Performance-optimising nutrition in the world of professional cycling
Performance-optimising nutrition in the world of professional cycling – the right balance and perfect timing are key
Have you always wanted to know what kind of diets professional cyclists follow to get themselves in peak physical and mental condition before major races? Read on to discover the answer and enjoy tips and basic nutritional advice straight from the BORA – hansgrohe Kitchen Truck. Much of the information is easy to integrate into your everyday life, whether you’re an amateur athlete or just like to lead a healthy lifestyle.
Diet plays a key role in the life of a professional cyclist and is taking on increasing importance in the world of modern cycling. All aspects of the sport are being professionalised; nothing is left to chance. The stories about former cycling stars who gained so many kilos on their hips during the winter break that they were barely recognisable afterwards are a thing of the past. A good diet is an essential part of optimised performance, recovery and even well-being.
The power to weight ratio essentially plays a decisive role in cycling. This is usually expressed in watts per kilogramme and is particularly important for general classification riders. A high-quality diet and good weight control are decisive factors in success as you can cross Alpine passes more easily and quickly if you are lighter and have less muscle mass.
BORA – hansgrohe / Bettiniphoto
BORA – hansgrohe / veloimages.com
BORA – hansgrohe / Ralph Scherzer
BORA / StefanSchuetz.com
What makes cycling so thrilling is that it is extremely varied and places many different demands on riders. As a result, the pure watt to kilogramme ratio is not particularly important for certain races and rider types. This is the case, for example, with long, undulating one-day races or races that are decided in mass sprints. There, it is more about sheer power and endurance. As such, riders with a higher muscle mass can sometimes have an advantage in certain adverse weather conditions or in extremely tough races. The same applies when it comes to explosively jumping to the top speeds of up to 70 km/h needed to win mass sprints. As this demands huge amounts of power, it is only logical that different body types are required.
The right diet for cyclists: a few basic rules
As endurance sports burn a large number of calories, you should maintain an optimally balanced diet to prevent nutritional deficiencies. The carbohydrate, protein and fat intakes should be well balanced, whereby saturated fatty acids can most likely be reduced. However, sufficient amounts of unsaturated fatty acids like those found in fish, olive oil or rapeseed oil should still be consumed as these are essential for cell production and a good vitamin intake.
Carbohydrates are the most important nutrient for cyclists. They fuel the body and enable performance. You should generally opt for long-chain carbohydrates, which are mainly found in wholegrain products, oats, potatoes, legumes and various types of fruit and vegetables. They have a low glycaemic index and, in combination with proteins and a little fat, they ensure an even and more sustained release of energy without excessively affecting the blood sugar level. This prevents sudden hunger pangs and facilitates continuous weight control.
What to consider during rides
During rides, you should replace complex carbohydrates with simple ones so as not to expend too much energy on digestion. Energy bars, carbohydrate gels and carbohydrate-rich electrolyte drinks are all suitable choices. What matters is that the fuel can get to the muscles as quickly as possible and supplies the body with energy. It is with good reason that cyclists like to stop at cafés during training rides to quickly top up their energy reserves with a slice of cake. This is the perfect blend of pleasure and practicality.
The right diet can speed up recovery
People often forget that recovery plays a part in improving performance. And this is another reason why diet is so important. The quality of recovery is greatly dependant on a good nutrient balance. A carbohydrate-rich diet with a high protein content prevents the body from using reserves such as its own muscle cells and enables damaged protein structures in the muscles to be repaired. If, like professional cyclists, you already have a very low level of body fat and do not eat properly, the body will turn to the nearest energy source: the protein in your muscle cells. This, in turn, would lead to a cyclist losing muscle mass during a three-week tour. This situation and the resultant loss of performance has to be prevented through good nutrition.
Another decisive factor is the timing of when you replenish your energy reserves and how quickly the nutrients reach your muscles. As such, you should always make good use of the period straight after rides to top up your depleted glycogen stores as quickly as possible. More about how the professionals do this later.
BORA – hansgrohe is committed to a natural, performance-optimising diet and good health
One particular challenge for modern cyclists is to be both light and strong. What sounds like a contradiction in terms can be achieved through a long-term weight control strategy. As the main sponsor of our professional cycling team BORA – hansgrohe, we get the chance to look behind the scenes and receive first-hand information from team nutritionist Robert Gorgos. He explains that diet does not just become a key factor five or six weeks before an important race, but something you should focus on all year round. In other words, you should maintain a good diet and the right weight throughout the year. A performance-oriented diet is also achieved through the following two measures:
- Always eat food of extremely high (if possible, organic) quality.
- Avoid food with a high energy density.
This results in a slight calorie deficit and enables riders to gradually and sustainably achieve the ideal weight for the targeted races. In modern cycling, riders can no longer starve themselves in the last few weeks before a race to achieve the ideal weight as this period is packed with targeted and intensive training sessions. To complete these, riders must be perfectly recovered and able to perform. This is only possible with sufficient nutrition and a balanced diet.
You have to ‘train’ to eat right
Another aspect that our team focusses on is training the cyclists to eat consistently and properly during races. This means practising taking on food even during training sessions, long before the key races. This prepares the body to be able to process large amounts of carbohydrates. By eating properly during a race, cyclists don’t have to eat exorbitant amounts afterwards, which the body would then struggle to metabolise. This could potentially lead to stomach and bowel problems.
Dan Lorang, Head of Performance at BORA – hansgrohe, explains how important it is for the cyclists to maintain their weight throughout a three-week national tour. And that applies in both directions. After all, water retention and digestive problems can cause cyclists to gain weight. These issues can again be attributed to incorrect nutrition or a non-ideally balanced diet. To prevent such effects, the BORA Kitchen Truck accompanies the team. This is a mobile restaurant with its own team chefs who cater for the professional cyclists around the clock on race days and at training camps. The BORA kitchen not only provides the perfect equipment on site, but also a private dining area in which the riders can eat together in peace and recover. And that’s worth its weight in gold. The chefs know exactly what the cyclists need and like, and can cater to everyone individually. This is a great example of how BORA’s expertise and products help to create a feel-good environment and improve team performance.
The detailed plan by nutritionist Robert Gorgos acts as a basis for the chefs. These provide varied meals and implement the guidelines as creatively as possible. When doing so, clear differentiation is made between the cyclists as not all of them have the same basic physical requirements. The odd exception isn’t prohibited either. ‘Soul food’ can sometimes be needed after particularly difficult stages as the cyclists’ mental state and commitment to the nutritional guidelines are just as important as pure calorie counting.
Incidentally, speaking of soul food, meals are prepared in line with the team’s nutritional guidelines in the BORA salad bars too. Fresh, healthy and regional organic cuisine is particularly important to BORA founder and CEO Willi Bruckbauer. BORA employees therefore benefit from the team’s nutritional philosophy as well.