For maximum strength sports like cycling, involving physical exercise that goes beyond six hours, carbohydrates represent muscle fuel.
These nutrients are the best type of energy resource available for cyclists: carbohydrates may be compared to the fuel needed to grind kilometers.
Also known as glucids or more simply sugars, carbohydrates can be divided into two categories:
- simple sugars
- complex sugars
The simple sugar category is made up of both monosaccharides (with only one molecule) and disaccharides: glucose and dextrose, fructose and sucrose.
These sugars do not need to be digested, they are assimilated immediately by the body and the energy provided is available in a few minutes.
Recommended foods rich in simple carbohydrates are honey, fruit, jam and vegetables.
Complex sugars (polysaccharides), among which starch and maltodextrins, are assimilated more slowly and release energy in a modulated form. Recommended foods containing these sugars are pasta, rice, bread and legumes.
Based on this first classification, consumption timing needs to follow some simple rules. During a 4 hour race, after one hour and a half, we should start to supplement our body with maltodextrins that need some time before being assimilated and release energy in a modulated way.
By supplementing the body within good time, blood glucose dips are prevented. Maltodextrins are formed by a numerous chain of molecules that slowly get “dismantled” into monosaccharides and each monosaccharide is used as energy.
To have enough energy available at the end of the race, for the final sprint, it’s recommended to take dextrose (glucose) because it becomes immediately available and the body transforms it into energy.
An appropriate diet includes simple/complex sugar ratio 1 to 4, for example by taking 30 grams of sugars derived from fruit, we should also take 120 grams of bread.
After ingestion, sugars are transformed by the body in to glycogen and around a 2000 calorie reserve is created. If for each gram of carbohydrates an average of 4 calories is generated and a daily calorie consumption goes between 3000/3500 kcal, we should normally provide 55%-60% of carbohydrates through our diet and for those who train or race it should reach even up to 70%.
Glycogen storages are the first ones to be depleted during physical activity and that is why they need to be supplemented and maintained in order to prevent any hyperglycemic crises.
A hypoglycemic crisis, may cause confusion, a general sense of fatigue and in some extreme cases even fainting; that is why it’s important to give special attention to our carbohydrate intake preventing these conditions.
Taking very sweet substances my cause a decrease in blood glycemic index which in turn stimulates insulin release interfering with fat consumption and triggering an increase in fatigue sensation.
These nutrients need to be taken in small doses during the workout and immediately after in order to replenish muscle glycogen reserves.