Having cycled for most of my life, I can tell you that cycling for over 190 miles a week is not for the fainthearted. It requires endurance training that pushes your body and mind to the limits. You are also required to be on a strict diet and endurance supplements.
For years, we’ve been led to believe that for you to improve your cycling endurance you’d have to spend about 12-16 weeks riding low-intensity miles as a way to strengthen your aerobic system before you can transition to harder training rides or races. Which is a fantastic idea if all you do is ride all day, but for most of us, this is not possible since we have other commitments.
We are left with two options; you can either opt for polarized training or combine regular training with endurance supplements.
Fortunately, with the best endurance supplements for cyclists, you can reduce the amount of time required to train, enhance your performance and recovery. If everything works out perfectly you could be looking at a new personal record.
Best Endurance Supplements for Cyclists
The physiology of a cyclist is unique as they have to work longer, sustain a high power output and cover more distance. A simple six-hour bike ride could easily deplete all energy reserves which begs the question, what is the best way to build endurance?
The best way is with the help of supplements. However, there is always a challenge on which type of supplements to take.
Achieving Optimal Performance in Cycling: Proteins vs. Carbs
Unlike track sprinting and weightlifting, cycling requires sustained high power and a balance between effort and efficiency. Due to this cyclists require specialized and optimized supplements. Picture the amount of energy a cyclist burns in a single race. A typical 200-mile race requires approximately 50,000 pedal revolutions. Which means a cyclist needs to keep refueling.
These days with all the fad diets it is hard to know what your body really needs to perform at optimal levels. As a highly active person, you want as much out of your body as possible. Your body requires protein, carbohydrate, and fat as a fuel source to perform activities such as running, cycling, etc. This article will focus on protein and carbohydrate as a fuel source during exercise and during recovery, as these are the two primary macronutrients that have been under debate recently.
Proteins (PRO) are crucial for your body to perform daily function. PRO make up the hormones and enzymes that regulate body functions and are the building blocks of your body i.e. skeletal muscle, skin, etc. According to the recommended daily allowance (RDA) PRO should account for approximately 20% of your daily caloric intake. Only a small percentage of the energy derived from PRO is utilized during exercise as a fuel source (~1-2%). The percentage of PRO utilization during exercise can increase, but will only increase when carbohydrate is not available as the primary fuel source. (5)
Carbohydrates (CHO) can be found in the body as muscle glycogen, liver glycogen and in the blood as blood glucose. CHO is the primary substrate used during exercise especially when the intensity of the said exercise increases as seen in Tour De France cyclists who can expend vast amounts of calories. There is however only enough muscle glycogen for a few hours of exercise, but is dependant upon the intensity of the exercise. Liver glycogen and blood glucose can be used by the muscles as fuel but are also necessary to insure proper function of other organs (such as the brain). During aerobic exercise one of the limiting factors in athletic performance could be depletion of fuel sources such as CHO. Since there is a limited amount of stored muscle, and liver glycogen in the body CHO stores must be replenished if you hope to prevent fatigue. CHO feedings during exercise can delay the onset of fatigue by 30-60 minutes, due the increased availability of CHO that can be readily utilized during exercise (2,3).
The type of CHO to consume during exercise is still widely debated. I suggest that you experiment with different sources, and concentrations of CHO while training to determine what works best for you. Glucose, sucrose, and maltodextrins are good choices; fructose however does not seem to be an effective source (3). A suggested concentration of 4-10% CHO mixed in water can be a starting point (1mL of water equals 1g) (1,3,5). During high volume training periods, maintaining glycogen levels from day to day can be a challenge but is essential if you expect your body to continue to perform at peak levels. CHO should comprise at least 55-65% of you total caloric intake.
In conclusion, you still cannot beat the well-rounded diet. Every macronutrient has a vital function within the body. For endurance athletes CHO is the limiting energy source, when one runs out of CHO one “bonks.”
Here are the best endurance supplements for cycling:
1. Nitrix Oxide (Best Cycling Pre Workout Supplements )
Nitric oxide is a relatively new supplement to the cycling community. It has, however, become one of the best and most used cycling pre-workout supplements. Nitric oxide increases blood flow which will get more nutrients you need to your muscles. It also helps to get you the pump you are looking for while riding.
All Nitric Oxide supplements are based on one main ingredient, L-Arginine. It helps stimulate nitric oxide levels in the body thus dilate blood vessels and increase blood flow to muscles.
The increased blood flow brings more oxygen and nutrients to muscles. Two things happen here.
- First, you get “the pump” as oxygen inflates those muscles like blowing up a balloon.
- Second, nutrients carried along with the oxygen feed the muscles for solid and lean gain. The simplified pathway is shown as;
Arginine → Nitric Oxide → Vasodilation → Nutrient Delivery → Muscle Growth
Scary Nitric Oxide Side Effects On Blood Pressure
Imagine This Scenario
You have been taking Nitric Oxide supplement for one week, aiming for improved cycling endurance. You are halfway through your workout, and training hard. You have been perspiring copiously, but only replenishing lost fluid from a few occasional sips from your best cycling recovery drink.
You may not be aware but together with the effects of Nitric Oxide and loss of body fluid, your blood pressure has dropped to an abnormal level.
It Is Scary
This scenario is scary but is very real. A sharp drop in systolic and diastolic blood pressure result in giddiness, nausea, and fainting (aka syncope). Unsafe drops in blood pressure are Nitric Oxide side effects. This further increases the importance of adequate hydration and self-awareness when supplementing Nitric Oxide. Exercise absolute care to avert this hypotensive side effect, and potentially severe injury.
What Actually Happened?
Cyclists have flocked to Nitric Oxide supplements in search of increased endurance, explosive athletic performance and a decrease of recovery time.
Nitric Oxide’s primary mechanism of action is its ability to relax blood vessels. It does this by deactivating a protein called Myosin, which is responsible for smooth muscle contraction. As Myosin is deactivated, the muscles of blood vessels relax, allowing for enlargement. This dilation of the vessels allows more blood to reach oxygen-starved tissue due to the reduction of friction and pressure.
The results are enhanced performance and swollen, better-defined muscles. Nitric Oxide’s mechanism of action does have one potentially drawback: a severe swing in blood pressure. Hypotension has its own set of unwanted effects on the body, including fainting and tissue damage, and the potential for serious injury in the gym setting.
We advise you to carry out TOLERANCE MAPPING. Please do this;
- Take a small dose for a week.
- Note down every side effects as well as its benefits.
- Make sure you keep accurate records of your workout.
- Then slowly increase the amount until a stage where the benefits outweigh side effects completely. This is painfully tedious, difficult and may as well take time but soon you will meet a point where the two (side effects and benefits) meet. This shall be the optimum dosage you can take at any one time.
By doing tolerance mapping you will reduce the risk but not eliminate it totally. There are chances you still can overdose while your body is trying to adapt it. It is always a painstaking moment trying to jot down every single detail.
Having said all that, we would like to add that Good Nitric Oxide Supplements if consumed in the right quantity can actually take your cycling to the next level. Popular Nitric Oxide Supplements like Xtreme NO are extremely effective and no side effects have been reported by the users of Xtreme NO.
Caffeine has been around for decades but it wasn’t until recently when cyclists started using it to boost their performance. Caffeine is like a drug almost everyone needs it function. It’s the ideal pick-me-up for an early training session. You need something to kick start your body and caffeine is the answer.
An early morning shot of caffeine will reduce the perception of effort thus delaying fatigue making it possible to cycle for longer. Unlike other athletes, cyclists have a special connection with coffee. For decades it has been part of Tour de France. It began in the 60s when Faema, a rich Italian espresso manufacturer sponsored a pro-cycling team. Since then, coffee has been integrated into pro-cycling and is now considered a performance enhancing supplement.
Benefits of caffeine
- Increase fat oxidation
- Benefits anaerobic cardiovascular exercise and increases power output
- Causes increase in aerobic exercise capacity
- Improves body concentration, alertness and reaction time
- Provides a quick jolt
Researchers suggest that the benefits of caffeine will kick in after 30-45 minutes. This means that your performance levels will peak around 45 minutes after consumption.
3. Rapid Rehydr8 Maximum Performance
Rapid Rehydr8 is a product of Elite Sportz Equipment and is formulated as a dietary supplement. Its main objective is to replenish lost electrolytes and counter painful cramps.
Cycling is a very intense sport that quickly depletes your electrolytes. Every drop of sweat coming out of your body is vital body salts that you are losing. If you don’t replenish the lost electrolytes your performance will slowly start to reduce. The best way to counter this is by rehydrating and keep going the distance or workout with a supplement such as Rapid Rehydr8.
Rapid Rehydr8 is also considered as an endurance supplement making it ideal for big races and endurance training. It contains a balanced blend of electrolytes which facilitate for faster recovery. You see, endurance training burns a lot of electrolytes and if they are not replenished you will be completely burned out. This is why Rapid Rehydr8 contains a blend of magnesium, potassium, and calcium to help rehydrate any electrolytes that are lost through sweating. It also aids in muscle contraction and minimizes leg cramps during exercise.
Magnesium is one of the main electrolytes in Rapid Rehydr8 and can be found in green vegetables, nuts, and whole grains. It activates enzymes which facilitate in the process of energy release. This means that magnesium supplementation has a positive effect on performance and endurance training in cyclists.
On the hand, Potassium which can be found in bananas helps manages several processes such as nerve function, fluid management, and sweat. It is also essential in the breakdown of glycogen in the muscles which fuels repeated contraction that is necessary during endurance cycling.
Benefits of Rapid Rehydr8
- Replenish electrolytes lost through sweat
- Provides sodium & Potassium
- Prevents muscular cramps and spasms
- Enhances endurance performance
- Improves endurance and stamina
The recommended dosage is 1-3 capsules before a strenuous exercise, during and an hour after the exercise.
4. Creatine for Cycling
Creatine is a supplement that is often used by sprinters and weightlifters. Creatine is the kind of supplement you consume when looking for speed, strength and power. There are over 100 research studies published on the benefits of creatine and they all agree that creatine aids in improving muscular strength. Which begs the question, how does creatine improve endurance in cyclists?
The direct benefits of creatine include improved anaerobic performance, increase in ATP production and phosphocreatine stores. Aside from these, creatine offers indirect benefits to triathletes, runners and cyclists thus improving their performance to the next level.
The indirect benefits include a reduction in recovery time and an increase in power output. This translates to improvements in power, speed and running economy for a better race-day performance.
Benefits of creatine supplements
- Increases ATP production
- Promotes gains in sprint performance
- Produces maximum intensity effort for longer
Even with its impressive benefits to cyclists, creatine is not recommended for cyclists whose power-to-weight equation will be affected by a slight gain in weight. This is because one of the most discussed downside of using creatine is weight gain.
Recommended creatine supplements include: Bulk Supplements Creatine Monohydrate, Muscle Feast Creapure
Research studies show that Beta-Alanine improves performance and delays fatigue during high-intensity workouts. How does this help an endurance athlete? Being an endurance athlete does not necessarily mean that you always train at low-intensity exercises. Race pace, weight lifting and tempo runs are also part of your endurance training.
During high intensity training sessions, the body accumulates hydrogen ions which lowers the body’s pH and ultimately results in fatigue. This is where Beta-Alanine supplementation comes into play. Studies show that Beta-Alanine increases intramuscular carnosine content which helps the body buffer hydrogen ions. This improves exercise performance by delaying fatigue and reducing the perception of fatigue.
Cyclists prefer taking Beta-Alanine as it helps them last longer which could be the key to winning a race. Studies show that Beta-Alanine supplementation can significantly improve sprint performance especially towards the end of a race. Picture yourself in a race with only 500 meters to the finish line, Beta-Alanine will give you the boost you need to get to the finish line and reduce post-ride fatigue.
Benefits of Beta-Alanine supplementation
- Delays fatigue
- Reduces post-ride fatigue
- Increases intramuscular carnosine content
- Improves sprint performance
Recommended Beta-Alanine supplements include: ON Beta-Alanine Powder
Whey protein is seen as one of the most common source of protein for pro-athletes. It’s the go-to protein source for a work out, meal replacement or a post-race drink.
Whey is produced during the cheese making process and is considered to be among the richest source of BCAAs. It comprises of three amino acids; valine, leucine and isoleucine. These three are critical for muscle growth and provide energy during workouts. Whey protein also contains active protein micro fractions that boost immune function, enhance muscle recovery and provide antioxidant benefits.
Recommended Whey protein supplements include; Gold Standard 100% Whey -Optimum Nutrition, 100% Premium Whey protein-USN
Are cycling supplements for the average cyclist?
Scientific studies that analyze the effects of supplements in sports are often limited to subjects that are well trained and athletic. This makes it hard to compare the results of such studies with those of an average cyclist who may not be as athletic or well-trained.
When taking supplements always consider the subjective experience. There are several aspects of a supplement that cannot be quantified by biomarkers. You can use the numerous test published showing how effective a supplement is but always comes down to how supplement works for you. Is it as effective as you want it to be? Are you experiencing any side effects?
Collect data before and after using the supplement and compare the two. Cycling is a data-driven sport and it’s not just about the GPS and speedometer, it also includes all other tools that track, measure and collect data. Analyzing the data collected is a good place to start as it will help you understand how the supplements affects your body. A supplement that works for a fellow cyclist may not necessarily work for you. This is why collecting and analyzing your data is important.
The myriad of unsubstantiated nutrition practices I observe pertaining to postexercise (recovery) nutrition never cease to amaze me. Some of my favorites are:
“I only eat protein after a hard workout”
“I exercise in the evening and avoid eating anything after because it helps me lose weight”
“By delaying eating after exercise I force my body to burn more fat”
“A 40-30-30 distribution of calories from carbohydrates, protein, and fat is most effective at repairing damaged muscle and replenishing glycogen”
Cyclists are by no means immune to these and other nutritional fallacies since we’re always seeking the slightest edge on our competition as a result making us susceptible to falling prey to nutrition quackery. However, the sage athlete follows time tested and research proven strategies to maximize recovery between consecutive race days and during intense training periods.
What follows are the 6 most common real world nutritional pitfalls I observe (some I have even fallen into myself) and the simple solutions to correct them and optimize recovery.
Pitfall – Failing to prioritize recovery nutrition by socializing after a race or packing gear/bike away resulting in delayed feeding.
Solution – Sure it can be fun to hang out following a race and replay the deciding sprint or get a head start on packing up and leaving. Furthermore, most experts recommend eating something within the first 30 minutes to an hour so what’s the hurry? Well in the majority of studies examining glycogen replenishment athletes are fed immediately following the completion of an exercise bout. Thus, what you practice in the “field” should mimic the conditions of the “lab” as closely as possible. Make it a priority to eat and drink as soon as stepping off the bike as possible. Have a friend, spouse, family member, or coach at the finish line with your food and drink if you have a tendency to neglect this crucial time period.
Pitfall – Inadequate fluid consumption to replace sweat losses and allow for optimal glycogen replenishment.
Solution – You’re probably familiar with postexercise fluid recommendations to replace losses from sweat but few are aware that additional fluid is required to restore glycogen to preexercise levels. This is due to the fact that three grams of water are required to store one gram of glycogen. Since trained athletes will need to replace more than 600 grams of glycogen following exhaustive exercise, fluid and carbs should be consumed together. Research in this area is scanty at best but suffice to say simply drinking to replace sweat losses may not be enough to ensure optimal glycogen replenishment. To be safe, consume 16-24 oz of fluid not only at the first postexercise meal but also during every hour during the recovery period.
Pitfall – Using the excuse of a hard effort to fill up on high fat junk foods and empty calories.
Solution – It is far too easy to use the need for increased calories after exercise as an excuse to fill up on high-fat content junk foods. The problem with this practice is two-fold. First, the consumption of fat interferes with your ability to ingest adequate carbohydrate and secondly fat is not nearly as an effective stimulator of insulin release as carbohydrate. Both of these follies result in inadequate glycogen replenishment and poor recovery. Resist the urge to give in to the temptation of dietary indiscretion and find peace in knowing you’re feeding your body only the highest quality fuel by selecting high carbohydrate lowfat foods.
Pitfall – More than enough is not better than enough.
Solution – Although it is vital to consume carbohydrates in the post exercise state it is also vital to have some method to your madness. I have seen several cyclists who go about their eating in an unscientific haphazard fashion only to find that they gain weight from their post ride binges. Aim to consume 1.0 to 1.5 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of bodyweight every two hours following exercise. Consuming more than this range will not result in greater glycogen replenishment and if done so chronically may result in undesirable weight gain.
Pitfall – Overconsuming protein in the false belief that muscles require excessive quantities following exercise.
Solution – As stated previously, favoring other nutrients over carbohydrates leads to inadequate carb consumption and decreased stimulation of insulin release. Limit protein to one gram for every 4 grams of carbohydrate to replace what is lost through exercise. This 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein appears to have a multiplicative effect in stimulating insulin release.
Pitfall – Following recovery nutrition guidelines for only the first meal after exercise.
Solution – You may be avoiding all of the above pitfalls but only at the first meal. Again, since trained athletes can store upwards of 600 grams of glycogen in muscle and liver it is necessary to consume carbohydrate dense meals every 2-3 waking hours until the next ride or race.
By avoiding these common pitfalls and implementing sound recovery nutrition principles you can be assured of recovering fully for a long summer of weekend racing and training.
If you decide to incorporate any of the above endurance supplements into your diet, be sure to check the brand. You want to source your supplements from a reputable brand with proven results. Also, be sure to confirm that the supplement is approved by the FDA.