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CYCliNG pERFORMANCE TIpS Vitamins/Minerals Although athletes commonly take vitamin and nutritional supplements, there is considerable controversy as to whether they actually enhance athletic performance. Many trainers and athletes approach this quandary with the anecdotal "Ive used them and I know they work for me". But there is a monetary cost to be considered, possible side effects or toxicity, as well as decisions as to optimum dosages. A more rational alternative is to review the available medical research on vitamins, minerals, and exercise performance before embarking on a supplement program.

Vitamins are organic compounds that help the body perform highly specific metabolic functions, but do not directly supply energy or serve as structural components of body cells. As such, they are catalysts in the metabolic pathways that convert fats, carbohydrates, and proteins into Calories or energy - facilitating the reactions, but not being "used up" or consumed by them. This explains why recommended daily requirements are independent of body size or daily energy expenditures.
Does a physical training program result in vitamin or mineral deficiencies It is generally agreed that the vitamin needs of physically active people are no greater than those of sedentary individuals. However occasional papers have suggested that an imbalance might occur among athletes, and trainers and athletes, hoping to avoid any possible deficiency that would impair performance, have leapt onto the vitamin and mineral supplement bandwagon. And the placebo effect is so strong that some athletes have actually been reported to become psychologically dependent on high dose supplements.
Vitamins are classified as water soluble or fat soluble. The fat soluble vitamins (A,D,E, and K) are primarily stored in the liver and fatty tissues, and can be accumulated to levels that may be toxic. Water soluble vitamins (B and C) are not stored in the body to any appreciable extent, are eliminated in the urine, and must be resupplied on a regular basis by the diet. There is evidence that mega-vitamin programs can be harmful, particularly with the fat soluble vitamins which are not eliminated in the urine. And there have been occasional reports that even the water soluble vitamins (B complex, and C which are excreted in the urine if excess amounts are taken) can be harmful at doses of 10 to 100 times the recommended daily requirements (RDA).

RDAs have been determined by numerous governmental and professional organizations, and as a result may not be identical. They are usually expressed as ranges, and generally speaking supplementation is recommended only when dietary intake drops below 2/3 of the RDA for that specific nutrient. Most dietary surveys of athletic populations have indicated that these groups easily exceed the RDA when a well balanced, isocaloric diet replacing daily expenditures is consumed. The exceptions are athletes on weight loss diets or who participate in sports that glorify unrealistically low body fat levels. In other words, a low Caloric intake increases the chance that vitamin intake will be below the RDA.

There is little question that vitamins will improve performance in athletes with preexisting vitamin deficiencies. And it has been speculated that the improvement of performance noted in several papers was the result of treating unidentified, preexisting vitamin deficiencies. Several recent studies have been structured to avoid the weaknesses of these past papers, looking at the effect of vitamin supplementation of male and female athletes who were already consuming their RDA of vitamins through diet alone. One study covered a 6 to 7 month training period. While an increase in blood and tissue levels of multiple vitamins was demonstrated, there was no evidence of an effect on athletic performance . A second studied 22 men over a 90 day period, measuring maximal oxygen uptake, endurance capacity, and isokinetic strength. This double blinded, placebo controlled study failed to demonstrate any performance advantage of vitamin supplements. Thus the perceived need for vitamin supplements is based on anecdotal reports not on firm scientific evidence. And the use of high potency multivitamin formulations are potentially toxic as well as supporting poor nutrition as athletes feel the supplement eliminates the need to eat a balanced diet.
As opposed to their effect on performance, there is some intriguing data on the positive health effects of antioxidant vitamins to minimize free radical damage to the cells. Exercising muscles generate oxygen centered free radicals which can harm cell organelles such as the mitochondria. Vitamin E, beta Carotene, and vitamin C are all nutritional antioxidants with Vitamin E appearing to be the most effective against these exercise induced free radicals. Two studies, one using 330 mg of Vit E for 5 months during extreme endurance training in cyclists, and another using 800 IU daily for 48 days demonstrated a significant reduction in serum creatine kinase (a muscle enzyme) and microscopic cellular injury (but no change in physical performance).
MINERAL SUppLEMENTS AND EXERCISE pERFORMANCE Minerals are chemical elements essential for normal cell functioning Calcium and phosphorus are major components of the bodys bony structures while sodium and potassium are found in all tissue fluids both within and around cells. The trace elements magnesium, chloride, sulfur, and zinc play a key role in cell function while iron, manganese, cobalt, selenium copper, and iodine are found in much smaller quantities and play essential roles as catalysts in cellular chemical processes.
These minerals, found in all foods, are kept in balance through internal regulation of absorption and excretion. As a result, adequate tissue levels are easily provided by a balanced diet. As with vitamins, multiple studies of body tissue mineral status in athletes failed to identify any deficiencies in those ON A BALANCED DIET compared to people engaged in normal daily activities. Athletes who are restricting energy intake to achieve a lower body weight (endurance runners for example) are the exception, and may need supplements.
Sodium is the only mineral that, as a supplement, may improve endurance performance by preventing hyponatremia (a low blood sodium concentration), although recent evidence suggests that it is the excess consumption of pure water that is the culprit, not the lack of sodium. Aside from sodium, there is no evidence that the use of any single or combination of electrolyte supplements enhances physical performance. And except for iron deficiency (with documented low hemoglobin levels) the same holds true for the trace minerals supplements.
As with vitamins, there have been several well controlled, blinded studies on the effect of trace mineral supplements on performance. These have looked at such parameters as muscle glycogen depletion, serum free fatty acids, maximal aerobic capacity, and endurance abilities. Absolutely no benefits were identified in the group using the supplements. And side effects were even more common than with vitamins including such non specific complaints as nausea, malaise, and easy fatiguability.

The bottom line is that an athletes vitamin and nutritional needs are readily and easily met by a balanced, isocaloric diet replacing daily Caloric expenditures. If there are special dietary considerations ( a negative Caloric balance for example), or a concern about how well balanced the diet may be, there is no harm (other than to the wallet) in using a simple over the counter multiple vitamin once a day. But vitamin and mineral supplements are not the easy answer to increased performance.

Nutrition and Hydration for Cycling

Types of fuels needed. How they are used, why carbohydrate is best
The type of fuel used during cycling depends upon your speed and the duration of your ride. Carbohydrate is the main source of energy, whether you are racing flat out in a 25 mile time trial or enjoying a leisurely ride in the countryside. However, at the lower intensities (e.g. touring rides, or even to some degree long distance time trials), in addition to carbohydrate (stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver), fat is used much more as a fuel source too. This is because there is time for fat to be converted into a useable energy source at lower exercise intensities. In contrast, during short duration, hard exercise, such as climbing a hill, energy needs to be delivered to working muscles very quickly; carbohydrate is able to do this but fat cannot.
During a long ride (at a fairly low, steady speed) when fat is used as an energy source, this spares some of the (relatively limited) amount of muscle glycogen. This ability to use fat in preference to muscle glycogen actually improves with training too. So, it pays to improve your fitness!
Working muscles prefer to use carbohydrate as an energy source. Each time you go for a ride you will use burn off some carbohydrate (glycogen) from your muscle stores. The harder and longer your ride, the greater the demand on your glycogen stores. If you do not replace this carbohydrate between rides by eating plenty of high carbohydrate foods you are more likely to fatigue early on in your next ride. This is why you need to eat a high carbohydrate diet, with bread, breakfast cereals, pasta, rice, potatoes, fruit and vegetables making up the main part of each meal or snack.
protein also makes a small contribution to energy demand, but you do not need to be concerned with replacing protein or fat between training rides or races.
In quantity terms, eating between 5-10g of carbohydrate per kg bodyweight per day will cover most cyclists needs, from the recreational cyclist through to the highest levels of intense training or racing. For example, if you weight 70kg (11 stone) you will need to eat between 350g and 700g of carbohydrate each day to match your carbohydrate energy needs.
To achieve 350g of carbohydrate a day you would need to consume the following:

  • 2 slices of bread 2 large bananas
  • 1 glass of fruit juice
  • Large jacket potato
  • Large plate of pasta
  • 3/4 large tin of baked beans
  • Cereal bar
  • pint of milk
  • Large bowl of breakfast cereals

700g of carbohydrate equates to:

  • 4 slices of bread
  • 3 large bananas
  • 2 glasses of fruit juice
  • Large jacket potato
  • Large plate of pasta
  • 3/4 large tin of baked beans
  • 2 cereal bars
  • 2 litre of isotonic drink or fruit squash
  • pint of milk
  • 2 large bowls of breakfast cereals
  • 5 fig rolls

This only lists the carbohydrate foods, most of your protein and fat needs would be provided by any meat, fish or vegetarian alternatives that you have with the potato, pasta or bread. You also need to ensure that you take in essential vitamins and minerals. The recommended level is five helpings of fruit and vegetables each day. (One helping is one piece of fruit, two tablespoons of vegetables or a glass of fruit juice). Oh, and keep your choices varied - five apples a day is good up to a point. Far better to make sure that you eat different colours of fruit and vegetables as a good guide to ensure that your diet is balanced and contains the whole range of vitamins and minerals that you need.
Importance of hydration
It is essential that you keep yourself well hydrated before, during and after each outing on your bike if you wish to maintain good performance. Good hydration will help to avoid early fatigue during a race, but it also ensures that you get maximum benefit from any training rides that you do.
Even slight dehydration can produce a serious downturn in performance through an increase in body temperature. Your body need adequate fluid stores to produce sweat which evaporates and cools the body, and to keep your vital organs functioning properly. Take plenty of fluid before a ride, and whenever possible you should drink during a ride too. As a rough guide, expect to consume about 500ml water per hour - more in very hot weather or if you are big person. Drink afterwards too, as soon as possible, to replace any sweat loss. As your body will still be producing sweat and also urine you actually need to replace one and a half times the volume of sweat that you have lost. You can check this by weighing yourself before and after your ride.
For example, if your body weight has gone down from 85kg to 83kg this means you have lost two litres of sweat (one litre of sweat = one kilogram of weight) so you actually need to drink three litres of fluid to rehydrate fully.

Drink - before you get thirsty.

If you have lost a lot of sweat, it is important that you have a drink which contains some salt (sodium) to help to rehydrate the body. You will continue to feel thirsty until you are completely rehydrated. plain water, however, can actually switch off the thirst mechanism; but having the presence of sodium in the water prevents this. It's not essential to worry about the other minerals and electrolytes that are contained in commercial sports drinks. Although they are lost in sweat, there is not an immediate need for them unless you are cycling in more extreme (hot) environments. In which case an electrolyte drink with minerals may be a good idea.
Do not wait until you feel thirsty before drinking: thirst is a poor indicator of the need for fluids. Keep yourself hydrated by drinking small, frequent amounts of fluid during a ride (two or three 'gulps' every 15-20 minutes) even when you are not thirsty - including in the wintertime. You'll still be generating heat, and perhaps sweat, and losing moisture from your body through your breath. Your stomach can usually empty 600-1000ml fluid each hour, so drinking 500-1000ml per hour is ideal. In reality though, you're unlikely to want to drink 1000ml per hour - so you'll need to drink extra when you stop.
Balanced diet
Keep a good balance of foods in your diet. It is easy to fall into the trap of living on pasta, bread, cereals and other high energy carbohydrate foods, whilst ignoring the protein foods and the vegetables, fruit and general variety of your diet to cover your vitamin and mineral requirements.

Don't forget the protein foods twice a day.

protein foods can be good sources of essential vitamins and minerals and they don't have to be high in fat. For example, lean red meat is an excellent source of iron, which has an important role in oxygen transport around the blood. Other protein foods that are high in iron include tuna, chicken breast and green leafy vegetables. Low-fat dairy products (skimmed milk, low-fat yoghurts) are just as good as the high fat versions, in terms of providing protein and calcium.
Although you should avoid an excess of fat in your diet, don't be too fanatical about the fat contents in your food. You need some fat in your diet to provide some of the essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins. Just make yourself aware of which foods are providing the fat in your diet such as margarine or butter on toast or in sandwiches, creamy sauces on pasta, cheese, mayonnaise, pasties, pies, cakes, biscuits and fried foods. Eating colourful vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes and red peppers, will provide (fat-soluble) vitamin A in a low-fat form. Eat fruit and vegetables when you can - snacks that you eat 'on the road' might not be particularly rich in vitamins and minerals.
Suggested food & drink for training and general riding
In terms of nutrition, the main priorities in your diet are:

  • High carbohydrate content
  • Low in fat
  • Easily digested
Cereal bars, dried fruit, malt loaf, bananas and low-fat biscuits (e.g. fig rolls and garibaldi biscuits) are ideal and both easy to carry and to eat on the bike.
plain water, fruit squash and low calorie fruit squash are good for fluid replacement but not as good as isotonic drinks. Isotonic drinks contain around 6g of carbohydrate per 100ml with a small amount of sodium. This 'osmality' is in balance with the fluids in your body and so it will be easily absorbed through the stomach and can rehydrate you faster than other drinks, as well as providing a small amount of carbohydrate to help fuel your muscles. If you take a more concentrated carbohydrate drink, this could actually dehydrate you at the expense of providing energy. Such 'hypertonic' drinks are most useful for refuelling after a ride, especially if you find it difficult to eat immediately after exercise. It is important that you replace some carbohydrate immediately after finishing if you want to recovery your energy stores quickly (and train again the next day!). However, if you wish to take a 'liquid food' like this (in case you have difficulty eating on the move) it is best to alternate each 'food bottle' with one of plain water.
Timing of eating
When you eat and drink will have an effect on your performance. Obviously it is not wise to eat a large meal shortly before a race or even an endurance ride. But equally, you need to ensure that you have not left too long an interval without consuming some carbohydrate before your ride. The general recommendations:
Do not leave more than 5 hours between eating and the start of a ride.
Aim to eat your meal 2-3 hours before you begin riding.
A light, easily digested meal, such as sandwiches, toast, cereals etc. to provide carbohydrate for your liver glycogen stores is ideal. This will ensure that your blood glucose levels do not drop during the early stages of your ride, (you'll feel weak, light-headed and it will affect your ability to concentrate).
If you like, snacks such as bananas or cereal bars can be eaten in between your mealtime, right up until the ride begins if you wish, but this is not essential.
To recover quickly, especially after a long or hard ride, it is essential to eat or drink something containing carbohydrate as soon as possible. Hypertonic drinks are ideal for this.
After a ride is important to speed recovery.

Things to avoid

  • High fat foods
  • Sugary snacks
  • Lack of variety in your general diet
  • Caffeine and alcohol. These are diuretics, so keep them to a minimum in order to keep well hydrated.
  • Drinking concentrated carbohydrate drinks during a ride. These can impair fluid absorption and upset your stomach.

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