All about carbohydrates & sugar for cyclists

Marine LENEHAN, Sports Nutritionist, Massage Therapist & Yoga Teacher

It is an important goal for athletes of any level to provide their bodies with enough energy to fuel the body to maintain and enhance performance. The body gets energy from carbohydrates, protein and fats. The body’s main source of energy is carbohydrates.

Timing and quantities can have a great impact on performance. Here are a few facts on carbohydrate consumption before, during and after training.

Also, the quality and type of carbohydrates should be considered.

Why eat Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are the body’s rocket fuel. Through metabolism, the sugar found in carbohydrates is broken down into ATP, the body’s energy source. Eating carbohydrates before exercise can help restore and maintain glycogen stores, which may be called upon during prolonged training and during competition.

Carbohydrate intake before exercise

A pre-exercise meal has 2 goals, it prevents you from feeling hungry before and during training while optimizing blood glucose levels for the exercising muscles.

3-4 hours before the Competition

700 kcal = 175g carbohydrates

2-3 hours before the Competition

300-400 kcal = 75-100g carbohydrates

1 hour -30 min before Competition

30g carbohydrates

1 hour- 30mn before Training

30g carbohydrates

Carbohydrate intake during exercise

Carbohydrates intake during exercise only increases performance on efforts that are more than 1 hour long. Carbohydrates intake should be prolonged during the whole effort. If the carbohydrates intake is discontinued you become at risk of fatigue and decreased performance. Keeping in mind that carbohydrate fuelling does not prevent fatigue it simply delays it. Your hourly carbohydrates intake is based on your power output.

Carbohydrate intake after exercise

Unless you’re in a stage race or a training camp, you don’t need to take in sugar after your ride. You can wait for a regular meal. If you need to speed up your recovery to be fully ready to ride hard the next day, then a small portion of sugar right after training can help.

10 healthy sources of Carbohydrates

Quinoa

Buckwheat

Sweet Potatoes

Oats

Brown Rice

Blueberries

Apples

Oranges

Bananas

Beetroot

1

5 Carbohydrates before training

2

Rice cakes

Bananas                            

Berries

Apples

Dattes

5 Carbohydrate snacks after training

Greek yoghurt with berries & granola

Chia seed pudding

Smoothie Bowl

Fruit salad

Vegetables & hummus

3

5 Carbohydrates to avoid

1

White bread

Milk chocolate

Store-bought cereal

Sweetened yogurt

Store-bought fruit juices

The Bottomline

When being mindful of your carbohydrate intake, it’s important to choose highly nutritious foods. Balancing between slow-release and fast-release carbohydrates based on your training load. Consuming a proper amount of carbohydrates and protein after exercise is essential. It stimulates muscle protein synthesis, improves recovery, and enhances performance during your next workout. It is important not to go much longer than a few hours before refuelling with a meal or snack. Finally, replenishing lost water and electrolytes can be the cherry on the cake and help you maximize the benefits of your workout.

Water vs Sports Drinks: what is the best choice?

Marine LENEHAN, Sports Nutritionist, Massage Therapist & Yoga Teacher

The goal of drinking during exercise is to prevent excessive dehydration and changes in electrolyte balance. Hydration is a vital process to athletic performance. After an intense training session, you lose water through sweat, but in fact you lose a lot more than just water. You also deplete the body of carbohydrates and electrolytes such as sodium and potassium. Plain water isn’t enough to replace these nutrients. This is why as athletes we rely on sports drinks instead.

Products such as Powerade, Lucozade & Nuun are designed to replace the electrolytes that are lost during exercise. While
some brands such as MAURTEEN, ENERVIT, BORN, SIS are formulated to replace carbohydrates. This list of brands is of course non exhaustive.

But how to know if you need plain water ? Here is a quick guide on the best hydration solution for you.

What is dehydration?

Water is the most vital element for human health. We can survive a few months without food but only 3 days without water. Getting enough water every day is one of the keys to a healthy performing body. Water helps regulate body temperature, flush body waste,  deliver oxygen, minerals, vitamins & electrolytes  all over the body.

Each day, through our diet, through foods and drinks, we take in water and we lose water through urine, feces, sweat, and breath. Finding balance between the water coming in and going out is key.

General hydration recommendations are 3.5 liters of fluids a day for men and 2.5 liters for women. This includes all liquids even from the food you eat,not just water.

Not getting enough liquids, especially water, can lead to dehydration, which will happen if you have lost too much fluid. Your body won’t be able to perform at its best compromising your training adaptations or your performance. Dehydration can manifest itself through fatigue, dizziness, excessive thirst, dry mouth, a reduced sweat rate, not urinating, dark urine, dry skin, confusion…

Hydration levels can be affected by your training load, environment conditions and altitude. Not having enough water can have negative impacts on both physical and mental performance leading to reduced endurance, increased fatigue, reduced motivation, and increased perceived effort.

Tools to Prevent Dehydration

Water is an optimal choice as it is essential for life. It is no secret that after 3 days without water, the chances of survival are very slim. Water is also the purest source of hydration, present in all our cells with no calories and added sugars. Water is essential to many functions inside our bodies.

  • Helps build and repair every body cell (essential for training adaptations & recovery)
  • Regulates body temperature
  • Helps deliver oxygen throughout the body
  • Lubricates joints
  • Helps with digestion and gastric emptying
  • Helps flush waste through urination and feces
  • Acts as a shock absorber for the brain and spinal cord
  • Helps to absorb sports foods by saliva, to help with chewing and swallowing

 

When to Choose a Sports Drink

The main purposes of sports drinks are to replenish lost electrolytes and carbohydrates during endurance events. The replacement of carbohydrates is essential to bring energy to the body, being the main fuel source during exercise .They are also the main tool to delay the onset of fatigue & the use of muscle glycogen. When talking about replacing electrolytes : Sodium is the electrolyte superstar when added to drinks during exercise. It can stimulate the delivery of water to the small intestine and help maintain the volume of extracellular fluid. Potassium is added because it helps with muscle contraction during exercise. Drinking fluid during exercise to replace the fluids you lose when you sweat is essential. That way, you’ll reduce the risk of heat stress, maintain normal body function, and maintain performance levels.

CHO’s

An isotonic sports drink is a ‘typical’ sports drink that contains 40-80g of carbohydrate per liter (4-8% carbohydrate solution).

Sodium (NA+)

The body loses an average of 805mg of sodium per liter of sweat loss.

There are only four situations where sports drinks are required.

  1. Sustained exercise lasting longer than 60 minutes

Sports drinks are key for athletes competing or training for more than 1 hour.

  1. Excessive sweat loss

Sports drinks for athletes with high sweat rates are essential as a lot of sodium is lost during exercise.

  1. Exercise in extreme environments, such as high heat and humidity

Sports drinks are key for athletes competing or training in long endurance events in hot conditions.

  1. Excessive clothing is required so more sweat is produced

The Bottom Line

For your easy training days or rest days, hydrating with water is the best option. But if you exercise for 1 hour or more, sweat excessively, or training in hot conditions, a sports drink with carbohydrates, sodium, and potassium is the optimal choice for you.

Working with a sports nutritionist to determine your hydration plan is key to a healthy performing body.

A Nutritionist’s Dos and Don’ts

Marine LENEHAN, Sports Nutritionist, Massage Therapist & Yoga Teacher

When it comes to nutrition, it is hard to know which road to follow. There is so much information available that it is very easy to get lost. And the truth is, there is no real magical formula. We are all unique, we all function differently by having different needs based on our metabolism, gender, age and training load. But there are some general recommendations that are good for everyone. Here are my top 10 do’s and don’ts.

DOs

1. Eat Wholefoods

There is no better source of energy than whole foods. Of course if you pop a sports gel, you will get an instant energy burst but it’s a quick fix. As an athlete you also need to look at your overall health. Not transformed, wholefoods offer a great range of nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Sports foods are essential to fuel the body and necessary to perform but in the long run they cannot be classified in the healthy foods category. The key as an athlete is finding the balance between sports foods and wholefoods. 

2. Have a breakfast rich in protein

The way you start the day can have a huge impact on your general energy levels for the day. Starting the day with protein will not only keep you fuelled for longer but will optimize your recovery and your training adaptations. 

3. Diversify your protein intake

If I ask you what is a protein source, 90% of you are going to answer “meat” which is a good answer but not the only answer. Protein can be found in fish, eggs, dairy and plants. Plant based protein can be found in tofu, nuts, seeds, beans, pulses and some grains.

4. Eat more carbohydrates

When exercising, especially as a cyclist, you have a strong awareness of your weight. And a lot of us want to drop a few kilos and for that we often cut the carbs to lose weight which is not a healthy strategy in the long run. You are not going to get anywhere with no fuel.

5. Eat at regular hours

The body is a machine that likes eating at regular intervals. Especially recommended if you are trying to manage weight. Eating at regular hours will make you eat less, and less prone to snacking. Meals are designed to fuel your body. By skipping meals, you are not giving your body all the energy it needs to function all day long. This can cause a drop in blood sugar levels, making you more tired and sleepy. By skipping meals consistently, your metabolism slows, making you feel tired and slowing down your training adaptations.

6. Eat slowly and in conscience

Have you ever heard of leptin or ghrelin?

Leptin is the hunger hormone. Ghrelin is the satiety hormone. If you eat too fast, ghrelin won’t have the time to send the signal to the brain to say that you are not hungry any more, causing you to eat more than you should.

7. Optimise your recovery with a whey protein shake

Whey protein is a highly absorbable source of protein rich in essential amino acid’s, branched amino acids optimizing your recovery, muscle and bone health. 

8. Limit your saturated, transformed fat intake

Instead go for healthy fats such as avocados, dark chocolate, whole eggs, fatty fish, nuts (almonds, walnuts), seeds ( chia, flax, hemp), olive oil, full fat yogurt (Greek yogurt), nut butters (peanut, almond, tahini) …

9. Drink at least 2 litres of water a day

Water is very important : 60% of our body is made of water. It helps your body and skin in many ways, including keeping our body hydrated and a healthy digestion. It helps break down the food we eat, which allows the nutrients to be absorbed by the body.

10. Get creative in the kitchen

Don’t just eat rice and eggs, diversify your diet.

DSC_2814

DON'Ts

1. Obsess on calories

Although counting calories can be beneficial towards weight loss and weight management, obsessing over calories can contribute to stress and guilt. Controlling every calorie can cause stress which is counter to a healthy lifestyle. Counting calories can also stop you from eating balanced meals and overlooking the nutritional values of certain high-calorie foods. You should take into account the quality of the calories over the quantity.

2. Consume foods high in added sugars

Bad sugars are hidden everywhere. Many foods we consume have sugar. It is important to be aware of the added sugars in your diet. High consumption of added sugars can contribute to rapid swings in your blood sugar. Stable blood glucose levels are key to a healthy performing body.

3. Eat store bought bread

Bread should be 4 ingredients not 20. Bread is made with flour, water, yeast and sugar or olive oil.

Usually high in added sugars in the form of processed fructose, corn syrup or dextrose, which are just empty calories. Store-bought bread is also often higher in sodium and contains more transformed fats due to margarine and vegetable shortening.

4. Deprive yourself of certain food groups

While it is important to eat balanced meals containing carbohydrates, protein, fats and fiber. It is not necessary to eat all of these in every meal. By making sure that you are eating a balanced daily diet, you will get all the nutrients your body needs throughout the day promoting performance and recovery.  This way of eating can prevent cravings, binge eating, and overeating.

5. Drink store bought juices

They are filled with added sugars and have no vitamins or minerals left in them.

6. Eat meat at every meal

Like I said, meat is a great source of protein but also very high in fat. If you do eat meat, make sure it is lean meat from your local butchers. Avoid store bought meat which is full of additives.

7. Overeat before a workout

You don’t want to slow down your gastric emptying or cause nausea.

8. Forget to eat on the bike

You don’t want to deplete your glycogen stores after every training session. And getting tired out on the bike is not a nice feeling. Carbohydrates are your best friends when it comes to fuelling on the bike. 

9. Eat too much before going to bed

The reason for this is much simpler than you might expect. Eating before bed makes you more likely to gain weight simply because a bedtime snack is an extra meal and, therefore, extra calories.

10. Give up

Healthy eating is a learning process for everyone. If you happen to make a mistake, don’t feel disappointed and continue with choosing junk food over healthy ones. Remember that it’s about small steps that will accumulate into what truly matters, your health.

Cycling Nutrition: What to Eat and Drink During Bike Rides of Any Length

Marine Lenehan, Sports Nutritionist, Massage Therapist & Yoga Teacher

When you ask your group of friends on social rides what they eat and drink on their ride, you’ll get almost as many answers as there are riders in the group. Everyone fuels rides a little differently, which is perfectly normal. We are all unique. However there are some key principles cyclists should use as starting points.

Once we discuss the main concepts, I’ll give you recommendations for short, medium, long, and extra-long rides.

General Cycling Nutrition Concepts

HYDRATION

If your hydration strategy is not on point, it doesn’t matter what you eat or how much. Dehydration slows down gastric emptying and slows gut flexibility meaning that energy will either make it to working muscles more slowly or even worse stay in your gut. At first, you won’t notice much but it gets worse the more dehydrated you become. Hydration Is proportional to temperature, intensity and sweet rate, so it is very difficult to give an exact number of how much you should drink per hour on the bike.

CARBOHYDRATES : THE BODY’S ROCKET FUEL

It is hard to stress the importance of carbs for cycling performance. Mitochondria use this simple sugar in our cells to produce ATP (the energy source for all activity). All forms of carbohydrates we eat are converted to glucose. When the body has more glucose than it needs, it is converted to glycogen and stored in the muscles and liver.

When glycogen stores are full, the liver converts the glucose to triglycerides, which are stored as fat.

Endurance performance is about managing these energy stores, highlighting the importance of the amount and timing of your cycling nutrition.

If you don’t have carbohydrates available, your power output will be low. Cycling is an intermittent-intensity sport, meaning there are periods of low intensity that are primarily fueled by fat, but all  higher intensity efforts require carbohydrates. Cycling nutrition during rides is affected by not only the length of the ride, but by the intensity of the ride also.

CARBOHYDRATES : HOW MUCH DO I ACTUALLY NEED

If we take the general rule that most of us can only absorb 1 gram of carbohydrates per hour of aerobic exercise, 30–60 grams of carbohydrates per hour is the general recommendation. Some of us can train the gut to absorb up to 120 grams per hour when the body glycogen stores are depleted. This is just a general rule and not very precise or personalised.

For a more precise rule, the focus should be on the rider’s hourly kilojoule output.

Let me explain myself. If you are using a power meter, you will be able to know the kilojoules of work you are doing per hour. Based on that, the goal is to replenish 20-30% the kilojoules of work per hour by carbohydrate intake. 

For example, if you burn 400 kilojoules per hour, you should aim for 80-120 calories of carbohydrate (20-30 grams) per hour.

FUELLING ON BIKE RIDES OF ANY LENGTH

Let’s get practical.

The key to a performing body is a balanced food intake. You don’t want to eat too little, otherwise you will bonk out or too much giving you nausea.

Top 5 Foods for Cyclists

Marine Lenehan, Sports Nutritionist, Massage Therapist & Yoga Teacher

As any cyclist knows, good nutrition plays a crucial role in optimizing performance and endurance on the road. Here is a non-exhaustive list of 5 superfoods for cyclists.

1. Oats/Oatmeal : sustained energy 

As cyclists, we require sustained energy to power through long rides, climbs and sprints. Oats provide a slow and steady release of glucose into the bloodstream. This means keeping fuelled for longer, avoiding energy crashes during long rides and maintaining consistent performance levels.

Oats are also nutrient dense, such as vitamins (B vitamins), minerals (magnesium, iron, zinc), and antioxidants. These nutrients play a crucial role in muscle function, oxygen transport, and overall endurance, all of which are essential to help cyclists perform at their best.

2. Leafy Greens : a stronger immune system

Leafy greens including kale, spinach, roquet, and chard are undeniable superstars in the world of nutrition. Low in calories, yet high in fiber, vitamins, and phytonutrients, the benefits of leafy greens are incredible for your health in more ways than you would even suspect. They help regulate your blood glucose levels, helping your carbohydrates metabolism. They also play an undeniable part in making the immune system stronger which can be weakened by regular hard training.

3. Bananas : Nature’s equivalent of a carb bar

High in carbohydrate, easy to eat and digest, bananas are a cyclist’s best friend. They not only provide 25-30g of carbohydrates to supply energy to our muscles, they also help replace the electrolytes lost through sweat, especially potassium.

Don’t just eat bananas on your bike, the fiber in bananas called pectin helps to moderate your blood sugar levels and can reduce your appetite, making them a good snack between meals. They also make a great recovery food for after a ride, add them to a smoothie or eat one on a slice of sourdough bread with some peanut butter.

4. Dates: Nature's equivalent of a sports gel

A much healthier choice when it comes to fueling the body as they are packed with a number of nutrients such as potassium, magnesium and copper which helps to maintain a healthy nervous system and blood pressure.

1 deglet Nour dates = 6g carbs
1 medjool date = 18g carbs

The sugar in dates is usually glucose, fructose and traces of sucrose and maltose providing you a quick burst of energy accompanied by a slow release over an extended period of time. They are great for satisfying a sweet tooth when not cycling as the fiber in Medjool dates slows the rate at which the carbs can be digested, so you avoid spikes in blood sugar levels and energy remains more constant. You only need one or two dates at a time as they are so intensely sweet and energy dense.

5. Beetroot: the performance enhancer

Regular beetroot juice intake has been shown to enhance performance. It improves oxygen capacity. Beetroot is high in nitric oxide. When nitric oxide levels increase in the body, blood vessels are opened (vasodilation), which increases the blood flow bringing more oxygen to the muscles. In the long run, this reduces resting blood pressure, reduces oxygen cost of submaximal exercise & increases mitochondrial biogenesis. Drinking beetroot juice can make you faster in a 20 km time trial, it may only be by 10 seconds but that is enough to win a medal instead of being a runner-up.

To get the effect you need 500ml of beetroot juice a day, more than most of us would normally choose to consume.

2024 Registration Open!

Registration for the Wicklow 200 2024 on Sunday 9th June is now open! Your chance to take part in Ireland’s longest running annual challenge ride.

The Wicklow 200km route and its partner event the Wicklow 100km route, take in many of the most iconic climbs in Ireland’s ‘Garden County’ in an event that is among the most arduous and most revered annual cycling events on the world calendar.

This 42nd edition of the event has become a ‘must-do’ for bike riders all over the world thanks to the challenging nature of the course and the epic scenery encountered along the way.

Event Day Checklist!

In association with Cycle Superstore

You’ve clocked up the training miles and your bike is ready to go. Is there anything that needs to be done at the last minute? The friendly team in Cycle Superstore give some last-minute advice.

Night Before 

To help eliminate or reduce any pre-event nerves or stress, we suggest you complete the following checklist:

For more information on what you should pack in your saddle bag, please see CSS blog post here

The Day Itself

Don’t try anything new on the day of the event, be it clothing, energy food or even breakfast cereal. A minor change or trying something new on the day can ruin the event for you. Arrive to the start line with a clean bike and clean drive train. As they say, a clean bike is a fast bike, and a clean drive train will ensure your bike performs to its best.

Remember to pace yourself on the day and most importantly remember it’s not a race. The second half of the course is traditionally harder then the first half, so keep that in mind when you start. When it comes to the hills, pace yourself going up and take your time descending. The event is taking place on open roads so there will be other road users on the day. There is no shame in taking your time descending.

Make sure you take enough fuel onboard. During your training you would have established what works best for you. Even if you don’t want to stop at a food stop, our advice would be stop and at least put something in the back pocket of your jersey. 

Wishing you the best of luck at this year’s event – we are looking forward to seeing you at the start line on 11th June!

Route Update 2023

We have made some slight changes to the 100km and 200km routes. The links below will take you to the updated 100km and 200km routes, plus the ability to download a GPX file.

To download the GPX file (or an alternative file type):

  1. Click the Plotaroute link below.
  2. The map of the route will be displayed.
  3. Underneath the map, click on the button saying ‘Download’.
  4. Then select the ‘GPX’ option to download to your device.
It may work better for you if you don’t download the GPX file using your mobile phone.
 

W100km: https://www.plotaroute.com/route/2098633

W200km: https://www.plotaroute.com/route/2098624

 

Route Changes Explained

A road closure for critical road works has been extended, and we have had to change the start of both the W200 and the W100 routes.

The original route:

Went from Bray Emmetts along the Ballyman road to Enniskerry and onto Glencullen via the Devils Elbow.

The changed route:

Now goes from Bray Emmetts to Rathichael, into Kilternan and onto Glencullen.

This adds an additional 7km to the both routes.

 

We look forward to seeing you in Wicklow for a great weekend of Cycling!

Important Safety Message: Respect

In order for the Wicklow 200 to be held every year, we need the cooperation of everyone involved – the cyclists, the local communities, the emergency services, Gardai and the 400 volunteers.

As we are all in this together, we have to respect everyone on the day of the cycle.

We are asking you – the cyclists – to make the day enjoyable for everyone by thinking about the following:

1. Respect other road users

2. Respect Marshals

3. Respect Fellow Cyclists

If we all follow these three simple rules we will have an enjoyable and safe day for the Wicklow 200!

Thank you for your co-operation.

Registration Times 2023

Before you start Wicklow 200, you will need to pick up your pack at registration. Registration is available at these times and locations:

Cycle Superstore (D24 AW96)

Friday 9th June: 4pm to 7.30pm

Saturday 10th June: 10am to 3pm

Bray Emmets GAA Club (A98 NP03)

Sunday 12th June: 5:30am to 6:30am sharp

You will not receive a text with your race number this year, but will need to bring the email you received (sent from Eventmaster) confirming your entry and that contains a unique QR code. If you cannot find this email, our team can help you when you arrive at registration.

Please note, that due to the event start time of 7am, the pack pick-up at Bray Emmets on Sunday (event day morning) will close at 6.30am on the dot!

It is essential that you collect your Wicklow 200 pack from one of the registration locations as it contains some important information for you:

You will need to display the bike plate, sticker and wristband to gain access to the event and the food stations.

Don’t forget your Goodie Bag!

Wicklow 200 Ireland's Premier Cycling Challenge