articles and studies
Some magazine articles and University studies I've written which may be helpful, this page will be periodically updated with new additions.
Preparing for a 100 mile ride
There comes a time for most road riders, however serious, where you focus on the 100 mile (160.93 Km) target. This can be in the shape of a sportive, club ride or a personal challenge, alone or with a group. For some, 100 miles is no big deal, just something they do every Sunday. For others it can be the single biggest physical challenge they will ever undertake on a bike. Many cyclists however, fall somewhere between the two and may already be comfortable with 50-60 mile rides but are eyeing the triple figured milestone for their next achievement. Just how big is the jump from 60 to 100 miles? How will we know if it'll be a cakewalk or a frustrating grovel ending in a miserable train journey back home? Let's take a look at the factors which come into play with the extended mileage and see how best to prepare for 100 miles so you can undertake that distance with a realistic chance of it being an enjoyable and achievable target.
The physical aspect of training is usually the most common focus for people with a new goal or challenge, and many folks will think that riding as much as possible in the two weeks leading up to the big ride is sufficient. This isn't the best approach though, and what we need to do is 'train smarter'. This doesn't mean we are striving for marginal gains like the GB squad, it means that we should be looking to maximise our training so that we are doing the right things at the right times. If you are regularly riding 50-60 miles then that is already a great start, you could probably get through a century ride without too much bother, although you could be far better prepared if you have gradually increased your riding time and distance on your training rides. Remember, to do the 100, you don't need to be training by doing 100 miles all the time. 75-80% is ample preparation without adding excessive volume. Your physical training should take into account the following points:
Specificity: Is your 100 miles ride going to be hilly? Then ride hills on your 60 milers! Some riders really struggle on the climbs, if you are one of them then make sure you are addressing them in your training. In many cases, 100 flat miles can seem very easy and very different when compared to a hilly 60 or 70.
Saddle time: Try and focus more on the time in the saddle without stopping, rather than miles covered on your training rides. Try riding at a lower intensity and see if you can stick it out for longer. If your average speed over 3 hours is 15mph, do you think you can hold it for over 6 hours? If you can comfortably ride your bike for 4-4.5 hours, then you are in a good place to think about the century.
Rest: This is so important, include active recovery in your training weeks and make sure you are resting properly. Keep the legs turning in the week leading up to the big ride, but don't do anything that will make you excessively tired.
Whether you are riding an individual pursuit over 4km or a whole grand tour, pacing your effort will be of maximum importance. For 100 miles, you will want to make sure you don't use up all your energy too early and struggle badly in the last third of the ride. You can use a simple speedometer to gauge an average speed which you know you are comfortable with, or a heart rate monitor to keep around a particular BPM, or even old-fashioned perceived exertion – simply going by feel. However you pace yourself, it's a good idea to also have a psychological pacing strategy, such as waypoints you think you should be at during particular times. For example: ”I should be at the sharp climb at 40 miles in 150 minutes”. You can adjust your effort to ensure that you avoid blowing up too early, but that you also aren't dawdling unnecessarily and missing out on a faster time.
We all know how powerful the mind can be, and how it can affect performance both positively and negatively. If you are riding 100 miles alone, the mind can be a helpful ally, or a destructive pest. We want to enjoy our ride, so learning during training how to disassociate the feelings of discomfort is a useful skill. Try to focus on other things, like the scenery, your pedalling technique, or holding an aerodynamic position. The small ‘process goals’ of each waypoint within your pacing strategy will also help to break down the ride in your head into more manageable sections. Remember, no matter how demoralising the weather, the hills or the headwinds might be, think about how amazing you will feel at the end of the ride, and always look ahead, up the road to where things will be changing.
How you approach your nutrition both before and during our ride can be the difference between a great performance and a trip to A&E. How you refuel afterwards can also be a factor which will have a huge influence on your general health and your future riding plans.
Let's split the nutritional tips into three parts:
The day before your 100 miler needs to be seriously considered, this is where the ride actually starts. You may have heard of “carb loading” but the simplest advice here is to make sure you take on a healthy, balanced meal with fresh vegetables and low G.I. Carbs. Avoid things which are very rich or massively high in protein which will be difficult to digest. It's also worth considering a bowl of cereal two hours before bed as a booster. Leave off the alcohol or fizzy pop, and drink plenty of water. In the morning, go for the cereal and fruit and leave the fry-up for a rest day. Have at least 500ml of water before you set out.
Avoid taking on a whole bunch of 'energy' gels, these are mostly designed to help racing riders through the last few demanding kilometres of a road race. You might want to take along something with caffeine and sugar just in case, but don’t be tempted to break into this unless you are getting really fatigued and have already covered a good distance. All you really need is adequate carbohydrate to fuel from. An average sized cereal bar of about 30 grams for every 45-60 mins of riding is ideal. Take along some bananas too. Don't forget to keep eating! A critical stumbling point for many riders is the inability to fuel whilst riding, so make sure you are able to take a drink from a bottle whenever you need to, and that you can unwrap and eat a bar or other carb-based food whilst you're still riding. When drinking, tilt the bottle up and to the side to avoid tilting your head (so you can still look where you're going) and keep your food to hand in jersey pockets. You will need around 500ml of water per hour (more if it's very hot and you are losing it through sweat). And to help replenish the lost minerals, your second bottle should contain a small amount of an additive which contains electrolytes. Go for the powders that are aimed at hydration rather than energy. Don't try anything you haven't already used and are happy with, the big ride isn't the one for experimenting with nutrition and hydration.
Your muscles need glycogen now, this is the time for fruit juice or a purpose made recovery shake. Get those sugars in within 20 minutes, even 'bad' sugars like fizzy drinks and sweets (in moderation) can help at this point. Remember to keep hydrating and sit down to a decent meal containing some good protein within about an hour.
When you are on the bike for several hours, little imperfections in position or fit can evolve very major issues. If you have any niggles or particular localised discomfort during your normal rides, then it pays to get these seen to before the century ride. A professional bike fit can improve comfort and performance, whilst also reducing fatigue and the risk of injury. It's not just how the bike fits you though, how you fit yourself to the bike also matters. What we are talking about here is your ability to hold your position, you pedalling efficiency and flexibility. Work on developing a strong trunk and a stable core, so that you are not placing a lot of weight on your hands or wrists, and through the arms to the neck and shoulders. Check out the tour pros with their slightly bent elbows and stable upper body, their flat backs and aerodynamic positions. OK, you might not be able to emulate them immediately, but you will probably be able to improve your current position with a few tweaks and off-bike exercises and stretches. Get advice from a physio if needed, and make sure that you don't attempt the big ride without properly testing new positions or bike parts beforehand.
Factors affecting performance: an evidence based report
Part 1: Nutrition.
Macronutrients and micronutrients.
A major source of the world population’s energy is provided by carbohydrates. This is a macronutrient, along with fat and protein. The function of carbohydrate, once digested, is to be stored in the muscles and liver as many linked molecules of glucose, called glycogen. The carbohydrate stored is used at the start of exercise and, as exercise intensity increases, the glycogen’s contribution to energy metabolism also increases. Carbohydrate exists in simple and complex forms; sources of simple carbohydrates consist of refined sugars and contain energy but lack nutrients, whilst complex carbohydrates are found in whole-grain products; beans, rice, bread and pasta include fibre and nutrients.
The rate of carbohydrate digestion and effect on the rise of blood glucose is described as the ‘glycemic index’. Food sources with a high glycemic index cause a rise in blood sugar levels and digest quickly. These foods are commonly white breads, bananas, potatoes and foods containing glucose and sucrose. Low glycemic index foods include nuts, peas, beans and milk, whilst foodstuffs such as spaghetti, corn and oatmeal are of moderate glycemic index. The NHS Advises that ‘Starchy foods such as potatoes, bread, cereals, rice, pasta should make up about a third of the food you eat’.
Another primary source of energy is fat. This is also the most efficient at storing energy, having 9.3 calories per gram compared to carbohydrate and protein which each have around 4 calories per gram. Fat is an essential component of cell walls and vital insulation in the nervous system, it acts as a shock absorber for internal organs and is used as fuel in sustained physical activity. However, excess dietary fat can contribute to heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity and other illnesses. Energy can be acquired from the conversion of excess protein and carbohydrate which is stored as fat in adipose tissue, as well as through dietary fat. Fat is present in different forms and these include cholesterol and triglycerides. Triglycerides comprise of three fatty acid molecules which are attached to a molecule of glycerol. A fatty acid can be unsaturated or saturated and is the smallest component of a fat. Saturated fats are found in dairy products and meats, whilst a fatty acid, omega 3 is known as a polyunsaturated fat which is present in oily fish and green vegetables.
Proteins are described as ‘the building blocks of the body’. A vital dietary component required for the maintenance and growth of the body’s tissues and cells. Proteins consist of a long chain of twenty amino acids, of which eight are essential and can only be obtained through dietary sources. Providing all eight essential acids are present, the remaining amino acids can be synthesised by the liver. Foods which will provide all eight essential amino acids include dairy products, meats, fish, eggs and poultry. However, protein present in wheat, rice, oats, pulses and nuts may not.
Vitamins and minerals are only required in small amounts daily, these are known as micronutrients. Vitamins C and E are antioxidants that can stimulate and enhance the immune response. Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, peppers and broccoli, and Vitamin E is present in vegetable oils, whole grain foods and wheat germ. Vitamin B, contained in nuts, spinach and potatoes has been found to promote white blood cells, whilst Folate is a vitamin which increases the activity of these cells. Folate is obtained from salmon, peas and lettuce. Carrots and sweet potatoes contain Beta-carotene which stimulates the immune system cells which fight infections. Minerals such as selenium; found in tuna and eggs, and zinc; present in eggs, whole grains and oysters, have also been found to aid the immune response. A particularly important mineral is Iron, as this transports and stores oxygen when used in muscle myoglobin and helps produce haemoglobin which transports oxygen in red blood cells from the lungs to the working muscles. Iron can be found in prunes, apricots, dates, beans and meats.
One major component of teeth and bones is calcium, it is also involved in enzyme activity, blood clotting, nerve transmission and muscle contraction. Calcium is present in milk, cheese and other dairy foods, in soya and tofu, some oily fish and in anything made with fortified flour.
Alongside energy and nutrients found in foods, the body also requires an appropriate supply of water. The human body’s weight is made up of 55%-60% water, which is contained in cells and glands, extracellular fluids like saliva, tears and blood, and is present in the gastrointestinal tract. Water has many important functions which include temperature regulation through perspiration, lubrication of surfaces and membranes, the transportation of hormones, antibodies, waste products, energy and gases and is involved with the regulation of the acid-base balance in the blood. Even an inactive person will require around 2.5 litres of water per day to replace fluids lost in faeces, urine, skin and exhalation of the lungs.
Electrolytes (potassium, chloride and sodium) are minerals which help facilitate muscle contraction and relaxation, and play a key role in regulating fluid balance, both inside and outside the cells. Water alone will not replace electrolytes lost through exercise. All drinks contain an amount of water and count towards the daily requirement but pure water, milk and fruit juices are recommended as the healthiest.
Cycling specific nutrition.
David Brailsford, British Cycling’s performance director, (2003-2014) described the importance of lifestyle discipline for the young riders on the Olympic academy program. The need for appropriate and effective nutrition is likely to be particularly important to these cyclists, as their training regime consists of 2-5 hours every day, often riding 100 miles or more. The Performance Diet recommends that 55-60% of calories should come from carbohydrates. However, as the academy riders compete in endurance cycling events such as the individual pursuit, they will often be competing at an exercise intensity between VO2max (the maximal capacity to take in and use oxygen in exercise) and the second lactate threshold, where blood lactate levels rise to the point of excess anaerobic effort and exhaustion. This indicates the efforts will place a particular demand on the rider’s muscular endurance as well as the aerobic system, therefore the muscle’s glycogen supplies will rely on carbohydrate to provide sufficient fuel. The dietary recommendations of carbohydrate for elite cyclists is considered by British Cycling to be around 60-70%, which places even more importance on carbohydrate than the typical performance diet.
The recommendations in both the performance diet and British Cycling’s Level 3 coaching handbook indicate a 10-15% amount of total calories should come from protein, therefore to avoid muscle loss and to ensure repair of muscle tissue after training it is important for the riders, as endurance athletes, to intake 1.2-1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. It should be noted however, that when engaging in strength training and very high intensity programmes, cyclists may need to take in up to 2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight.
Although fat has been described as a primary source of energy, it is suggested that dietary fat should fall between 20-25% of daily intake and that no more than a third should comprise of saturated fats. For the academy cyclists, as their training and competition places demands on muscle glycogen, the importance of ensuring they can take on adequate amounts of carbohydrate would mean a recommendation for avoidance of excess dietary fat. During an aerobic endurance training phase however, it would be reasonable to consider that the cyclists may use fat stores when undertaking longer rides of low intensity and to ensure their diet is monitored appropriately.
Dehydration can result in poor performance for cyclists, as much as 20% if there is a loss of 2% of the body’s total weight, consequently, for the cyclists in our study to perform at their optimal level, attention to effective hydration is of maximum importance. Included with the loss of fluids during exercise, the riders will also lose electrolytes, for example, 1.5 grams of salt can be lost per litre of sweat lost. Therefore attention to the replacement of these minerals is essential. When in competition or periods of training, it is important that the academy riders are not susceptible to germs and infections and will rely on vitamins and minerals, which can be found either in food or supplements, to help maintain a healthy immune system.
Recommendations for pre- and post-training/competition nutrition and hydration.
David Brailsford explains that an ‘all or nothing’ approach is taken with the riders on the academy programme and they are looking for ‘a 1% improvement in 20-25 areas’. Therefore, it would be important to consider how much of a difference in performance the correct approach to nutrition and hydration would make. A recommended pre-training diet would be likely to include carbohydrates with a low to moderate glycemic index, this would ensure that a steady stream of glycogen is supplied during the exercise. This may follow the performance diet guideline of 55-60% of calories, but during intense training/competition may need to be increased. It is also necessary to ensure adequate hydration before training, depending on the temperature conditions, 500-750ml of water should be consumed. For cyclists, it is also likely that there is a need for hydration during activity, and depending on intensity, this may include an Isotonic sports drink, (containing 5-8% carbohydrate per 100ml of water) to maintain glycogen levels.
Immediately after exercise, it is suggested that consumption of high glycemic index carbohydrate is best. However, Ivy et al (2002, cited in Sharkey and Gaskill, 2007, p. 311) suggest this should also include protein, at a ratio of 1 grams to every 4 grams of carbs in order to speed muscle recovery and maximal replacement of muscle glycogen. This ‘refuelling’ process should ideally take place within 20 minutes of completing training or competition, as the sooner the nutrition is absorbed by the liver and muscles, the more effective the recovery process. Again, hydration is particularly important, and replacement of vital fluids and micronutrients is desirable. In order to ensure fluid replacement, recommendations to drink both water and fruit juices, which can contain a variety of vitamins, are made by both British Cycling and Sharkey and Gaskill. Alcohol would function as a diuretic, hindering the rehydration process, therefore should be avoided.
Sharkey, B. J. and Gaskill, S. E. (2007) Fitness & Health (6th edn), Leeds, Human Kinetics
The Open University (2008) E112 Introduction to Sport, Fitness and Management DVD, Milton Keynes, The Open University
Donnelly, J. (2008) 'Study topic 6: Eating to win’, in E112 Introduction to Sport, Fitness and Management, Milton Keynes, The Open University
NHS (2011a) ‘Vitamins and minerals – Calcium – NHS Choices’ [online], (Accessed 24th May 2012)
NHS (2011b) ‘Water and drinks – Live well – NHS Choices’ [online], (Accessed 24th May 2012)
NHS (2011c) ‘Starchy foods (carbs) – Live well – NHS Choices’ [online], (Accessed 24th May 2012)
Stanners, C. (ed.) (2008) British Cycling Coaching Handbook, Coaching for Performance, Level 3. Coachwise, Leeds.