So you think it doesn't matter what you eat because cycling is a means of burning off whatever you put in your mouth, right? Wrong!
Fast foods meals such as burgers, pizzas and chicken nuggets may be convenient, but they're calorie dense. So are in-between snacks such as biscuits, crisps and chocolate bars. They are easy to eat, and easy to overeat. A Pizza Hut individual margherita pan pizza with garlic bread clocks up an average 1,300 calories - equivalent to roughly two and a half hours of fast cycling. A four finger KitKat bar is 250 Calories (30 minutes of cycling) and a Big Eat bag of crisps provides 350 Calories (40 minutes). These foods are loaded with damaging (saturated and trans) fats, salt and sugar, but are low in fibre. They clog your immune system and disrupt enzyme pathways associated with energy release.
Break the junk food habit
This can be a real challenge because the sugar/fat/salt combination in most fast foods is addictive. Your taste buds start to crave it. So aim to cut down slowly. Try dried apricots, mangoes or pineapple for a sugary fix. Enjoy a few salted almonds, pistachios or peanuts for a salt fix. Swop a KFC meal for a chicken tikka toasted deli sandwich. Add in plenty of fresh fruit, berries and fresh salads to boost your vitamin and mineral intake.
The fat phobic cyclist
So much is written about the bad fats that you avoid them as much as possible because you think eating fat will make you fat. It is true that all calories are not the same. Excess calories eaten as fatty foods are easily stored as fat in the body, which, especially for women, can be difficult to shift.
But a very low fat diet can decrease performance because you are missing out on the essential fats found in nuts, seeds, oily fish and vegetable oils. These are vital for health since they control blood pressure, help with vitamin absorption and regulate metabolism. The omega-3 fats are especially important for cyclists. They are used to manufacture red blood cells. With these fats, the membranes become soft and pliable and enhance the delivery of oxygen to working muscles.
Get the nutrients you need
Limit your intake of trans and saturated animal fats. Instead, focus on healthy mono-unsaturated and omega-3 fats. Use a mix of olive oil and flax oil for salad dressings. Try tahini (sesame seed spread) or peanut butter on toast. Add pumpkin and sunflower seeds to breakfast cereals and muesli. Enjoy mashed avocado and tomato drizzled with olive oil as a sandwich filling instead of butter.
Riding on an empty stomach may make you feel fast and lean, but you will soon be light-headed. Exercise in a fasted state does encourage fat to be burned as fuel but without much carbohydrate you will tire easily. You can keep going but at a slower speed, which means you will burn fewer calories overall.
Make a point of refuelling
Eat a carbohydrate snack before your ride. A slice of toast, natural yogurt with mashed banana and honey, a bowl of porridge, or a handful of dried fruit will help you go faster for longer. If you feel uncomfortable with solid food, try fruit juice (diluted half and half with water) or a fruit or yogurt smoothie.
© BikeRadar 2007