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Carbs, Protein and Fats: Demystified

Carbs, proteins, and fats – there’s so much information about what’s good and what’s bad that we’re making it simple for you, with our quick guide!

Food is subdivided into three main food groups, protein, fat, and carbohydrate, known as ‘macronutrients’. These are the three classes of food, each with different properties and different benefits for daily life and performance. There are also categories within these ‘macronutrients’ such as minerals, vitamins, and fibre.

Every day a new diet that prioritizes one macro over another hits the hype, with ‘high fat-low carb’, ‘high protein-low fat’ and every other fad coming and going on a regular basis. However, there are a few key things and general tips you want to know to stay healthy and happy.

We’re going to break down just how carbohydrate, protein and fat play a part in your daily life, their role in your cycling performance, and the best types to eat.

PROTEIN

The building blocks

Approximate ideal proportion of total daily calorie intake

20-30%

Ideal sources for cyclists

  • EGGS
  • FISH
  • CHICKEN
  • LEGUMES
  • DAIRY

Protein is the macronutrient essential for growth and repair of the body. Protein produces amino acids which build your cells and muscles, and assist the mechanism of the hormones which regulate your body’s processes.

Try to focus on lean sources of protein where possible, such as white meat and fish. Beef is an excellent source of protein, and you should definitely include it in your diet – but it’s generally advised to eat red meat sparingly due to potential wider health impacts.

There’s a lot of emphasis on protein in modern diets, however its role can get overplayed and many tend to overeat protein. Remember that you can only take on around 20g protein in one sitting, as that’s all your body can absorb. Examples of 20g protein include three whole eggs or around 100g chicken.

Protein is a key macronutrient to take on board soon after a particularly long or tough ride, as this is the point when your muscles are in most need of repair after the stress placed on them during your cycle. Aim to take on around 20g protein within half an hour of the ride.

Post-ride protein is most effective at repairing and restoring your body when paired with carbohydrate. Good examples of post-ride recovery snacks include a protein shake, chocolate milk, or nut butter on toast.

Carbohydrates

The fuel

Approximate ideal proportion of total daily calorie intake

50-60%

Ideal sources for cyclists

  • BROWN RICE
  • WHOLE GRAINS (oats, quinoa, bulgur etc)
  • sweet potato
  • BANANAS

Carbohydrates provide your muscles with glucose, which is converted in the body to Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) – our primary source of energy.

There is only a limited amount of carbohydrate that the body can store. Once you’ve maxed out the carbohydrate tank, your body stores it as fat. This is one of the reasons that carbohydrate is stigmatized in society, perhaps wrongly.

Don’t let the latest ‘low carb’ diet fool you – if you’re riding lots, carbs are king! Carbohydrate will give you the fastest and most effective source of fuel for your rides, and if you don’t take on enough carbohydrate before or during a ride, you’ll be out of gas and will have no fun.

It’s because of this that you may want to eat a more carbohydrate-rich diet in the day before a particularly big ride, so as to ensure that your tanks are fully topped up.

As there’s only so much carbohydrate that we’re able to store in our body, we need to keep replenishing it over particularly long or intense rides. You can fuel your ride with specially made energy bars and gels, but there’s plenty of food at your local store that will also give you easy to carry carbs. Bananas are a favourite of every cyclist, and other readily available high-carb foods include dates, cereal bars, or good old PB&J sandwiches!

Carbohydrates can be classified by their Glycaemic Index (GI), which is a scale of how fast they will release energy for use in your body. Low GI indicates a slow energy release, and high GI indicates a fast release. During your day-to-day, you want to prioritise low GI foods such as brown rice, whole grains, and sweet potatoes. These will keep you satiated and energised throughout the day, steadily dripping energy into your muscles.

High GI foods are best for when you’re about to work out, or when riding – these will give you a fast release of energy for when you need it most.

Fats

They’re not all bad!

Approximate ideal proportion of total daily calorie intake

20-30%

Ideal sources for cyclists

(unsaturated fats)

  • Full-fat dairy
  • avocado
  • nuts

Fats are often thought of as something to be avoided, with ‘fat’ associated with ‘bad.’ However, eating fat doesn’t make you fat – unless you eat too much of it.

There are three types of fat: unsaturated, trans, and saturated. In general, it’s trans and saturated fats that you want to avoid, with unsaturated fats very much being the good guys, and a key part of your diet.

You should eat unsaturated fats on a daily basis, as your body cannot healthily function without them. However, these ‘healthy fats’ such as nuts and avocado are very calorific, and so they should be eaten in moderation, or you’ll soon find yourself in a large calorie surplus.

The good

Unsaturated fats

(salmon, nuts, avocado etc)

These include omega 3 fatty acids, which are an essential part of a healthy diet for hormonal health and reducing inflammation. In general, unsaturated fats protect the heart, improve insulin sensitivity, and actually aid weight loss.

The bad

Trans fats

(fried foods, oils etc)

These increase the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and can negatively impact your blood cholesterol. Avoid!

The mostly bad

Saturated fats

(butter, fatty / processed meats, cheese etc)

Like trans fats, these increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and raise cholesterol. However, some saturated fats, such as cheese, should not be abstained from totally as they are packed full of vitamins and minerals. These types of saturated fat should be eaten in moderation.

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