Eating better makes cycling easier

Syö entistä paremmin ja polje kepeämmin

What if this year you begin to eat in a cleverer way? Correct eating habits will improve your health, your stamina and your body composition. Designing a suitable diet is not rocket science. If you get some basic things right and you avoid the worst pitfalls, you will go a long way already. It is true that changing your diet will require effort at first, but once it starts working, you will feel so good that you do not want to go back at all.

What, how and why

If you have decided now to get the most out of this year and improve your diet, it is worthwhile to think before you start acting. What is your exact goal, why is it your goal and how will you achieve it? It is a good idea to write down the answers and attach them to the door of your fridge or to keep them on the desktop of your computer.

Your goal can be, for example, a weight loss of 5 kilos, so that it is easier to cycle during the summer and you look good in your new cycling shirt. As a way to achieve that goal, you can choose to, for example, eat sweets only one day in the week or to make the size of your evening meal smaller. Or your goal could be a better basic stamina, so that your health improves and you can play longer with your children, and a way to achieve that goal can be that you choose to eat regularly in order to be able to practise enough.

The clearer your goal and the more concrete the ways to achieve it, the more chance you have to be successful. A vague dream of a slightly narrower waist or stronger thighs and of eating more vegetables is very likely to lead to any change at all.

Timing first

Very often the biggest stumbling block for a diet is postponing eating till the evening. In the morning you may not be hungry and your breakfast is small. At lunch time you quickly grab something small in between the rush or if you have time to eat, you may think that choosing a light lunch can “save calories” for the rest of the day. The afternoon, however, flies by with coffee only and when in the evening you leave for your training, you are hungry like a wolf. The alternatives are filling up your stomach just before your ride or cycling on an empty stomach. If you choose an empty stomach, your hunger that has been accumulating during the day will become so big that after your ride you will eat whatever you can find in the cupboard and as much as you can find. You will overfill your daily energy need, you will not sleep well and the next day the same story starts all over again, as in the morning you are not hungry after your evening eating.

It is easier to go on and to control your weight, when the energy intake is more evenly divided over the whole day. One correct timetable for meals, however, does not exist. The most important is to find the rhythm that suits you best. In between meals you should become hungry, in other words one should not eat snacks all the time. On the other hand, the time between meals cannot be stretched too long, so that the body has enough fuel and building elements and hunger does not accumulate beyond control. In practice it is good to have breakfast, lunch, dinner and in addition a necessary number of snacks in a day.

It would be good for movers to eat a small snack 1 to 3 hours before a training, because it helps to go on. If you exercise daily, it is also important to eat within an hour after the training, because filling the internal carbohydrate reserves and rebuilding the muscles happens fastest soon after the sporting performance. The meals before and after the training should contain carbohydrates, which can be found in porridge, bread, potatoes and pasta, and proteins, such as dairy products, eggs, meat and leguminous vegetables.

Make up your meals according to the plate model

The plate model, which has been in use for decades, is a good example of the fact that simple often means most functional. This model fits the weight loser and the active top sporter, as long as the size of the portions is right.

Half of the meal should be food of vegetal origin, in other words vegetables, roots, fruit and berries. These contain a lot of water and fibres, but only little energy. In addition, they are full of valuable protective nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, as well as thousands of different phytochemicals which support your health. You should eat at least six palm-size portions of them in the course of a day and in addition to a big amount it is worthwhile to put as many different colours as possible, because the most valuable nutrients of a lot of food of vegetal origin are at the same time their colouring agents.

A quarter of the meal should consist of protein-rich food. A sufficient amount of proteins taken in evenly in the course of the day speed up recovery and help to keep up the feeling of satiety. Animal products such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy products contain all the important amino-acids. A vegetarian, in turn, needs to pay attention to the diversity of his diet in order to safeguard the intake of all amino-acids and therefore needs to combine for example cereals and leguminous vegetables in one and the same meal.

Like with proteins about a quarter of the meal should consist of carbohydrate sources, such as cereal products, potatoes and fruit. The amount of food rich in carbohydrates can be adjusted according to the strain of the exercise day, meaning that on a light day it can be a bit smaller and on a heavy day bigger. When choosing carbohydrate sources, you need to pay attention to the amount of fibres of the food, because an abundant intake of fibres helps among other things to balance the blood sugar level and in addition fibres are an important nutrient for the useful bacteria that populate the intestines.

Every meal should also contain a small amount of soft fat like oils, nuts, seeds or oily fish. The intake of fat is important for among other things hormonal activity, resistance and the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Especially for weight losers the stumbling block is often the complete removal of fat from the diet, which eventually can make weight control only more difficult.

Sufficient drinks and appropriate energy during exercises

When cycling one consumes from a few decilitres up to a couple of litres of fluid in one hour, depending on the weather conditions and the individual transpiration. It is important to replace fluid during an exercise and, if necessary, also after the exercise, because dehydration harms your coping and slows down recovery. If you transpire a lot, for example when you train indoors, it is good during an activity that lasts over at least a couple of hours to have, in addition to water, an intake of electrolytes, especially sodium.

During demanding high-intensity trainings, it is good to have, in addition to fluid, an intake of carbohydrates, because their intake during an activity boosts your performance. The best sources of carbohydrates for demanding trainings are sports drinks, energy gels and energy sweets.

Also during long rides, which last several hours, it is worthwhile to eat. The best snacks for a ride that builds your basic stamina, however, are not just carbohydrates. It is cleverer to eat something that contains proteins and fat as well. For example, nuts and dried fruit, a sandwich or a protein bar and a banana are snacks that you can easily slide into the pocket of your cycling shirt.

Perseverance and relaxation

When your target and the way to achieve it are clear, start to realize your plan with determination. Be resilient and persistent. Do not give up, even if you do not see changes at once. Set your mind to, for example, one month, during which you do your best and only after that you evaluate if it was worthwhile.

On the other hand, do not be unnecessarily inflexible, but also accept small deviations from the main path as part of the process. Remember that when you manage to keep to your plan more or less, you will reach your target before long. For example, small “lapses” are surely to happen and they are fully all right, as long as you do not let them become enormous. A weight loser can eat a couple of pieces of chocolate every day, but if eating a few pieces leads to the thought chain “nothing matters anymore, because the lapse has already happened anyway” and this leads to eating a couple of tablets instead of a couple of pieces, then one is badly off track.

Good luck on this journey!

-Kaisa Sali