These days proper nutrition goes hand in hand with training, so Cyclingnews decided to corner former Tour de France rider John-Lee Augustyn on the topic.
The question is how and what the rest of us should be eating in order to compete like a pro?
John-Lee, who is recovering from a lingering hip injury in South Africa, says there are general guidelines that we can follow. These should however be tailored to individual needs and take issues like food allergies into account.
“Nutrition is very personal. Basic programmes are available, but you have to check what works for you. That’s how all the pros start.”
John-Lee says, as a pro, he maintained virtually the same eating habits for one-day races and three-week tours, even though the physical preparation is completely different.
The difference, he says, lies in training versus racing nutrition.
“During training, you don’t want to gain too much weight because your aim is to get into racing shape. On the other hand, you also don’t want to lose muscle mass.”
The former climbing specialist says maintaining a diet that is protein-based, with some carbohydrates and vegetables, is important during this phase.
“It’s important not to have too many carbs, but obviously if you’ve had a hard training day, you do need them.”
When it comes to racing nutrition, he says the emphasis switches to more simple carbohydrates, which help the body recover and rebuild for the next day.
John-Lee, who raced for Team Sky and Utensilnord-Named after making his Tour debut for Barloworld in 2008, says an average racing day begins with a good breakfast three hours before the start.
“This is typically porridge, such as oats mixed with raisins or nuts. You can also add an omelette on the side for the protein.”
An hour before, he recommends a small snack, such as a protein bar or sandwich, and frequent sips on water or carb-based drinks. “This makes protein available straight away for the muscles.
“On the bike, we’ll usually have little bread rolls with jam and cheese, and we’re always sipping on water and a mix. This provides the fuel you need and ensures that your body doesn’t go to your muscles to break down proteins from there.”
John-Lee says it is crucial that the foods a rider eats on the bike have a high glycaemic index so that the energy is instantly available.
Immediately after the day’s riding, he recommends a good protein shake for recovery. “We also sometimes have a rice or potato dish with some high-end carbs, followed by a massage and some more snacks.”
Dinner usually comprises pasta, rice or potatoes with some protein, such as grilled chicken, and vegetables.
“When we eat, we try to get the carbs in first, then the protein, followed by the veggies if we have space. The veggies are obviously important for vitamins and minerals.”
In his opinion, says John-Lee, the current protein-versus-carbohydrate debate requires a more moderate approach.
“Carbs have always been advocated in the past but protein is also important for muscle building and lean tissue, so you need both. And your body also needs good fats, like nuts, olive oil and avocado.
“I think if you have a healthy balanced meal, including all those elements, you’ll have a good outcome and you won’t need to spend as much on supplements.”
One of the golden rules is to use fresh, good quality ingredients, he says. “Don’t eat processed food and stay away from fizzy, sugary drinks – they’re bad for your stomach lining and can make you feel bloated.”
The 25-year-old says a beer as a recovery drink is perfectly permissible. “Beer is very simple carbs. If you’re used to having it, make sure you stick to just one because the alcohol does dehydrate you.”
Dehydration harms the muscles and internal organs, he cautions. “The moment you start getting thirsty, you’re already dehydrating.”
Although the rule of thumb is two litres of water per day, John-Lee says most riders do not drink enough fluid and should be sipping constantly before, after and during the ride.
“Weigh yourself before and after to see how much you’ve lost and aim to get that back. If you know you sweat a lot, you have to drink more than the average guy.”
A good balanced mix in your bottle, with a little bit of carbs and some electrolytes, is essential, he says. “You can also add a pinch of salt.”
A staunch advocate of balance in all aspects of training and nutrition, John-Lee is looking forward to sharing the benefit of his extensive pro riding experience with local riders.
“It’s an exciting new chapter,” he says.
He is available on email@example.com for training and nutritional advice.
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