CYCLING PERFORMANCE TIPS
Latest update: 6/2/2023
Training for Endurance Riding.
As you increase your training for longer events - tours, multi-day self supported
rides, a century - you need to pay particular attention to:
- Eating enough calories (especially
carbohydrates) to fuel the ride.
A good nutrition plan will include:
- carbohydrate loading in the 3 to 4 days prior
- a good breakfast 3 to 4 hours before you start
- Regular carbohydrate drinks/snacks while riding
- Logging time on the bike, saddle time, to train your body for the stresses on the
back and shoulders that comes with longer rides. All riding time counts - long
slow distance rides, weekend rides being challenged by your riding group, and
dedicated days of interval training.
- Cardiovascular conditioning - to improve your VO2max. Here, long slow miles
will not be effective. You will need focused interval training.
The studies on the benefits of interval training provide a wide range
of results as the studied groups are so diverse - from untrained riders to elite athletes.
In regular riders, a 5 to 10% improvement in total time to exhaustion at
an endurance pace (60 - 80% VO2max)was not unusual after adding intervals to a training program. And
studying sedentary individuals produced even more impressive results.
First article: (abstract,
full article) -
approximately 15 min of intense exercise over 2 wk (a pretty short time) DOUBLED endurance capacity
(exercise at ~ 80% VO2max) in active individuals.
Second study: (abstract,
full article) - in well trained competitive cyclists rather than
recreationally active adults. Endurance performance in a 40 km time trial improved after interval training (a minute off
of a 57 minute result). The improvement appeared to be from the muscles increased ability to buffer
the acidic products of metabolism rather than any change in the riders' VO2max.
A third study, a review, supported
an improvement in endurance performance without a change in VO2max. The authors indicated
an increased "tolerance" for fatigue from an increase in the efficiency (using
less energy per unit of distance covered).
And finally, In this study,
the group assigned to 30 minutes of steady
riding 3 times a week increased their time to exhaustion by 64%. But training with
intervals, 3 times a week, doubled the benefit with a 129% improvement in time to
exhaustion! Twice as much physiologic improvement for the same amount of training time.
For those interested, this is a great
on the physiology of interval training with a short section on the physiology behind
improving endurance performance.
FATmax - Why Slowing Down Will Extend the Range of an Endurance Ride.
The relative contribution of fat and carbohydrates calories to provide the energy for
our muscle cells varies with the level of exertion. The specifics are
article and presented in this illustration.
The number of fat calories utilized per hour is a bit higher at approximately 60% VO2 max,
but are essentially stable (per hour) at all levels of exertion up to 85% VO2max.
This graph from
article in RoadBikeRider.com is the same data presented in a way that more clearly
demonstrates the absolute number of fat and carbohydrate calories expended as the
level of exertion increases and again highlights the fact that fat provides a relatively
flat and stable amount of calories per minute across all levels of exertion while the
carbohydrate contribution continues to increase with greater exertion.
This graph from
My Coach Cycling shows the
relationship a third way. The only problem I have with this graph is the implication that
the abolute number of fat calories per hour falls off rapidly above moderate levels of
exertion which misrepresents the original findings from 1993 of a stable hourly fat
calorie utilization up to at least to 85% VO2max. It is only as exercise
approaches 100% VO2max (with metabolism largely anaerobic) that fat is no longer
a significant energy source for the muscle cell.
The term FATmax, an exercise intensity at which peak fat oxidation occurs, was
coined by Jeukendrup and Achten in 2001. As the contribution of carbohydrate calories
continues to increase with exercise intensity, it is also the exercise intensity (%VO2max)
at which the ratio of carbohydrate calories to fat calories shifts to carbohydrates
as the predominant fuel for the muscle.
Why is FATmax important? In endurance sports using the maximum amount of as a fuel
delays depletion of stored glycogen and the onset of performance limiting fatigue
(the bonk) which occurs when stored glycogen calories have been depleted.
FATmax varies from individual to individual
but is approximately
63%VO2max which is equivalent to
Zone 2 (of a 7 zone
training program) or a a perceived exertion of 3 to 4 (10 point scale) or 60-70% MHR.
It was originally suggested that exercising at FATmax would maximize the fat loss
benefits of exercise when minimal exercise time was available. But as you
can see from this table (also from the
article) this is not the case. Let’s say you had 2 hours to exercise and chose to
exercise at a FATmax 65%VO2max. You would use 850 fat calories in the two hours. If you
instead pushed up to 85%VO2max, you would increase total calories used in the two hours
but the number of fat calories used over the two hours would remain unchanged.
The extra calories are all from glycogen storage. If you were on a calorically
stable diet, the increased exertion would cause a daily caloric deficit and you
would ultimately use fat to resynthesize glycogen stores. BUT it was not the rate
of exertion that made a difference, rather it was the total calories used for the
two hours of exercise. If your goal is to actually burn fat calories at the time of
exercising, any moderate level of activity will get you the same per hour result.
But if the goal is weight loss, a higher level of activity gets you more weight
loss per hour of exercise time.
The concept of FATmax explains why slowing down extends riding time (assuming no snacks
or energy drinks) for long distance and multi hour events. These calculations use
assumptions on power output from ChatGPT (it is a time saver) and calculations from
BikeCalculator.com. Both assume no
oral glucose or caloric supplements.
From Chat GPT:
- if an individual weighs 70 kilograms, their average power output at 60% VO2max
might range from 140 to 175 watts. Assume 140 watts
- if an individual weighs 70 kilograms, their average power output at 80% VO2max
might range from 280 to 350 watts. Assume 280 watts
Now from bike calculator:
Just a little slowing makes a big difference in endurance capacity.
- a brisk pace:
- 280 watts = 22 mph
- 800 calories/hour = 1600 calories for two hours.
- 960 glycogen calories for 2 hours (from roadbikerider.com table)
- At 22 mph with 1000 calories of stored glycogen, 1000/960 x 2 = 2.1 hours of riding
and cover 46 miles.
- Now slow down a bit to FATmax levels of exertion.
- 140 watts = 17 mph
- 500 calories/hour or 1000 calories for 2 hours
- 150 glycogen calories for 2 hours (from roadbikerider.com table)
- At 17 mph with 1000 calories of stored glycogen, 1000/150 x 2 = 13.3 hours of riding
and cover 226 miles
A Vegetarian Diet May Give You An Edge.
Meat is not a requirement for the training table. In fact, a plant based diet may
provide an extra edge, a "secret sauce" for better endurance performance.
Both studies support the performance advantage of a vegetarian diet. Why? Perhaps an
added factor in the plant based foods (anti oxidants?) or the absence of a negative
factor in the omnivore diet (fats perhaps?)
- Article 1
- 56 healthy young lean physically active women
- one group vegan for at least 4 years versus life long omnivores
- no significant differences in upper and lower body muscle strength, total body weight , lean body mass.
- Vegan group significantly older than the omnivores
- vegans had a significantly higher VO2 max (44.5 vs. 41.6 ml/kg/min)
- vegans submaximal endurance time to exhaustion 25% higher (12.2 vs 8.8 min) than the omnivores.
- More information.
- Article 2
- 74 patients with type 2 diabetes
- comparing the effects of 12 weeks of a vegetarian (V) and conventional diet (C) - similar caloric restriction - plus aerobic exercise on physical fitness
- Exercise was comparable in the two groups - only defined as "aerobic exercise performed under professional supervision 3 x a week."
- Maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max) increased by 12% in vegetarian group whereas no significant change was observed in conventional diet group.
- Maximal performance (Watt max) increased by 21% in the vegetarian group whereas it did not change in the conventional diet group.
- More information.
On a long ride, especially if it is hot, it is easy to focus on your calories and miss
the real reason you have bonked - inadequate fluid replacement. You do not want to
lose more than 2% of your body weight on a ride. If you are not certain you are
doing an adequate job, weigh yourself before and after a ride.
article emphasizes the point.
All questions and
appreciated and will be answered.
Cycling Performance Tips
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