2014 is the year for you, the year you smash your personal bests, break that long-standing plateau and become an almost re-invented version of your already strong self. You’re extremely fit, you pay close attention to your calorie intake, you always carb load before big rides and you’ve got your post-ride recovery ritual down to a tee. However, some of your fellow riders always seem to burn you out, people who you were better than a year ago, have now got the edge on you. So what have they got that you haven’t? Well, it can be down to a number of factors: age, lung-capacity, power output, strength-to-weight ratio; the list goes on. Unfortunately, we don’t have any control over our age and getting all these other areas to maximum genetic potential can take years of hard work.
One area you can change right now, is nutrition. Now before you stop reading here, I’m not going to drill home the same old story you’ve heard a million times before. This article isn’t going to go on about carb loading, energy gels or the fact that you need protein shake to recover, because you already know that. This article is about the marginal gains to can make through nutrition, to an already fine-tuned machine.
Tip 1: BCAAs aren’t just for bodybuilders.
We talked about strength-to-weight ratio earlier, and this is something that’s very important in cycling; you need to be a strong and powerful as you can to turn the pedals with force and light enough to carry yourself up the hills. Because of height and build, there is no ‘set weight’ everyone should be, so aiming to keep muscle high and fat low is what we all strive for. It’s often hard for keen cyclists to fit in resistance training for muscle and postural maintenance, and with cycling being a heavily catabolic and time consuming sport, it is important that you spend time preventing muscle breakdown. So what can you do? Take BCAAs.
BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids) are essential building blocks of protein that need to be consumed through food sources; they cannot be created by our bodies independently. With this in mind, as well as a sound diet, we should be consuming a BCAA supplement to prevent muscle breakdown on the bike.
But how will this help you to perform better? You might say that you don’t care about muscle mass, or anabolic supplements, well there’s a myriad of ways in which they can help you to consistently race and ride better. If you supply yourself with BCAAs during your rides and in between meals, then you’re more likely to recover better when you get off the bike. Think if it as a constant stream of amino acids that your body can ‘dip into’ whenever and feed off; if the supply is always there, then your muscles shouldn’t want to breakdown. Most bodybuilders and strength athletes will take BCAAs every day, without fail, rest day or not; and this is to maintain a large amount of muscle. As a cyclist however, your goal is to maintain enough muscle to perform on the bike, so we recommend taking them during your ride.
Tip 2: Taurine is the new black.
Another amino acid, taurine was long thought a non-essential amino. Recently however, it has recently been shown to have multiple positive effects for cyclists and athletes. Unlike the amino acids found in BCAA supplements, taurine is naturally occurring in the body, it can help in recovery and with directing nutrients into the muscle, but its real benefit for cyclists is its ability to hinder cramps.
Cramps can hit you on the bike at a crucial point in your race, like right near the finish line, or on a corner. For triathletes it can be even worse, like on a transition or in the water. It’s pretty safe to say, that cramps are not safe at all, especially when you have something as fast and mechanical as a road bike underneath you. By taking taurine before your workouts, and right before sleep for extra measure; you should start to see any issues with cramps decrease. The science behind this is that taurine aids in the regulation of calcium, which is linked to cramp issues.
Just a note, taurine use has also been linked to studies showing a decrease in caffeine effects. So if you are using a caffeine supplement, take these at slightly different times.
Pro Tip: stock up on taurine and stay well hydrated to control your cramps on the bike.
Tip 3: L Glutamine to go.
L Glutamine goes in and out of fashion like retro haircuts. Arnold Schwarzenegger used to swear by it in the 1970’s bodybuilding scene, then it got noted as useless in the 80’s, and now it’s back again. The love-hate relationship with Glutamine is never ending. With a good amount of new scientific research behind it, L Glutamine has been unveiled as the ‘everyman’ supplement, holding a use for all athletes and weekend warriors. Like the other amino acids we mentioned – see a pattern here? L Glutamine is quite common in everyday foods, and our body holds onto stores of it already, so you’re not taking in some new-fangled substance, in fact you had it in you all along.
The benefits of L Glutamine are similar to other amino acids, in that they offer a ‘reserve supply’ effect, allowing you to carry on stronger for longer, without depleting levels. L glutamine is usually absorbed by the intestines, as they are crucial for repair and proper function of the digestive organs. But how does this relate to cycling?
Well, put simply, if you’re on a long endurance ride, you’ll be whittling down your body’s supplies of glutamine, which can leave you vulnerable and weak; we might be talking very slightly here, but that’s what cycling’s all about at elite level: marginal gains. So if you’re always topped up, you’ve got a little less chance of being weak on the bike.
So, you thought you couldn’t teach an old dog new tricks? Well hopefully, you’ll have gotten something out of this article that’ll improve your already finely-tuned game. Leave us a comment below to let us know what you think of our nutrition guide, or share this article on the links at the top of the page!