We look at the lat­est in cy­cling diet science, and how the pros are fu­elling them­selves

Procycling - - Contents - Wri ter: Sam Dan­sie Photography: Get ty Images

Post a cou­ple of photos of your eggs and av­o­cado brunch on In­sta­gram and peo­ple think that’s all you eat. Pro­cy­cling looks at how Team Sky ac­tu­ally fu­els its ath­letes "You need to fuel well to race… but peo­ple of­ten try to recre­ate race- day prac­tices in train­ing. That might be the worst thing they could do" James Mor­ton Per­for­mance Nu­tri­tion­ist Team Sky

It usu­ally starts with an In­sta­gram photo. Con­sider this from the Tour’s sec­ond rest day: four poached eggs, some smoked salmon and half an av­o­cado. By lunch the num­ber of views is in the thou­sands and com­ments are pil­ing up like snow. Some, the po­liter ones, quizzi­cally ask where the ‘fuel’ is. Others demon­strate an agenda with the hash­tag #CTFU, an acro­nym com­man­deered by on­line nu­tri­tion com­men­ta­tors, sug­gest­ing in cer­tain terms that Froome should add some car­bo­hy­drates in his diet: carb the f*ck up. Google ‘Chris Froome Low Carb Diet’ and af­ter the head­lines about how Froome lost 20lb, won the Tour and be­came a mul­ti­mil­lion­aire Monaco res­i­dent thanks to LCHF (low carb, high fat diet), there are videos. The pre­sen­ters, brim­ming with pas­sion­ate ire, cri­tique a plat­ter sans

les glu­cides that Froome posted on­line. “I would say to Froome, if he wants to lose weight, don’t eat this sh*t,” says one Aus­tralian vlog­ger adamantly, when a photo of an ar­range­ment of av­o­cado, two boiled eggs, some sup­ple­ments and a take­away tea ap­peared un­der Froome’s cap­tion, ‘It’s not all about carbo-load­ing!’

That peo­ple pre­sume to know bet­ter and with such cer­tainty is one thing. More to the point, some­where be­tween the cap­tion (which im­plies car­bo­hy­drates do have a role) and the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the im­age, some­thing’s been lost. Of course Froome eats car­bo­hy­drates. But the noise of the con­clu­sions be­ing jumped to based on the im­age of a few plates of food posted to so­cial me­dia per­plexes the triple Tour de France win­ner.

“I think some of the pic­tures I’ve put on so­cial me­dia about what I’ve been eat­ing hap­pen to be on a low carb day and I guess peo­ple see that and say ‘he must be rac­ing like that as well’ – I’m not” says Froome. I be­lieve in high carb, medium carb and low carb.”

Nev­er­the­less there is a story to Froome’s diet. It’s less a case of what he eats, but how and when.

James Mor­ton has been Team Sky’s per­for­mance nu­tri­tion­ist since the start of 2015. He’s worked with Liver­pool FC, jock­eys, MMA ath­letes and box­ers on both sides of the pro-am di­vide. Un­der­ly­ing his field­work, the North­ern Ire­lander is a PhD in Ex­er­cise Me­tab­o­lism with a post in the sports science depart­ment at Liver­pool John Moores Univer­sity. Ten years ago, the depart­ment cot­toned onto ev­i­dence demon­strat­ing that when the body is de­nied ready ac­cess to car­bo­hy­drate in some train­ing sce­nar­ios, it led to bet­ter train­ing adap­ta­tions and per­for­mance. LJMU is one of the few cen­tres around the world to fol­low the lead in this nu­tri­tion the­ory, dubbed car­bo­hy­drate pe­ri­odi­s­a­tion. “It is one of the most ex­cit­ing as­pects of sports nu­tri­tion of the last decade,” says Mor­ton, who took over from Nigel Mitchell, Sky’s pre­vi­ous nu­tri­tion­ist, who was up on the idea of car­bo­hy­drate re­stric­tion, too.

For 40 years, Mor­ton says, the abid­ing prin­ci­ple of en­durance ath­letes’ nu­tri­tion was that high car­bo­hy­drate lev­els im­prove per­for­mance. And that re­mains res­o­lutely the case. “Race-win­ning moves are fu­elled by car­bo­hy­drate,” he says. “There’s no way that Chris could climb the way he climbs af­ter five hours if there wasn't car­bo­hy­drate in his sys­tem or his mus­cles weren’t con­di­tioned to use it as a fuel.” But it’s also led to a widely held be­lief, Mor­ton adds, that what’s good in races is good in train­ing and that rid­ers should eat enough carb-rich food that the mus­cles are al­ways well stocked with the ready source of en­ergy, glyco­gen, but not so much that it isn’t used and turns to fat. It’s a mind­set that Mor­ton be­lieves has taken root in the sport. “I def­i­nitely

think nu­tri­tion has been an un­der­val­ued com­po­nent of cy­cling. I think it is very val­ued on race day, this idea that you need to fuel well to race, but what I would say is that per­haps peo­ple of­ten try to recre­ate race-day prac­tices in train­ing. That might be the worst thing they could be do­ing.”

Mor­ton adds: “It’s not al­ways about per­for­mance. In train­ing it’s about adap­ta­tions and one of the fun­da­men­tal goals of en­durance train­ing is to in­crease the amount and func­tion of mi­to­chon­dria in­side the mus­cle.”

The back­ground. Whether a rider is a Clas­sics man or Grand Tour con­tender, the process of train­ing a mus­cle to be good at cy­cling is pre­dom­i­nantly to re­cruit more power sta­tions in­side the cell, called mi­to­chon­dria. Dur­ing aer­o­bic train­ing the mus­cle is stressed and this prompts the cell to start cre­at­ing more mi­to­chon­dria.

The more mi­to­chon­dria, the bet­ter the mus­cle is at re­duc­ing lac­tic acid build-up and us­ing fats as an en­ergy source. For cy­clists this means they’re able to pedal at higher speeds but with less re­liance on the easy-ac­cess glyco­gen. And then when it comes to race win­ning moves, there are more glyco­gen re­serves to fuel the ef­fort. What care­fully planned nu­tri­tion does, says Mor­ton, is en­hance the train­ing ef­fect: deny the mus­cle car­bo­hy­drates at cer­tain in­ten­si­ties and the mus­cle is forced to rely on fats. That stim­u­lates the pro­duc­tion of mi­to­chon­dria. And by keep­ing the pro­tein and healthy fat in­take high, mus­cles have the nu­tri­ents to re­cover and won’t turn catabolic, which leads to a drop in power.

“I think of a lot of en­durance ath­letes will prac­tice car­bo­hy­drate pe­ri­odi­s­a­tion al­most un­con­sciously,” Mor­ton says. “They’re train­ing mul­ti­ple times per day – and at least with a cy­clist they’re train­ing pretty much ev­ery day with long en­durance ses­sions. It’s vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to have a mus­cle fully loaded with glyco­gen all day, ev­ery day. What I do is pro­vide some struc­ture and a the­o­ret­i­cal frame­work based on the re­search at Liver­pool John Moores Univer­sity and that of other re­searchers around the world.”

In prac­tice, this means over­lay­ing a cy­cle of meals that is tai­lored to meet up­com­ing train­ing ef­forts – or as Mor­ton puts it, “fu­elling for the work re­quired”. Rid­ers’ train­ing pro­grammes are of­ten bro­ken down into four-day blocks. Mor­ton gives the fol­low­ing il­lus­tra­tion. If day one is a long ride with in­ter­vals or climbs, car­bo­hy­drate in­take is in­creased at break­fast, dur­ing the ride and af­ter­wards to en­sure the rider can hit their ef­forts and re­cov­ery isn’t hin­dered by lack of nu­tri­ents. If day two is a long, low in­ten­sity ride, then the even­ing meal of day one may see some car­bo­hy­drate re­stric­tion be­gin, which is car­ried through break­fast be­fore and into the ride. The lack of car­bo­hy­drate stresses the cell in such a way that dur­ing re­cov­ery, new mi­to­chon­dria start to be pro­duced. De­pend­ing what’s com­ing on day three – per­haps an­other round of in­ter­vals – car­bo­hy­drates may be rein­tro­duced in the lat­ter part of the ride and car­ried through into the even­ing meal and the break­fast of day three. This process is tai­lored to what level of work comes on days three and four.

This process also al­lows the rid­ers to run a calo­rie deficit across a fairly broad time pe­riod that doesn’t af­fect train­ing ef­forts. And a calo­rie deficit means a grad­ual de­cline to race weight.

“It’s not un­com­mon for rid­ers to lose three to six kilo­grammes in the five or six months prior to a Grand Tour,” says Mor­ton. “Pe­ri­o­dis­ing car­bo­hy­drates ac­cord­ing to the fuel for the work re­quired prin­ci­ple pro­vides a prac­ti­cal frame­work to achieve this. It is, of course, pos­si­ble to lose weight quicker than this. For in­stance, some of the pro­fes­sional fight­ers I work with might lose 10kg in 10 weeks…but they have 24 hours to re­fuel af­ter mak­ing weight and only have to per­form for one night. A Grand Tour rider has 21 days and it’s a case of slow and steady weight loss wins the race…push­ing it too hard could mean the race is over be­fore you even start.”

Mor­ton, who’s con­vinced nu­tri­tion of­fers very mean­ing­ful gains in per­for­mance, is keen to keep much of the de­tail out of the pub­lic do­main on grounds of com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage. How­ever, he in­sists there’s more to un­der­stand, bound­aries of car­bo­hy­drate re­stric­tion to be pushed harder. Af­ter all, he says self-dep­re­cat­ingly, it’s taken him 10 years to reach the con­clu­sion that the “meal by meal, day by day ap­proach,” is the way for­ward.

“We’re con­stantly get­ting a bet­ter idea how to struc­ture this,” he says. “I do be­lieve there’s a glyco­gen thresh­old that you need to have in to ac­ti­vate all th­ese sys­tems. If you start with too high glyco­gen lev­els then you don't ac­ti­vate the path­ways

“I don’t think it’s nor­mal to do low carb rides. I cer­tainly won't be do­ing them af­ter I’ve re­tired. But there’s a rea­son we do it"

and then if you fin­ish ex­er­cise with too low glyco­gen and you don't re­cover you switch off the path­ways. So there’s a win­dow be­fore and af­ter that we think you should be stay­ing in to am­plify all the re­sponses. The hard part is iden­ti­fy­ing the sweet spot for each in­di­vid­ual ath­lete and, ul­ti­mately, this is where care­ful mon­i­tor­ing and work­ing with the ath­lete and coach are es­sen­tial,” he adds.

When Froome ap­proaches race weight he says he feels the sen­sa­tion of en­ergy sources flood­ing his mus­cles when he eats some­thing en­ergy rich, like a ba­nana. “It feels like this fuel which you didn’t have be­fore.”

It sounds far out. Froome doesn’t en­tirely dis­agree. “I don’t think it’s healthy or nor­mal to go out and do low carb rides,” he says bluntly. “It’s not nat­u­ral and I cer­tainly won't be do­ing those rides af­ter I’ve hung up the bike and re­tired. But there’s a rea­son we do them and I think it has been shown that it has helped us to lose weight with­out com­pro­mis­ing power or per­for­mance.”

Froome in­sists that the diet is not pre­scrip­tive, merely a set of guide­lines. He doesn't weigh his food. “It’s all on feeling and you can judge best your­self by lis­ten­ing to your body. If you get on the bike and you just feel empty then you need to top up,” he adds, though ad­mits that this is where hunger sen­sa­tions rub up against willpower. “Nat­u­rally as ath­letes there’s a ten­dency to want to push the lim­its and hone in on the last few per cent. I def­i­nitely think it’s with ex­pe­ri­ence that you just find out where the lim­its are.”

Dur­ing com­pe­ti­tion, Team Sky’s diet is mainly all carbs but by this time mus­cles are so well tuned, so rich in mi­to­chon­dria, that even at the pin­na­cle of com­pe­ti­tion, there’s a time and a place for a lit­tle bit of car­bo­hy­drate re­stric­tion. And that’s why a photo of Chris Froome’s break­fast on a rest day, two thirds of the way through the Tour de France, when all that looms ahead is a me­dia call and two steady hours on the bike, doesn’t fea­ture toast.

Salmon, av­o­cado and egg looks like a great break­fast, but dur­ing a Grand Tour?

Four hun­gry Sky rid­ers pedal in search of a McDon­ald's when Mor­ton isn't look­ing

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.