper respiratory tract infections,” says Fell.
To ensure there are no gaps in the nutritional armoury, experts on the teams will recommend vitamin boosters.
500mg of vitamin C per day – “This antioxidant protects cells from being damages, particularly after intense periods of exercise, and contribute to normal collagen for formation and normal function of cartilage.”
Calcium – “To maintain normal muscle function and provide support for normal bone health.”
Entire Vitamin B complex – “Reduces tiredness and fatigue.”
Iron – “Insufficient levels of iron can result in fatigue and a lowered immune system,” says Fell. “This is because iron is a key substance in red blood cells that carry oxygen in the body. But consult a GP or dietician before taking supplements to ensure it is needed and an appropriate amount is taken.”
For winter training – Vitamin D
The ‘sunshine vitamin’ boosts metabolism, strengthens bones and helps maintain muscle.
Sports nutritionist Gavin Allinson (gavinallinson.com) “Research shows how endurance athletes in particular may get an immunity boost from this vitamin too.”
To convert fat to fuel – Ketone supplements
“Ketones – body-fat originated compounds – are produced when the body goes into starvation mode when glycogen stores are depleted,” explains Allinson. Until recently the chief way of tapping into ketones was to restrict carb intake. When you don’t have enough carbs your liver produces more ketones for energy. A team of scientists from Oxford university of Oxford developed a sports drink that tricks the body into staying in fat-burning mode longer – using ketone supplements.
These supplements create a state of ketosis that results in glycogen reserves bring retained and ketones burned for energy instead – prolonging the time it takes for muscles to fatigue.
Prepare for a big ride – vegetables and beetroot
Nitric oxide intake through sources such as beetroot juice has been shown to improve some areas of performance for cyclists. Stores of nitrate can also be increased through green leafy vegetables such as rocket, kale, cabbage, leeks, celery, cress and spinach. “In order to maximise the amount of nitrates from these foods, salads and vegetables should be eaten raw,” says Fell.
For climbing hills – L-Arginine
“The most effective way to increase nitric oxide production is to eat more foods that contain the amino acid L-arginine,” says Sawi. “L-arginine is a vital amino acid as without it your body cannot produce nitric oxide – therefore the more you have of it, the more you can produce. The best sources for L-arginine are nuts, fruits, meats and dairy.”
Prevent D.O.M.S – Omega oils
Sawi says: “The omega 3 fats, EPA and DHA that make up fish oil supplements can make you stronger and leaner for optimal endurance and strength performance. Benefits of supplementing fish oil include better energy use and improved fat metabolism, less muscle pain and delayed onset muscle soreness (D.O.M.S).
“As well as supplementing the fish oil, try and aim to eat two to three portions of oily fish er week.”
For rapid recovery - sodium/potassium
“Electrolytes and more specifically, sodium, in recovery drinks will help to promote absorption and retention of ingested fluids,” says Sawi. Most athletes finish exercising with a fluid deficit, and in demanding conditions may have produced two litres of sweat per hour.
To avoid the shakes – nuts and seeds
“Pumpkin seeds, almonds, brazil nuts and spinach are rich in magnesium and exercise increases magnesium needs by 10 to 20 per cent,” says Sawi. “The body uses magnesium to sustain muscle contraction and deliver oxygen to working muscles, meaning athletes are chronically deficient if they don’t attend to the levels of this mineral.”
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