Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Practical (key) nutrition recommendations for road cycling. Pre, during and post training and racing fuel needs. Talk slides.

Yesterday I was invited to give a talk for the road cycling elite Bærum og Omegn Cykkelclub (BOC), for which I am currently racing (thanks Garry Kjærstad for the invitation!).

The topic I chose for the talk was on the fuel needs for cycling and racing.

Attached here is a copy of the slides in pdf format (slightly modified after questions that came up during the talk), that you may find useful.

There is no audio with me talking over the slides. Provided essential information was delivered orally, this should be taken as a rough guide of the concepts that I was trying to put through.

Friday, 20 May 2016

150 km long Norwegian-Style (Nordmarka Rundt) road race characteristics and nutritional recommendations

This blog-post contains some nutrition recommendations in preparation for the 148 km Norwegian-style road-racing Nordmarka rundt. This information will be also useful for races of similar characteristics, which are very popular in Norway.

Race characteristics, the importance of relative and absolute power and intensity:

Nordmarka Rundt belongs to the Norwegian-style of road-racing where teams of ~25 people race rolling turns in a (big) team-time-trial-like effort to cover the 148 km as quick as possible to beat the clock competing against other teams.

As such, the race is a test of group strength rather than a test of individuals’ capacity. To succeed, logistics and team-work are essential. Due to the dynamics of the race and a mostly flat course, speed is relatively constant (compared to traditional road cycling where sudden changes in pace are part of the dynamics of the race), making the average speed of the race high. It would take about 3.5 h for the fastest teams to cover the 148 km. 

The intensity of the effort for each individual will depend on the relationship between the strength of the individual and the strength of the team. Id est for ‘weaker’ (usually smaller) individuals in strong teams, the relative intensity will be higher and hence the race harder.

The term ‘weaker’ is also relative, as the riders that would be in advantage are usually bigger riders or riders with higher absolute (‘raw’) power. Smaller riders with high(er) relative power (high W/kg) that could excel in climbs would be at a slight disadvantage compared to their counterparts provided that most of the race is in flat terrain. On the other hand, the few climbs of the course will be a ‘rest’ for smaller climbers with higher W/kg capacity.

This is important because even though each individual pushes at the front based on his/her capacity, in general terms smaller riders will need to push harder (higher intensity) to match the speed of the group. The intensity is not particularly high, but it is constant throughout the 3.5 h.

Provided these facts, and considering that both substrate (carbohydrate and fat) selection and development of fatigue are determined mainly by the exercise intensity and duration, it is particularly important for smaller/"weaker" cyclists to keep in check adequate nutrition before and during the event since these are the ones with more likelihood of running out of fuel or getting tired earlier.

Nutrition recommendations:

Most of the nutritional recommendations I’ve written for the 80 km long race with rolling hills apply for the preparation for this race, despite the dynamics of the race are completely different. I will, nonetheless, provide further information here and point out some specifics for this particular race.

You will be aiming at a 24-48 h glycogen loading protocol. If you do an ‘acute’ 24 h glycogen loading intervention, be sure that the carbohydrates you are ingesting are high-glycemic index. The shorter the glycogen loading intervention the more important it becomes the glycemic index to be high. Remember that glycogen-loading doesn’t mean over-eating. Weight control is a key factor for cycling performance and it is important to keep energy balance. Select high carbohydrate-low fat foods. If in doubt, look at labels of food you are eating, and measure using scales and log what you eat using a mobile-friendly app like myfitness pal. If you are a lean 75 kg individual aim at 750-900 g of CHO per day. If you are 75 kg, and not so lean, aim at lower amounts. Glucose will be stored in your muscles and liver, what is not stored in these tissues will basically turned into fat if not oxidised.

The race is longer than the one I have given recommendations for before, so you will also be needing more carbohydrates during the race. Regardless of body size, you can digest about 60 g CHO/h. This means that for a 4 h race you will be aiming at 240 g of CHO. If you ingest more than this, the carbs will just stay in your gut and not make it to the bloodstream and then the muscles. Since the temperature is forecasted to be relatively low (11 to 14 C) with likelihood of rain (making it effectively colder when on the bike) it is smarter to move towards concentrated sports drinks (I’ll be using a self-made 20% drink; figure 1).

Note that if you use glucose/fructose blends, you might be able to increase glucose ingestion some 50% during the race. So if you are using these blends, you can aim at ~90 g/h. This might be beneficial for this race.

Figure 1. Using just simple basic chemistry calculations it is possible to prepare the 'sports drink' you want or like best. In this case I'm preparing 900 ml of a 20% CHO solution with 20 mM sodium just using an extremely cheap cordial (54% CHO), half a lemon, salt and a scale. It tastes good too! This fluid will be put inside a single bidon and will provide enough carbs for about 3 h of racing.


The race starts early: ~7.30 hs on the start line means probably waking up at around 4-5 in the morning to get ready for the race. Aiming at 2-4 g/CHO per kg of body weight for breakfast would be advisable for this race, but it can be quite bit of bulk only so close to the start of the race, and probably you don’t want to wake up at 3 in the morning to have a big breakfast. Aim at low-fat carbohydrate-dense foods for breakfast (e.g. creamed rice, bread with hapå or jam, dense cereals with sugar, etc), and probably a ~2 g per kg of body weight is enough for that time of the day.

Keep in mind that you might be prone to reactive hypoglicemia, and if you eat 1.5-2 h before the race high glycemic-index CHO, you might feel a bit ‘heavy’ at the start of the race. Nonetheless this would be transient you will feel better either with a short warm-up or a few minutes after the race have started.

If in doubt of what to eat please check the nutrition section of the useful links/resources page.

Hopefully I'll have time to make a post with some recommendations of books with good recipes soon. I hope you find this post and information useful. If you like it and would like to give MetaCycling some little support, please give a like to its facebook page. Enjoy the race!

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Nutrition and other tips and tricks for a 80 km long race in undulating terrain (AKA rolling hills)

These are some nutrition and other tips and tricks for a race ~80 km long in undulating terrain (aka rolling hills), in temperate weather conditions as the one tomorrow in Oslo, the Ceresrittet race.

I think this type of course is quite common in a lot of club-level races, so these tips and tricks should apply to many races and will likely refer to people to this post in the future or you can save it in your bookmarks if you find it useful.

The race is not particularly long, and most people would aim at finishing it in ~2 h. Muscle glycogen depletion is unlikely if the pace is moderate, but if you are up for a hard race (I’m sure you are) you want to be sure that muscle glycogen depletion is not a limiting factor and affects your performance in the later stages of the race.

24-48 h pre-race: Have a diet rich in carbohydrates (CHO), low in fat and fiber. Aim at 10-12 g of CHO per kg of body mass for 24 to 48 h pre-race. This can be quite a lot of food for most people. Provided you don’t want to have TOO MANY calories with all this food, aim at having low-fat high-carbohydrate meals. There is nothing bad with the fat in food, it is just that it makes the food too energy dense and blows your energy budget. Instead aim at carbohydrate dense meals. Try to spread the food out during the day so as to avoid feeling bloated or too full. For this period avoid having foods high in fiber so as to avoid unnecessary weight gain due to water retention in the gut. A good tip to increase the CHO budget of the day is to have sweet (low fat) desserts at lunch and dinner. Good examples of these are creamed rice and banana with caramel (Hapå) (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Hapå and bananas make a terrific pre-race day snack and/or dessert.

2-4 h pre-race: Aim at ~2 g CHO per kg of body mass. Again, low fat.

30 min-15 min pre-race: Have 3 mg of caffeine per kg of body mass. Caffeine is a well-proven ergogenic aid.

During the race: Aim at a total of ~120 g of CHO intake. It is going to be unusually warm (17-21 C) during the race considering that it is Norway/Oslo so you probably don’t want to have all these CHO in very dense form (i.e. gels). In my case I will aim at having 500 ml of a 20% CHO solution (total 100 g CHO) and ~500 ml of water to wash it down if thirsty. The other 20 g can come from a pre-race banana or similar.

Post race: Unless you are doing another hard effort(s) on the day or the day after, it is a good time to forget a little bit about the carbohydrates and focus more protein ingestion. Aim at 20-25 g of protein immediately after the race and every 3-4 h. Try to push back the ingestion of carbohydrates for as long as you can manage and bulk-up your diet with fibre-rich food like different types of salads. This is also a good time to ingest high-quality oils/fats like those in nuts, avocado and fish. Salmon and a salad or a salad with cottage cheese would make a great post-race meal/snack.

Please consider that these are general guidelines and you would need to adjust all these based on personal aspects of each individual.

It should be noted that another ergogenic aid that could have a beneficial effect on this type of race is Beta-alanine, which requires ~15 days of pre-race treatment for significant increase of skeletal muscle carnosine levels.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

NEW: page with useful links, scientific articles and facebook page side-bar

I've put together a list of 'curated' links for all those athletes and coaches who are look for good quality information in all aspects related to cycling (or endurance sports) performance.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of resources, but something I think it can be a good starting point for people new (and not so new) to the topic of endurance sports training, physiology, nutrition and performance, and cycling in general. If you think I'm missing some relevant link, shoot me a message, but I purposefully left many links out as I wanted to keep it relatively concise.

The new page includes links related to:
  • Power Analysis and Training software
  • Forums/blogs
  • Cycling races videos and streaming
  • Podcasts
  • Nutrition
  • Scientific journals and resources

Additionally, I've received some comments from people not being able to access the scientific publications in full, so I've put a link to my research gate 'contributions' where these can be found.

As if that was not enough I added a side-bar with a link to the MetaCycling facebook web-page. The only reason for MetaCycling to exist is its readers, and its main aim is to share good quality information. If you think the blog has some good info and want to support it, giving it a like on facebook and sharing helps spreading the word and it can be your contribution to make it grow. MetaCycling is in its infancy, and as with anything on its infancy it has potential to develop. Your help will be highly appreciated: help an informed cycling community grow!

Now you might also be asking yourself when I will change the horrible layout of black, and green(ish) with white letters. Don't worry, you're not alone as I'm thinking the same. Time is the enemy and hopefully I will be able to enhance the design of the web-page some time soon.

Hope you like the links and find them useful!

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Low carbohydrate and training adaptations: Training with low muscle glycogen is not the same as Low Carbohydrate High Fat (LCHF)/Ketogenic diets.

The main point of this blog-post is to bring the attention to the nutritional strategies for purposefully training with low muscle glycogen through altering the availability of carbohydrates in the diet and clarify important differences with LCHF/ketogenic diets (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Training with low muscle glycogen and LCHF/ketogenic diets are not the same.

What is skeletal muscle glycogen?

Skeletal muscle glycogen is the form of carbohydrate storage in skeletal muscles and it is the main fuel source for ‘fast’, high quality, energy production for muscle contraction. Muscle glycogen is very limited when compared to the body fat stores and used quickly during moderate and high intensity exercise.

Skeletal muscle glycogen a dual role: a source of energy and a switch for muscle adaptation.

While the muscle glycogen stores allow for sustained high intensity exercise they don’t only work as a fuel source.  When this ‘fuel tank’ is running low, it triggers signals to drive specific metabolic adaptations that are beneficial for endurance capacity (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Very simplified and exaggerated schematic of the relationship between the muscle glycogen content and muscle metabolic response increasing adaptations for endurance exercise. The chronic/intermittent lower muscle glycogen content would be reflected in increased mitochondrial content in muscle (and a plethora of other adaptations). For these adaptations to take place, weeks of months of repeated treatment are needed.

This means that after a glycogen depleting session, not replenishing with carbohydrates can have beneficial metabolic effects through increasing the time during which the muscle is adapting to a given training session. If done repeatedly over time this intervention can be reflected in enhanced muscular metabolic adaptations, that include -but are not limited to- increased markers of mitochondrial content and fat utilisation.

This idea, present in the muscle physiology literature for some years, was pushed through to the sports performance world through a very elegant study by Bengt Saltin’s group published in 2006 (1). Subsequently others and us (3, 4, 6) have done further research showing that indeed, there are enhanced metabolic adaptations to these type of interventions in humans.

Importantly, a recent study in competitive triathletes have shown that a specific way of training with reduced muscle glycogen in selected sessions, can in fact enhance adaptation to exercise and improve endurance performance (5). While there is still a lot of work to be done in this area, the current findings point towards them being effective interventions (7).

So, should you not be having carbohydrates after your hard (or moderate) training sessions? Is then LCHF or ketogenic diets the way to go?

First of all it is important to remark that there should be no ‘absolutes’ when it comes to nutritional interventions. A balanced approach that contemplates each individual’s situation and aims, is essential. Moreover, it is important to highlight that what it can be beneficial for certain periods of training (e.g. involving long easy training sessions), might not be the best for others (e.g. involving high intensity intervals), or what can work during a training period might not be the best approach for competition. Like training load and intensity, nutrition should be periodised to match the metabolic demands of exercise in specific phases of training.

What it also essential to consider is that for optimal performance all energetic systems maximising metabolic flexibility (the capacity to switch between the use of carbohydrate and fat) is probably the most important factor. Training with selected session on a stat of low muscle glycogen content does not equal to being chronically exposed to low carbohydrate availability. Sticking to low carbohydrate, high-fat diets, can impair the capacity of doing high intensity work and have a harmful effect on performance (2, 8). While this has not been directly tested for the case of ketogenic diets (or similar), these simply represent an extreme of high-fat diets. Therefore, while holding back from carbs after training can be beneficial, it should be balanced out with more traditional interventions as per the traditional sports nutrition guidelines. You probably don’t want to miss that break-away, get dropped on the climb, or lose on the final sprint!

What is the best way to try to do these type of interventions? When you should someone try to do it?

While these interventions have great potential, they pose risks if not done properly. For an intervention to be successful it is crucial to know the macronutrient (CHO, protein and fat) and the energy content of the food to be ingested as well as the right timing of ingestion. The plan should also be synchronised with the specific training plan of each athlete. Importantly care should be taken that energy intake is not be reduced because of changing the macronutrient composition intake or timing of food ingestion.

This all requires a great deal of knowledge of sports nutrition. Provided its complexity, it is probably advisable to only try to do this treatment guided by a trained, experienced, up-to-date (and forward thinking!) sports dietician only when reaching a very high level of competition and all the basics of training and nutrition are covered. This can take years of dedication!

Be wise and think of the things that give you the biggest amount in return for each unit of energy, time and resources spent. Training purposefully with low muscle glycogen is probably not on top of the list.


In conclusion, training purposefully with low muscle glycogen content it is not the same as LCHF/ketogenic diets. This type of interventions have a great potential for competitive athletes but they can be complex, involve risks and require a vast knowledge of sports nutrition. To ensure effectiveness of these treatments, all the basics of training and nutrition should be covered first. These treatments should be attempted together with supervision of a trained, forward-thinking and up to date sports dietician or equivalent professional.


1.         Hansen AK, Fischer CP, Plomgaard P, Andersen JL, Saltin B, and Pedersen BK. Skeletal muscle adaptation: training twice every second day vs. training once daily. Journal of Applied Physiology 98: 93-99, 2005.
2.         Havemann L, West S, Goedecke J, Macdonald I, Gibson ASC, Noakes T, and Lambert E. Fat adaptation followed by carbohydrate loading compromises high-intensity sprint performance. Journal of Applied Physiology 100: 194-202, 2006.
3.         Hawley JA, and Morton JP. Ramping up the signal: promoting endurance training adaptation in skeletal muscle by nutritional manipulation. Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology 41: 608-613, 2014.
4.         Lane SC, Camera DM, Lassiter DG, Areta JL, Bird SR, Yeo WK, Jeacocke NA, Krook A, Zierath JR, and Burke LM. Effects of sleeping with reduced carbohydrate availability on acute training responses. Journal of Applied Physiology 119: 643-655, 2015.
5.         Marquet L-A, Brisswalter J, Louis J, Tiollier E, Burke LM, Hawley JA, and Hausswirth C. Enhanced Endurance Performance by Periodization of CHO Intake:" Sleep Low" Strategy. Medicine and science in sports and exercise 2016.
6.         Psilander N, Frank P, Flockhart M, and Sahlin K. Exercise with low glycogen increases PGC-1α gene expression in human skeletal muscle. European journal of applied physiology 113: 951-963, 2013.
7.         Stellingwerff T. Case study: nutrition and training periodization in three elite marathon runners. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 22: 392-400, 2012.
8.         Stellingwerff T, Spriet LL, Watt MJ, Kimber NE, Hargreaves M, Hawley JA, and Burke LM. Decreased PDH activation and glycogenolysis during exercise following fat adaptation with carbohydrate restoration. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism 290: E380-E388, 2006.