Sir Chris Hoy's nutrition tips for cyclists

Top chef Daniel Doherty, of Duck and Waffle fame, learnt nutrition tips before the big India charity bike ride from Sir Chris Hoy MBE, six-time Olympic champion

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Daniel Doherty:  I’m along for the Box Hill circuit, which is a pretty brutal bike ride for me, but it’s nothing compared to what I’ve got to face with this charity ride. You’re the expert, so, India... We’re cycling 450 odd km in 5 days, blazing sunshine and intense humidity – what tips can you give us to help us along?

Sir Chris Hoy: Clearly, hydration is a massive issue. Make sure you have enough and you don’t wait until you get thirsty, that you’re continually taking small drinks, and use the little electrolyte tablets that you just pop into your bottle.

DD: Do you think they are better than actual water then?

CH: Yes, absolutely – there is nothing wrong with water, but when you’re sweating a lot you’re losing a lot of the salts and electrolytes in your body, and by using the tabs you’re replacing them. If you only drink water all day eventually you’ll just pee out all the electrolytes and you’ll struggle, the body won’t rehydrate that efficiently with only water. It’s better than nothing, but if you’re performing in incredibly warm and humid conditions you do really want to have some sort of electrolyte in there.

DD: What about carbs?

CH: My advice is before a big ride, eat a meal 2 hours or so before, to allow you to digest and process it, and without being crude, try to get to the toilet before. You don’t want to be having to top half way through a 6 hour ride to pop to the loo! Then pretty much straight away once you’ve started the ride start taking carbohydrate gel sachets at 30-minute intervals.

DD: What if you feel ok, should you take anyway regardless to keep glycogen levels up?

CH: Well, don’t forget it’s a five-day thing, there’s a risk your glycogen/carb stores can become depleted. Even if on the first day you don’t feel hungry or tired, or you don’t feel you’ve worked that hard, still take on board carbohydrates in small amounts at regular intervals. For the carb gels it’s every 30 minutes for the optimal level of intake. As I said you may not feel like you need it, but if you can keep the levels as high as possible throughout the 1, 2 and 3 day, by the time you get towards the end you’ll be really grateful, you won’t wake up with that empty, horrible feeling that you can’t climb a set of stairs, let alone get on the bike.

DD: So after each day, I guess all the carbs we’ve taken on will have been used up, so we should still eat a carb-based meal?

CH You’re not in danger of taking in too many calories, as long as you’re sensible with the type of foods you’re eating. The whole point is you can get enough calories through food, but you can’t process it fast enough and you want to try to take it on board while you’re cycling. If you ate nothing throughout the day you’d not only be starving but you won’t be able to get all the calories and nutrients back in at the end, it just doesn’t work like that. Take you’re gels throughout the ride, then have a sensible meal at the end, because as you know, you can’t beat eating real food! There’s nothing like it.

DD And what about restaurants, if you’re competing is it frustrating to go out when you’re diet is strict?

CH As a sprinter, body weight was never an issue for me, not like the long distance riders who have to be so careful. As long as its not dead weight, muscle is fine. When I eat out if I’m preparing for a race, I never had to worry that much, I won’t drink, and will be a bit more sensible in my menu choices, and maybe miss out dessert, but that’s it really. As you know you can still have incredibly healthy food that tastes great. Thai food became one of my favourite types of food, it’s so delicious, and when you finish a meal it’s a double whammy; it tasted great and was pretty healthy.  For the long distance riders it’s completely different. Bradley Wiggins, for example, is 6”3 and went down to 67 kilos I think when he won the tour. For every kilo of dead weight going up a climb it equates to a minutes worth of time on average so you can imagine how important it is for them.

DD You mentioned on the ride that you only drank alcohol four times in the 18 months in the build up to London 2012. How significant was cutting the booze to being successful on the track?

CH Well, having a pint is not going to stop you from winning a gold medal, but for me the question was ‘is this going to help me win a gold medal?’ if the answer was no, I’d cut it. That’s how badly I wanted it. I just wanted to throw everything I had at it. The thing is, some people drink often and it doesn’t affect them, and that’s fine but that’s just how I approached it. It was like if you have a few glasses of wine and you have a training session the next day that’s off the pace by a few seconds, its can trigger a downhill spiral, and when you’re right on the knife edge, especially physiologically. Now I love it, I’m really into my wine and really enjoy not having that pressure on me.

Sir Chris Hoy is an Elite Consultant for sports nutrition company Science in Sport (SiS): scienceinsport.com

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