Cyclists fail nutrition test

Eating isn’t cheating, according to an Australian Catholic University study that found inadequately fuelled cyclists could be sabotaging their most important rides.

Dr Andy King from ACU’s Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research said the study showed riders who turned to turbo trainers and online training platforms such as Zwift and TrainerRoad during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns failed to meet carbohydrate recommendations.

Published in The British Journal of Nutrition, the research paper found almost three-quarters of participants failed to satisfy pre-ride fuelling requirements and 75 per cent consumed no carbohydrate during sessions when carbohydrate consumption is known to be beneficial.

“Most people weren’t in the ballpark, which means they’re seriously selling themselves short for key sessions,” Dr King said. “We were amazed at how little people ate.”

The study shone a light on cyclists and triathletes of all abilities who retreated to indoor trainers during lockdown. Increased focus on indoor training meant races and key, high intensity sessions were often performed online with the assistance of Zwift, Sufferfest or TrainerRoad.

While on-bike nutrition can be challenging out on the road, there are few legitimate excuses for failure to meet carbohydrate recommendations when the kitchen is never more than metres away from a stationary bike.

To maximise performance for endurance exercise, it is recommended athletes consume 1-4 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body mass between one and four hours before exercise.

The study found 73 per cent fell short of the pre-exercise guidelines and one-in-five riders consumed no carbohydrate at all.

During sessions, 54 per cent did not consume any food or drink with energy content, recording water, zero-calorie electrolyte drinks or coffee/caffeine supplements as fuel.

Post-ride, 13 per cent did not take in any food or drink.

“We know it works. If you fuel better, you’ll perform better,” Dr King said. “If it’s a race or a key session for top end adaptation then you’re going to have to fuel that, otherwise you’re losing out.

“It’s quite individual but if you’re going into those sessions you’ve got to eat.”

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