7 Cycling Nutrition Myths Debunked

cycling nutrition

One week we are being told to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day and then the week after it’s being upped to seven.

Some people believe that eight glasses of water a day is a vital part of our diet, others warn that excessive water intake can be dangerous. That’s why we have decided to debunk some of the top cycling nutrition myths.

All fat makes you fat

As your body becomes more conditioned, you become a better fat burner. You need ample amounts of healthy fat, which, contrary to widely held belief, won’t make you fat. In fact, starchy foods turn to stored fat far more quickly. What’s more, evidence is stacking up that healthy unsaturated fats are essential for firing up your fat-burning metabolism. In a study of 101 men and women, Harvard researchers put half the group on a low-fat diet and half on a diet that included about 20 percent of calories from monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). After 18 months, the MUFA-eating group had dropped 11 pounds; its low-fat-eating peers had shed only six. Fat is also slower to digest than carbs, so it helps you stay hunger-free longer.

Fat will help you ride longer so you can burn more calories, says Friel. Research shows that athletes who get about 50-plus percent of their diet from fat produce better average times to exhaustion in exercise tests than those eating typical low-fat, high-carb diets.

Taking supplements is a must

When it comes to cycling nutrition, cyclists tend to want to do everything they can to improve their performance. Supplement marketing campaigns always claim they are performance-enhancing and even totally necessary. However, some choose to use supplements where it is easier to get the right amounts of certain nutrients such is the case with things like iron, omega-3 oils and probiotics. Recent studies suggest that no nutritional supplement has ever been proven to enhance endurance performance significantly.

All energy gels are the same

Not all energy gels are the same. They can vary hugely in their consistency, energy content, other ingredients (such as electrolytes and caffeine) and taste. All of these different characteristics mean that they behave very differently in the body and will be absorbed at different rates.

The concentration of a gel is called its tonicity. The higher the tonicity, the more water you need to take with it in order for it to be absorbed optimally. If you don’t take enough water with it, it can sit in your stomach and make you feel uncomfortable and bloated.

The tonicity of a gel can only be measured in a lab with an osmometer and it won’t be marked on the packaging of a gel. The amount of simple sugars will give some indication, however, and more than 5g of simple sugars per gel will indicate the likelihood of a high tonicity.

Isotonic gels offer the best solution as they don’t need any additional water with them in order for them to be absorbed optimally, but still deliver energy quickly. Most standard gels will require 250ml-500ml of water with them in order to make them isotonic. If you take insufficient water with them, water has to be pulled into the gut from the fluid in your cells or blood stream in order to try and dilute it.

Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables have no nutritional value

Fresh is usually best, but not if they’re sitting around your kitchen counter (or in the supermarket) for days losing nutrients. Studies show that canned and frozen fruits and vegetables can be as nutritious as fresh because they’re usually processed at the peak of freshness, when nutrient content is highest.

And since active people on a 2,000-a-day-calorie diet should get at least nine servings a day, you need to get your fruits and veggies where you can, and not shun the canned or frozen varieties.

Strive for 2 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables a day. When buying frozen or canned fruits and veggies look for low sodium content and avoid those with added sugars. With fresh produce, buy what’s in season and don’t let them sit for more than two or three days before eating.

Skipping breakfast is fine if you need to drop a few pounds

Eat breakfast. That bit of essential advice is food gospel. Still, according to a survey by the International Food Information Council Foundation, fewer than half of us eat a morning meal. Breakfast is the key that starts your fat-burning metabolism. Without it, you go into an energy deficit that not only leaves you ravenous (and more likely to overeat) later, but also suppresses your calorie-burning furnace, so what you do eat is more likely to go into storage. Research shows that people who skip breakfast are 4 1/2 times more likely to be overweight than those who don’t.

Caffeine – does it dehydrate you?

Coffee is historically popular with cyclists. From pros training on fasted rides on just a double espresso, to Sunday riders eagerly anticipating a cafe stop, coffee has become synonymous with cycling.

The (legally) performing enhancing effect of caffeine has been well researched, and as such is employed in everything from short, maximum efforts in time trials to long hill-crunching sportives.

At rest, it’s true that caffeine is a diuretic, meaning that your morning espresso at your desk will make you want to visit the toilet much sooner than if you went without it. This is because caffeine stimulates the kidneys to increase the removal of water from your bloodstream.

You don’t need to worry about this effect during exercise though. Exercise itself overrides this diuretic effect, because the body’s effort is going into ensuring you perform as efficiently as possible. This means that you can enjoy the performance-enhancing benefits of caffeine without worrying about whether it will affect your hydration status.

A calorie is a calorie

This might be the biggest weight-loss misunderstanding in existence. For years we’ve been told that weight loss is a simple calories-in, calories-out equation, and 3,500 excess calories will put on a pound whether they come from soybeans or banana cream pie. That’s simply not true.

“There are three key types of calories: carbohydrate, protein and fat,” says sports nutritionist Cynthia Sass. “They’re as different as gasoline, motor oil and brake fluid in terms of the roles they play in keeping your body operating optimally.” Sass says that many of her clients might eat the perfect number of calories, but they have cut their fat intake too much. So the jobs that fat does, such as repairing cell membranes and optimizing hormones, go undone, and the surplus carbs are stored as fat. By correcting her clients’ balance of carbs, protein and fat without changing their calorie intake, she says, she has helped them lose weight, improve their immune systems, gain muscle and boost energy.


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