Cycling is primarily an endurance sport, but it is also a sport of strength and power. In this sense, one only has to think of the ‘sprinters’ of the great international races, capable of crossing enormous distances and reaching speeds above 70 km/h with relative ease
Do you like cycling? Do you practice it in an advanced way? Are you just a passionate person who would like to start practicing it? Then you should be interested in how protein affects cycling performance. With this article, we’ll to try to answer each and every question you might have.
- 1. Brief Definition of Protein and Its Function
- 2. The importance of protein for cyclists
- 3. How much Protein does a Cyclist need?
- 4. Protein Supplements for Cyclists
- 5. Carbohydrates as Fuel
- 6. How to Spread Your Protein Intake Over the Course of the Day
- 7. Vegan and Vegetarian Problems
- 8. Cyclists Menu
- 9. Conclusions
- 10. Related Entries
Brief Definition of Protein and Its Function
We’ve already analysed, to a greater and lesser extent, what proteins are and what they are for. But before moving on and focusing on the beautiful sport of cycling, let’s briefly review some facts. Let’s remember that they can be defined as macromolecules composed of long chains of amino acids. What does their function depend on? On their sequence of amino acids.
A line you won’t forget: ‘Proteins can be understood as the bricks that build the structures of the whole body’. Amongst their most recognised functions are: helping bone and muscle growth, as well as the regeneration of these tissues when they have been damaged. This is why athletes must take care of their daily protein consumption.
What other effects can proteins have on your body? They synthesise the hormones, the antibodies of the immune system, the enzymes that digest food in the stomach, and the large intestine.
The importance of protein for cyclists
A common mistake? Thinking that only people looking to gain muscle mass should consume protein. With what we’ve seen, you’re surely changing your mind…
What can protein do for cyclists? Your muscles, especially those in your legs, suffer significant wear and tear every time you get on your bike and do a training session, whatever the mileage. That’s why we advise you to provide your body with a sufficient amount of protein. Why? Because it aids recovery from this damage, preventing a loss of muscle tissue and a decrease in performance.
Cycling produces high levels of stress on the lower body muscles
Various studies have shown that endurance exercise benefit from different types of proteins. And cycling? Protein helps to increase the size and strength of muscle fibres and to improve the functioning of the mitochondria. This helps to make greater use of fat for energy and leads to an improvement in physical endurance.
How much Protein does a Cyclist need?
As we commented in our article on the Protein Quantity needed by athletes that although the World Health Organization establishes that the basic figure must be 0.8 grams per kilogram of weight, the activity normally carried out by the person is the important factor. In this sense, cycling should be understood, fundamentally, as an resistance sport, and therefore the values indicated for this type of discipline should be adhered to.
In particular, a cycling enthusiast who does 2 or 3 intensive training sessions a week should take between:
1.3 and 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of lean weight
This value is found by removing the percentage of body fat from the total figure. Moreover, although several scientific studies have claimed that excessive protein consumption could result in kidney problems and the formation of stones, the reality is that others also argue the opposite.
Specifically, the amount of the amino acid leucine you need is equivalent to 6 eggs, 175 grams of meat or 2 cups of beans or lentils
In general, leucine can be found in large quantities in milk and all dairy products. In fact, you’ll get the amount you need with 800ml. And if you find this figure too high (it probably is for the average person), you can alternate this food with eggs and meat, for example.
Protein Supplements for Cyclists
In this case, protein supplements based on Whey Protein Isolate or WPI provide a high concentration of BCAAs, and especially Leucine, in their aminogram:
Obviously, a cyclist doesn’t live by leucine alone. In fact, there are many other substances that can help you to improve your performance naturally through protein supplements. Ideally, they should also contain a good amount of BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) and Glutamine.
Carbohydrates as Fuel
As carbohydrates are the main source of energy used by the body, it’s important that you focus your diet on carbohydrate-rich foods if you cycle regularly. In this respect, it’s especially important to eat a good portion of carbohydrates some hours before the race or training session you’re preparing for, to help replenish your energy stores.
An extraordinary measure to contribute to the maintenance of the cyclist’s performance is to provide an intra-training drink, based on sustained energy carbohydrates:
How to Spread Your Protein Intake Over the Course of the Day
It’s difficult to establish a single point in time when a cyclist must concentrate his protein intake. In fact, it is advisable to spread them out throughout the day, although it is true that they should be taken in greater quantities in the moments following the training session.
In this respect, it should be noted that a rapidly absorbed source of protein, whether eaten as a nutritional supplement or as a natural food, can be very effective in increasing performance during training or running. Similarly, once finished, slower-absorbing proteins such as casein are more suitable.
Vegan and Vegetarian Problems
At this point we would like to make a brief point. As you may have read in the previous lines, the main sources of the amino acid leucine are found in Proteins of Animal Origin. In fact, unfortunately, the vast majority of vegetables are extremely poor in this amino acid.
For example, to get the amount of leucine you need and which we have also discussed above, you would need 1.5 cups of raw almonds. So what’s the problem? Well, in addition to being a quantity capable of satisfying anyone, this ration of almonds contains 84 grams of fat and no less than 915 calories.
Think, in this respect, that you would need to ride at a good pace for almost two hours straight on your bike to burn what you have just consumed.
If you’re vegan, you’ll be interested in knowing the vegetable protein combinations that help you obtain a complete aminogram, and thus contribute to increasing muscle development and physical endurance.
Because, as you may have noticed, getting the amount of protein rich in the amino acid leucine is not easy without resorting to nutritional supplements, we’ve created an example of a daily menu that will help meet your needs.
Start the day with 2 eggs on a piece of wholemeal toast and accompany them with a cup of coffee with skimmed milk. Then, continue with 250 millilitres more milk with oatmeal and a natural low-fat yogurt.
Lunch, if you train in the afternoon, should be the most important meal of the day. So treat yourself to two sandwiches of wholemeal bread with chicken or ham and a nice vegetable salad. In addition, we recommend you accompany it with a drink of milk, or, at most, with a skimmed milk shake.
A couple of hours before going out to train, have an egg on some wholemeal bread and a coffee with skimmed milk. This way, besides providing the body with carbohydrates and proteins before the session, you’ll also be activating your body.
After finishing training
Just after you finish your bike ride, have a small can of tuna, or, failing that, the equivalent of 100 grams of the fish.
We recommend that you eat dinner no more than two hours before going to bed so that you don’t go to bed with a full stomach. In any case, prepare a chicken or fish dish with 200 grams of meat, and add vegetables and a little rice.
As you might have noticed, in this daily menu example, specially prepared for cyclists, we’ve not included any protein supplements
However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take them. In fact, if you wish, and if you’re particularly hungry, you can take advantage of the hours between meals to have one. There are “All-in-One” products of this type that include all the potentially beneficial nutrients for athletes, which of course includes the cyclist.
Protein consumption by cyclists is one of the most controversial issues in the world of nutrition. Although it’s true that their consumption is highly recommended, due to the specific properties of this type of macromolecule, the reality is that cyclists must have a constant source of them throughout the day so that their muscles can regenerate, grow and develop endurance.
Therefore, as is the case with bodybuilders, even if they need larger quantities, the consumption of nutritional supplements based on protein is quite advisable for cyclists, especially when it is impossible for them, due to time constraints or for any other reason, to consume all the food they need to meet their body’s requirements.
So, now that you have all the data at your disposal, all you have to do is get to work and enjoy your cycling like never before