Improve Nutrition and Recovery for Cycling Fitness- Insights from Elite Cycling Coach Scott Bugden

Michael GuilfordCoaching

In this video Scott explains the key things for improving your recovery and nutrition. Below is an edited transcript of the discussion.

What do you need to do to improve your nutrition?

Reduce intake of processed food. There are various reasons for this; one is their high fat, sugar and salt levels. Another reason is the preservatives used in these foods, which kill bacteria in your gut. And we all know the importance of a healthy gut flora.

I think we have publicised a high carbohydrate diet a bit too much in the past. A balanced diet with a little more carbohydrate is a good place to start. Have some variety. One of things I would change if I could go back, was how much I would snack on bread, when I was training. I would literally come from a long ride and if I was hungry I could eat nearly half a loaf of bread. Toasted with butter.  But it’s just empty calories. The amount of bread pasta and fairly basic carbs I used to eat when I was a riding seriously, was fairly ridiculous. But it was the height of the high carb diet era.

Also think about what’s going to fill you up. One thing I have changed more recently is eating a lot more fat and protein, compared to when I was racing. Both of these things will make you feel more satiated, fuller for longer. Often you look for a healthy snack, ah! Something without out too much fat in it, but high carbohydrate snacks are like pouring petrol on a fire, it just disappears, whereas if you put a log on or a lump of coal it burns more slowly.

Fresh fruit and vegetables are always a good thing. Maybe a bit more vegetables than fruit, due to the high sugar content of fruit.

Cook fresh food. It doesn’t have to be super fancy Michelin 5 star restaurant cuisine. But if you cook food yourself, you have an appreciation for what you are eating and have a better idea of what’s going into it.

In terms of the riders you are working with, what are the differences in terms of nutrition with respect to the training they are doing each day?

At Swiss Cycling we mostly have endurance riders, very few sprint riders. Female riders for example are training up to 25hrs with an easy week being 8 hrs. Most of the riders ride on the road and are doing fairly large training volumes.

If you are starting a long ride mid-morning you need to have enough snacks so that you complete the ride without running out of energy. You’ve got to prepare yourself. When you come back you need to have a decent meal to start the recovery process.

What should you eat on a rest day?

But for example, on a rest day you need to fuel for what’s appropriate on that day. If you are going to do a 5hr ride you need to have a good breakfast.

However if you are on a rest day you don’t want to eat that same amount of food. That’s when eating vegetables, some carrots and something like a hummus dip as a snack.  There’s a bit of fat and protein and that will make you feel much fuller for longer. Rather than say a banana or some grapes; this due to their high carbohydrate content will disappear from your stomach quickly. Then you are left feeling hungry again. Nuts are another great snack. Quite a bit of fat a little bit of protein, but they’ll sit in your stomach for longer. Or drink half a pint of milk. Which due to the volume and will also stop you feeling hungry.

What about fuelling for more intense training?

There is a bit of a misconception that elite athletes are always eating gels or sipping on energy drinks. We do use them. And we would normally have something available for the athletes. If we are on a track training camp and have a 2.5hr session in the morning and another in the afternoon they can survive for 2hrs without having to have 200g of carbohydrate in them! They’ll have a decent breakfast, then water or an electrolyte drink for the session, and then they have a good lunch soon as possible, ready for the next session. Then a good dinner in the evening. Mostly food! Three main meals then which put you in a good position for the next session.

What can we do to improve recovery?

I pretty much accepted when I started working full time as a coach that I wasn’t going to be able to continue to compete at the same level. So I had to pretty picky about which races I would do. Part of that is stress, and time. I’m not someone who gets particularly stressed but there is always some level of stress. Then it’s the time. To recover properly you need time to just sit down and have a break.

In terms of stress it’s a huge question. Probably now more than it ever has been. Exercise helps. That’s one thing that’s 100% sure. If you are already getting out riding your bike or doing some exercise, then that’s a good start. But you’ve got to take into account the other things that give you fatigue. Stress is one of those things.

One of things I see a lot is with the female rider’s I’m working with at the moment.  They are part time students and when they have exams they want to keep training at the same training loads. What they don’t understand is that the exams studying and stress is adding an extra layer of fatigue to their day.

So, give yourself a break sometimes.  It’s not a case of missing out on the exercise but reducing the intensity. So instead of that vo2max session or super hard interval session, if you’ve had a hard day at work, maybe just go ride your bike in the sun and just spin your legs instead.

The other thing is mindfulness and meditation. It’s definitely something I think is good. But it’s not for everyone and it does require some time and practice and that’s not something everyone can commit to.