Nutrition: Cutting out bread won't slice your cycling times

Go with the grain

It’s a popular fad to cut out carbohydrates for weight loss. Even Bradley Wiggins attributes some of his 2009 Tour de France form to an incredibly low body fat percentage of four percent, helped by cutting bread and pasta out of his diet; avoiding beer probably helped too.

Elite cyclist and personal trainer Henry Furniss of www.thefirmpt.com concedes that it's a great way to shed body fat quickly, but is far from suggesting cutting out carbs for good: “I get my clients to do it for no more than a month in the off season.”

“For most people, it’s better to turn normal eating behaviour on its head,” says Furniss, “which means eating a bigger, carbohydrate-rich breakfast, and then a protein and nutrient-rich dinner with a low carb content.

“But for cyclists trying to lose weight, the most important thing is cutting down on the pasta, simple sugars and potatoes after the last training session in the day, rather than cutting them out altogether.”

The trouble with cutting out bread is that you could be missing out on all the goodness to be found in whole grains such as wheat, oats and barley. All three contain vitamin E, selenium and other phytochemicals which, despite limited supporting scientific evidence to date, are strongly believed to help prevent diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

According to Monique Ryan, author of Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes (VeloPress), whole grains are not only great sources of carbohydrate for replenishing muscle and liver glycogen stores depleted during intense training, but also great sources of fibre and the growth B vitamins that the body cannot store.

Wholegrain harvest

The difficulty seems to be making sure that the bread you’re buying is in fact ‘whole grain’. “Whole grains literally come from the entire grain, which includes the endosperm, germ and bran,” explains Ryan.

To get the maximum nutritional benefit you need the B vitamins, trace minerals and dietary fibre from the bran outer layers and the sprouting germ, as well as the carbohydrates, protein and other goodness from the inner endosperm. Normally the starchy endosperm is all that is left of the grain when wheat is refined to produce white flour.

Food packaging is deceiving, so ignore what it says on the front and read the ingredients. The first item on the list, and therefore largest ingredient by weight, should be whole wheat flour. No other flour should be listed: wheat flour, stone-ground wheat flour and multigrain flour are all terms disguising refined white flour that’s almost devoid of nutritional benefit.

According to US dietician Becky Hand, shorter ingredient lists on packaged food are always preferable. “All you really need to make bread is flour, water, yeast, salt and a little sugar to activate the yeast. Anything extra is likely to have been added to improve the taste, texture, shelf life or nutritional profile of the bread so consumers find it more appealing.”

Nutritionally speaking, you should look for a loaf that has no more than 100 calories per slice, roughly 2g of fibre per slice and no more than 225mg of sodium per slice.

Bread winners

1 Wholemeal: The nutritionally leading loaf is made from flour that is ground from the entire wheat grain, including the bran, germ and endosperm, and provides almost four times the fibre of white bread. 35g slice: 75 calories, 1g fat, 3.3g protein, 2g fibre and 0.4g salt.

2 Granary: With the most wholesome look and feel, you might think a crusty, seedy loaf is best. But made from brown flour mixed with malted wheat grains for the nutty flavour, it’s good but not top dog. 35g slice: 84 calories, 1g fat, 3.3g protein, 1.5g fibre, 0.5g salt.

3 Pitta: Despite the potentially gut-wrenching contents of your kebab and the beer that made you buy it, a wholemeal pitta is actually nutritionally okay. 55g serving: 122 calories, 1g fat, 5g protein, 3g fibre, 0.6g salt.

4 White: Found in over two-thirds of all UK larders, the white stuff has to have B vitamins, niacin, thiamin, iron and calcium added. So it can’t be much good to start with. 25g slice: 80 calories, 0.8g fat, 3g protein, 0.5 fibre, 0.5g salt

5 Naan: Curry lovers beware: not only is the delicious korma full of fat, but the tasty flat bread you’re dipping in it is bottom of our loaves list. 150g serving: 445 calories, 13g fat, 12g protein, 4g fibre, 2g salt.

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