Brighter days, faster rides, longer trips and wall-to-wall races – summer can be tough on the serious cyclist. There's a tonne of products on the market that promise an energy boost, but with so many to choose from how can we tell which ones work and which don't?
Sports energy boosters come as gels, drinks, bars and jelly-like chews. Different types work for different people, it’s a matter of discovering which work for you.
What's in them?
Sports energy supplements are a convenient and carefully balanced mixture of foods designed to be consumed full out and on the run...
The ingredients are a version of what comes in day-to-day food, made bike friendly. They contain:
Carbohydrates - the main source of body fuel in most energy products whether they come in drink, bar, gel or chew form.
Protein - added to some products because it is believed to help on longer rides when you begin to draw on your protein stores for energy. It’s good to take post ride as well to aid recovery and combat muscle soreness. You will need to replenish your carb stores too though.
Caffeine is added to drinks to give you a lift. It will not only make you more alert but helps mask the pain when you're putting in a hard effort or towards the end of a longer ride.
What to use and when?
For a lot of your normal riding water will be all you need. It’s as you raise the distance and effort level that you start to put your body’s reserves under pressure.
Nutritional preparation for a hard ride, fuelling on the run and replenishing your reserves afterwards are all recommended.
Pre-race carbo-loading: In the run up to a race go for a product high in carbs that can be used to supplement your regular diet, but don't overdo it.
Short easy one hour ride: Water should be fine for a short easy ride with no big effort. Use a low calorie energy product if you feel you need something extra.
A couple of hours: After about 90 minutes your body will start to run low on carbs which will need to be replaced.
Longer rides: Endurance drinks/bars/gels will be the best bet for longer riders where you are using both carbs from your energy stores and electrolytes from sweat loss. Replacing them should help avoid cramps, aid water water retention and ensure you lose fewer minerals. Added protein comes into play for longer events.
Fast Racing: Sports drinks with added caffeine stop you getting too sluggish and are best saved until the later stages. Caffeine also offers lower rates of perceived exertion to keep you on the ball. Don’t get caught out, for short races you will need to use these products about an hour before the race start to get the best effect.
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