Nutrition by Discipline

Carb cycling diet

Par Nicolas Aubineau - 7 minutes de lecture

Carb cycling dietCycling, subject to natural evolutions in terms of technique, tactics, ergonomics, physical preparation, material … of the athlete in his intrinsic and extrinsic compositions. Another parameter is non-static, it is that of food, dietetics. As research progresses, key points are emerging over time concerning the pre-competition, during competition and after.


If we now know that the daily diet remains the basic base for accessing one step at a time:

  • Performing => on the results during competition, training, recovery …
  • Preventive => on the health, family life, sleep …

It is essential to maximize ones efforts in the final stretch before a race (whether it is a stage one or not) so as not to de-structure the daily efforts over the year.


Cyclist food : before a race

cyclist foodIn general, there are common principles, that are the introduction of a slightly hyperglucidal diet a few days before the race compared to normal with the integration of a Modified Dissociated Diet (more complete than the Scandinavian one). Usually 3-4 days, to be individualized according to each rider digestively well tolerated, so as not to disrupt the internal physiology in a brutal way and to maximize the glycogen reserves ( muscular and hepatic), essential to the energy supply you will need when driving « intensely  » associated with dietetic products for the effort (sports drink, bars, gels …). To be more specific about this step, I invite you to have a look at the dinner the day before and breakfast. A solution to improve the nutritional profile of your breakfasts or snacks is the sweet or salty version of the sports cake, which meets the qualities of the rider before the race but not only …


Note: for the regulars of the « Malto«  (term usually used in the peloton ) for maltodextrins, my point of view remains mixed, in combination with a directed diet, yes, taken in alone without food modification type RDM, I am not favorable . That remains my point of view. (Further information on the article Maltodextrin).


Then, I always privilege the consumption of an adapted warm up drink, between the last intake and the start of the race, especially on the carbohydrate (glucose, fructose, maltodextrin) and where the glycemic index will be optimal (lower than high) to avoid any reaction hypoglycemia.


During the race

During the race, the cyclist must provide an exogenous energy supply of quality and quantity in order to:

  • minimize the depletion (degradation) of muscle and liver glycogen reserves,
  • maintain the most correct hydration possible and avoid a surplus of mineral losses (sodium, potassium, magnesium …), keystone of the performance,
  • repel the appearance of fatigue at the muscular level, but also concerning the cerebral sphere,
  • try to counterbalance as much as possible the destructive effects of sports activity on muscle fibers.

Thus, I recommend the regular use of an sports drink (cf. this homemade sport drink) adapted for the cyclist which main purpose is both to favor the supply of water (for the hydration of cells and the proper functioning of the metabolism) and energy nutrients (especially carbohydrates in the form of glucose, fructose, maltodextrin) in order to limit the drop in carbohydrate (glycogen) reserves!


Concerning the quantities, the cyclist must drink at least 0.5L (16.9 fl oz) per hour, which is a minimum, to maximize ++ (0.8 to 1L / h or more) if the environmental conditions of the race are hot, dry and +/- « windy « ! Thus, I prefer to recommend an isotonic drink (neutral to cold atmosphere) or hypotonic (neutral to hot atmosphere), the objective of which is to make the assimilation (optimal hydration) optimal. Note: following feedbacks, digestive disorders are often minimized with a hypotonic versus isotonic solution, especially when a solid energy intake is done in parallel.


In a second time, it is interesting to eat during the race given the non-traumatic (or « less ») side of the sport, particularly with regard to running. To do so, I recommend the energy bar carbohydrates +/- hyperprotid. Note: In between, as an intermediate, the energy gel remains a supplemental solution to the beverage of effort. For information, I advise you to facilitate your choices in the matter (price, quality, value for money) my different comparatives on the bars and gels of the French market: comparative bars and comparative gels.


On long stages, the consumption of branched amino acids (or BCAA) may be interesting for its preventive aspects on a muscular (muscular trauma) and cerebral (nervous fatigue) levels .


After the race

cyclist food after raceAfter the race, comes the time to take care of recovery which is a key moment allowing to to get back in a good condition on the next training or the next stage (if race in stages like the Tour de France or a simple Tour of the Poitou-Charentes). All extra- and intra-stress phases are interconnected and have direct repercussions on one another. Thus, the first aim for the cyclist is to « recharge » in a quantitative and qualitative manner, these two points having a major and similar importance:

  • promote cellular hydration and leveling of the organism at the mineral level,
  • reforming the correct energy reserves of muscular and hepatic glycogen by favoring the phenomena of overcompensation,
  • create a « positive balance » on the protein level in order to promote the processes of tissue reconstruction (muscular …),
  • decrease the concentration of wastes produced during exercise and present in the body in high concentration at the time of cessation,
  • promote a good acid-base balance.

The cyclist racer should have a complete diet by favoring carbohydrates (maltodextrin, glucose, fructose) to optimize glycogen reserves of the muscles (more glucose-dependent) and hepatic (more fructose-dependent) levels, … but also proteins to limit catabolism (« destruction ») and stimulate anabolism (« construction or reconstruction ») of « traumatized » cells (muscles, tendons notably but not only …).


Note on intake timing: it must be done immediately at the end of the race. The fastest the intake, the best the phenomenon of overcompensation. Read the article on diet after exercise which explicitly explains the notion of « metabolic window ». I advise a good ally to integrate positively this phase, the recovery drink, ideal in the absolute, easily assimilated after an intense effort +/- long. Complete it with an alkalizing drink (rich in bicarbonates and / or citrates better tolerated on the digestive level than the first).


Finally, I recommend taking probiotic during staged races, but also prior and after the race, for their positive effects on the intestinal sphere and, among other things, the reduction of digestive disorders, correlated directly with the performance


As a conclusion

Preparing a cycling race, a stage race or a training session requires cyclists to take a prophylactic hygiene-dietetic approach, allowing them to combine performance and pleasure in their chosen discipline.


I will always be 100% convinced that a good diet and optimal hydration remain the two key stones, both complementary and synergistic to a good preparation.


A single deficiency in an energy level (Protein, branched amino acids, essential fatty acids), psychic (branched amino acids, essential fatty acids), and physiological ((carbohydrate and lipid aspects) essential fatty acids, minerals, trace elements, vitamins, probiotics, spices, plants) contribute to a decreased exercise achievement, recovery capacity and performance.


Always keep in mind that each athlete is unique and that the individual characteristics of each make the environment (dietetic, psychological, technical, tactical, …) never identical and therefore « what applies for a person does not necessarily apply to the training partner « . There is no standard model for every one !


Sports Dietitian Nutritionist


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