Cycling- training, nutrition, bike set up & top tips
Last year I was expecting to cycle Lands End to John O’Groats (LEJOG) but by the end of this year I have cycled around Cornwall, in Scotland, France and Spain on separate occasions. This is just my thoughts and opinions on training, bike set up, nutrition and experiences during a 5 day touring cycle of the Cornish coast and two 2 day fundraising cycles from Inverness to Edinburgh and Perpignan to Barcelona.
On the bike -So as most things, life gets in the way, however for once training was actually on track for the LEJOG. Getting out on my bike, mainly on weekends for a long slow ride was the only training I could manage apart from commuting. I increased the mileage between 10-20 % for a single long ride each time until I hit our target of ~100 miles for LEJOG. Then I progressed to consecutive days cycling 50-60% of the single distance. Along with my daily commutes (4-8 miles total) was proving to be serving me well and manageable. You can read all the text books/blogs/forums you like but you have to do what is works for you. I didn’t worry about heart rates, efforts, RPM or anything too technical. I just done what felt right and that motivated me. For example I found that having a purpose to be somewhere at the end was a great motivator. Cycling to Exeter (90m) for a friends leaving do, Gloucester (42m) to sight see, to Barnstaple (102m + 18m the next day) for a friends birthday and mother’s day. These were far more inspiring than a loop and saves you travel costs. The only real problem is getting your bike on a train if you’re only cycling in one direction!
Hills - Due to one thing and another planned LEJOG trip didn’t happen so I decided to put training to good use in a cycle tour around Cornwall. Knowing the amount of hills I would have to tackle every day with a loaded bike led me to put hills into the return legs of my long rides and included shorter hill reps that I could do between PT clients within the week. However whatever you go up you must come down, that was my way of looking at it! I built these up in the number of reps and had little loops so I had a flat to spin on between hills.
Cross training - After riding in Cornwall, later last year I rode 216 miles in Scotland over two days and this year in September rode from France into Spain (165miles). On both occasions I hadn’t done as much training as I would have lived but surprisingly the training I had done paid off. Last year the benefit of numerous miles in the saddle earlier in the year really helped in Scotland and managed to get by with 3 rides increasing in distance with a consecutive days ride with the 3rd. This year I have been running a great deal, marathons and Ultras, so I was very surprised when my legs weren’t in bits after an 80 mile 8000ft ride in the Mendips after months of no long rides. It just shows that cross training, particularly running to cycling and resistance training has a great potential to keep you in form on the bike. Don’t get me wrong I could have felt better on the bike in Spain after only 4 long rides in the build-up but as it wasn’t a race it suited me.
Resistance training is also an important part of training if you haven’t done any before. You’re asking your legs to do a lot that they haven’t done before. The types of exercises you should be doing include: squats, lunges, step ups, dead lifts, hamstring curls and some upper body back work such as pull ups/lat pull downs and seated rows. Including some neck strengthening and stretching is of great importance too along with the core. This helps support the spine when on the bike, but pay more attention to gluteal, shoulder girdle and lower abdominal exercises such as superman’s, dead bugs, WYTI, hip extensions, back extensions & hip thrusters. These will help to balance and stabile the working muscle-culture. It is really important that all these are worked within the muscular endurance rep and set range (20 + reps, 2-3 sets @ 65% 1RM 30-60 sec rest) first. Once you have a solid base conditioning then you can increase the intensity and work on strength in the larger compound movements such as squats etc. The last thing you want to do though is to put on too much bulk so stay away from any hypertrophy work, it has to be functional muscle mass. The same goes for keeping the body mass down, carrying extra kilos of weight makes a massive difference. So keep lean.
Stretching – Is a very important for any cyclist where you are predominantly in a flexed seated position for hours on end. It is key to focus on the gluts, hip flexors, quads (especially the lateral compartment), pecs, hamstrings and calves as these are the main ones that will get tight over the course of your training. I found that yoga is a great way to focus on these areas and the key positions relate very well for a cyclists areas of tension. For example the Triangle pose is fantastic for opening the Quadratus Lumborum (lower back muscle) and Warrior 1 pose (and associated variations) being great for the hamstrings/ hip flexors. Try a foam roller too, to get into the outside of the quads and medial glutes (sides of hips), roll for 2minutes supporting as much of your body weight as you need to so it’s not too painful.
Food -This is probably the single most important aspect of doing a long cycle ride and especially so if it includes consecutive days. I am not a dietitian but I can give you some ideas of what and how much you need to eat. In overview if you are riding an average of 15mph over a 100 mile day you are cycling between 6 to 7 hours. Cycling at this speed for a 75 kg male you burn approximately 700kcal an hour. That totals to 4500 to 5000 kcals on top of your ~2000kcal basal metabolic rate (depending on weight, height, age and gender). You will have around 90 to 120 minutes of carbohydrate stores in your body and then after that you will deplete those and start to burn more fat but at a lower intensity. Sometimes termed hitting the “wall”. So the key to keeping your energy high is to get food in early on and at regular intervals. If you start eating when you are fatiguing it is too late as it can take up to 40-60 minutes for some foods to be ingested in the blood stream.
What to eat is a hard to tell people as it takes experimentation and is based on individual preferences. Personally I would suggest having you both solid and liquid forms of food. Of the solid forms I find that natural sources of food such as flapjacks and bananas etc easier to digest by my body than energy bars and gels. These tend to upset your stomach which isn’t idea when you are on a long bike ride. I have been known to tuck into a lovely boiled egg from time to time. Dried fruit or nuts are also a great source of fat and carbohydrates. Anything that is calorie dense and wont melt in your pocket is a good pick. Liquids could be an energy drink which will keep you hydrated as well as getting calories into you without the stomach being full up too much with solid mass. Some people like the jelly energy blocks, shot blocks, as a quick kick of energy or gels.
When to eat is again down to preference however try to have something small 20-40 minutes and maybe alternating between liquid and solids so you don’t get too full.
Hydration is paramount. Little and often is really important and make sure you keep on drinking even if you aren’t thirsty. Thirst is a poor indicator of hydration. If you are in a hot or humid environment it is key to include electrolytes into your hydration plan. Making sure you have one bottle electrolytes and one water or energy drink. This will allow you to replace the salts and minerals that are lost through your sweat.
Recovery is key and it is best to eat a carbohydrate rich meal within two hours of finishing your ride to help resupply your carb stores in the body. If you add protein to this then it helps with the speed of absorption of the carbohydrate. A good ratio is 3:1 carb to protein. Also protein is required to facilitate the repair of muscle from the exercise.
Bike Set up
I found though trial and error that the setup of the bike was really important in being comfortable over long distances. To start with it is really important that you have the correct frame size as this dictates the geometry of the whole bike and your position. This again comes down to personal preference and will vary between makes. My suggestion is that before making a large investment in a bike, try as many as you can and do lots of research. I unfortunately only found out that I am much more comfortable on a 52cm frame and I own a 54 cm bike. Here are a few things you may consider to adjust if you are getting neck, lower back or knee pain. Saddle and Stem are a key combo that will determine your knee alignment over the cleat and also how far forward your reach is to the handle bars. First of all get yourself a good saddle that has been measured to your sit bones (ischial tuberosity). If you aren’t sitting on your ischial tuberosity then you are most like putting a lot of pressure on your perineum which isn’t comfortable and can cause long term health problems and can cause back pain. Make sure that your knees aren’t forward over your cleats when your crank is at a 3 o clock position by using a plum line. If they are forward you will get knee pain and it is advised you shift your saddle backwards. Lastly if you are getting neck pain then try to adjust the angle of the stem to a positive angle, especially if you are doing very long distance touring. Insoles can be of benefit if you start suffering from numb toes. I found this when I was touring Cornwall and a simple £20 insole can reduce the pressure of your cleat onto a nerve in your foot. However once you have numb toes it may take weeks/months to recover once you have the insoles.
Lessons learnt from the following trips:
Cornwall- a 5 day cycle touring the Cornish coast – 307 miles 26000 ft. elevation with a loaded bike.
1. When carrying all your own kit (including tent etc) pack light! The bike gets very heavy up hills!
2. Don’t do it on a road bike bodged for panniers, it breaks, a lot. Have the right kit.
3. Know how to fix a bike and have tools on you. Mine broke 3 times and managed to repair myself as all shops were shut over bank holiday – plus its Cornwall, only about 2 shops in the whole county.
4. Slow and steady is the way to win. Cover up your speedo as it only depresses you. What ever you go up you must come down!
5. Take in the scenery as it is the only thing that will keep you sane. When you’re by yourself its ok to talk to yourself!
6. Set off early and finish early- nothing worse than pitching a tent in the dark and not having time to stretch after 6-8 hours in the saddle.
Scotland– Le Tour Du Chop – 216 mile 2 day adventure from Inverness to Edinburgh raising money for Cancer Research UK.
1. Make sure you have layers correct for the weather variations as when you aren’t carrying a pannier you have to be stream lined.
2. Food food food! It is really important in 100+ on consecutive days you get it in before, during and after to be able to keep going.
3. Keep going- with such a big group of 82 riders it was hard to keep going without stopping and that is something that hurt in the second day. A lot of stop start affects you mentally as well as physically and you will struggle to get “into a groove”.
Perpignan to Barcelona across the Pyrenees – Le Tour Du Chop- 165 miles 16500ft elevation 2 day charity bike ride.
1. When confronted with big long ascents (1500m over 25-30 mines) it key to just select a low gear and grind it out.
2. In a hot environment (25-35 degrees) you can lose up to 1 litre an hour so its important to replace this but also electrolytes.
3. If it rains….. SLOW DOWN! I came off on a corner when caught in a thunder storm on a decent and even if you think you’re going slow enough, go slower. It hurts and costs a lot in repairs!
I hope these insights have been interesting and if you have any questions regarding what you have read here or interested in personal training then please feel free to contact me.