Whether you are an amateur or a veteran cyclist, it’s important to eat healthy so that your performance and recovery are optimal no matter the time of the year. But do you know how important proteins are for cyclists? On this post, we’ll discuss them, analyzing how, when and why they should be included in a healthy diet, according to your lifestyle and workout routines.
Proteins – What they are
Proteins are molecules made by a set of amino acids which, interlinked, make up your body tissues. We could say proteins are the structures that make up body muscles. This is precisely why proteins are essential for the muscles to work properly, for their maintenance and to repair muscle tissue, which may be damaged after an intense workout.
There’s a total of 20 amino acids coded in human genetic code. They can be compared to blocks or bricks that make up your body. Out of these, only eleven can be produced naturally by your body, which is why they’re called non essential amino acids. The remaining nine, called essential amino acids, are those that your body cannot produce by itself, and which must be acquired through food. Foods rich in essential amino acids can be obtained through animal or vegetable foods.
Proteins can be obtained from two main sources: plant-based protein sources and animal-based protein sources.
Plant-based protein sources
These kinds of proteins are obtained through vegetables, grains, nuts and several kinds of flour, but their biological value is low, which means they don’t have all of the essential amino acids. In order to overcome this limitation, they must be combined with foods such as rice, corn or wheat, in order to get all of the essential amino acids into your body.
- Lentils + rice
- Rice + vegetables + nuts
- Chickpeas + quinoa
- Green beans + nuts + vegetables
Animal-based protein sources
This kind of protein has a higher biological value when compared to plant-based protein, which means essential amino acidsare quantitatively and proportionally higher. Animal-sourced food have different fat levels all coming from a common source, so it’s important to consume them moderately, especially in regard to red meat, which is significantly higher in saturated fat than white meat as chicken or turkey. On the other hand, fish has animal-sourced protein as well as good fats which benefit the heart, such as omega 3.
- Veal steak
Importance of protein in a cyclist’s diet
Cyclism is a high-performance sport which involves a lot of wear and tear affecting especially leg muscles, which are the hardest-working ones. Thus, it’s essential that you take protein after each cycling session in order to stimulate muscle growth and a faster recovery.
In order that muscle tissue regenerates optimally and to prevent damaging it, it’s crucial to consume protein, which helps recover quickly. Thanks to proteins, your following workout session will be as good as can be, and your performance will also improve.
Amount of protein necessary for cycling
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a daily intake of 0,8 g of protein per kilogram per day for sedentary people. The factor determining the real protein needs of a person is their level of activity at the end of the day.
Taking this into account, a cyclist will need a much higher protein intake compared to a sedentary person or to someone who doesn’t exercise at all. For an endurance sport such as cyclism, nutrition and performance professionals recommend an intake of 1–1,5 grams of protein per kilo per day. During more demanding or intense periods, it can even be increased to 2 g of protein per kilo per day.
When is it better to take protein?
Have you ever heard about the anabolic window? It’s a process undergone by your body after working out. During it, it’s crucial to give our body what it needs, because it’s then that it can maximise nutrient absorption thanks to a temporal accelerated metabolism, which implies a higher blood flow and anabolic hormone production. Testosterone and the growth hormone are produced in a higher amount, and all of these factors combined can enhance muscle protein synthesis and help with recovery after an intense training session.
The best way of achieving the daily protein intake goal is to space it out in several intakes during all meals that you take during the day, focusing especially on pre- and post-workout meals. These must be rich in carbohydrates in order to give more energy to your body so that you’re able to work out at your prime; and also rich in protein in order to enhance muscle recovery.
You normally obtain your proteins from the food you eat in your everyday life, such as meat, milk, fish, among others. However, there’s times when it’s hard to eat those kinds of food or take the recommended protein intake on an only-food basis. That’s why there exist sports supplements that provide high amounts of protein. These supplements normally come in the form of poder, with different flavours, and are to be mixed with water or milk, depending on personal preference.
For cyclists, it’s also important to take little protein intakes while riding, especially during long workout sessions where muscle fatigue is higher. These can be taken in the form of bars which, apart from supplying protein to your body, also supply it with carbohydrates and give you more energy.
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