Cycling advice on training zones and methods,
pacing, fuelling and body’s energy sources
(by Lubo Tomek)
The purpose of this, is to give some useful advice to intermediate or advanced club cyclist who wants to take it up a notch. Perhaps wants to start racing, doing well in sportives or moving up in club run groups. Even though it’s aimed at the more experienced ones, cyclists of all abilities can find something to take away from this and incorporate to their own training…
I understand there is a lot of cycling advice (definitely since I started cycling) from cycling magazines, youtube videos, internet, books etc., but choosing from all that could be overwhelming. I’ll try to explain some of the science behind the cycling advice.
I started cycling back home in Slovakia as a young boy, but never took it too seriously until my early twenties (shortly before moving to Belfast and joining PhoenixCC in 2004). Through the years I experienced training without structure and proper nutrition, without Heart Rate (HR) or Power Meter (PM) to reading all cycling/sports literature I could get my hands on, watching countless YouTube videos (GCN…), eventually started training with HR and later with PM. By doing loads of reading and research, you can understand your own body better and by observing your adaptations from training you’ll find out which training methods work better than others. Using all this knowledge you can train smarter, utilising your time on the bike more efficiently and achieve better results. I’m not a coach, but a cycling nerd (lol) who happens to be half decent at riding my bike.
1st I would like to stress the importance of good/correct Breathing while cycling. If you think that “I’m 37years old and I’ve breathing all this time and I’m doing just fine”, that’s not what I meant. There is a difference between breathing at rest and breathing while doing exercise/cycling. While breathing we provide oxygen to our working muscles. Wrong breathing technique – means less oxygen, which means we get out of breath quicker (won’t be able to sustain the level of effort). Correct breathing is not to breathe into your upper chest (raising/expanding your shoulders), but into your belly (expanding your diaphragm, pushing it down to open our lungs fully), your chest will expand as a result. That way you’ll increase the volume of oxygen entering your lungs and thus bloodstream. You want to practise that deep breathing technique and avoid shallow chest-only breathing.
Inevitably some fresh oxygen entering our lungs will get mixed with waste gasses exiting our lungs. But by nice and deep inhales and almost pausing before exhaling we give ourselves best chance at getting enough oxygen into our lungs.
When you increase your effort on the bike, you’ll need to supply your body with more oxygen, so naturally you’ll increase your breathing frequency, but try to maintain deep inhales. Where you can make a significant change, is exhale time. You can shorten it by forcing more air, out of your lungs, in shorter more forceful exhales.
Check this video for visual guide:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1hNgLJeD0Gg
Any bike ride/race/sportive is a balancing act between Pacing and Fuelling(nutrition before and during the ride). If we get dropped from a group, it’s not always that we are not fit enough, sometimes it’s just a fact we didn’t get our pacing or fuelling strategy right.
During exercise we can deplete our body’s energy sources quicker than we can replenish them (essentially it’s a race against time), so we need to place greater focus on fuelling. To understand fuelling/nutrition better, we need to understand types of energy used by our body.
Generally our Bodyuses 4 Sources of Energy:
- Protein (not necessary in that order).
- Carbohydrates :
- are considered body’s most efficient fuel source, because the body requires less oxygen to burn carbohydrate as compared to protein or fat.
- aides the metabolism of fat – to burn fat effectively, your body must break down a certain amount of carbs.
- preserve lean protein (muscle mass) – consuming adequate carbs quantity, spares the body from using protein (from muscles, internal organs) as energy source.
Off the bike Nutrition – Endurance athletes may need to consume around 8-12g of carbs per kg of body weight per day in order to replenish and maintain muscle/liver glycogen levels. Current recommendations on replenishing glycogen stores are to consume approx 1-1.2g of carbs per kg of bodyweight within 30mins of exercise completion (known as “Glycogen window”). Followed by 2nd high carbohydrate meal/drink 60-90mins later. That’s 70-84g of carbs in the case of 70kg athlete. Sometimes is not practical to consume such large amounts of carbs immediately post exercise (for example after evening training session). The good news is that research has shown that the co-ingestion of protein with a smaller amount of carbs (0.8g/kg/hr) can have similar results. Consuming protein (0.2-0.4g/kg/hr) with carbs (simplified ratio is 3:1 carbs to protein) stimulates endogenous insulin release and results in similar glycogen replenishment rates as the carbs ingestion of 1.2g/kg/hr.
There are 2 Formsof Carbs:
- a) Simple Carbs (sugars – glucose, fructose,…)
- they are fast absorbing source of energy that doesn’t put strain on our digestive system (which means more energy could be used for cycling, rather than to digest food).
- Carbohydrates, such as sugar and starch (for example) are readily broken down into glucose, the body’s principal energy source.
Glucose can be used immediately as fuel or can be sent to the liver and muscles and stored as glycogen. During exercise, muscle glycogen is converted back into glucose, which only the muscle fibres can use as fuel. The liver converts its glycogen back into glucose too, however, it’s released directly into the bloodstream to maintain your blood sugar (blood glucose) level. During exercise, your muscles pick up some of this glucose and use it in addition to their own private glycogen stores.
Blood glucose also serves as the most significant source of energy for the brain, both at rest and during exercise. Approx 60% of glucose found in blood is metabolized by the brain, that’s why it is critical to maintain normal blood glucose concentration. The glucose stored as liver glycogen is used to constantly replenish the (approx) 4g of glucose circulating in the blood. To ensure the brain has an ample supply of glucose, the liver releases glucose into the bloodstream at a rate similar to the uptake of glucose from the blood into tissues. When liver glycogen stores fall to low levels, the liver can increase its reliance on gluconeogenic metabolism to produce glucose from amino acids and glycerol, although the rate of this production is limited and cannot keep pace with glucose removal from the blood during exercise. (Hence importance of maintaining normal blood glucose level to not impact exercise intensity).
Sugars were getting a lot of bad press in recent years, but in terms of on the bike fuel source, they are a key high intensity fuel source. They could also be used immediately after bike ride for recovery mixed with protein. Usually in 3:1 carbs to protein ratio (more recovery tips in Protein section).
Carbohydrate drinks (such as SIS GO electrolyte) are ideally used for hydration at the start of a hard bike ride/race longer than 90mins, instead of water only, to help spare your precious Glycogen stores by about 50% in the 1st hour alone. According to a study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. This depends of course on how hard you’re going in the first hour. Anyways, it’s a good strategy to get vital carbs into your system even though you’re not hungry yet. Speaking of getting hungry, the goal is to not feel hungry at all. Feeling hungry or thirsty, it’s your body’s defence mechanism to tell you, to eat or drink and at this point it’s usually too late (you’ll be running low on primary fuel sources carbs and glycogen). So keep taking a good sip of your drink every 15mins (around 120-250ml).
Hydration – drink daily approx 30-35ml per kg of weight (that’s 2.1-2.45 litres for 70kg athlete) plus any fluids lost during exercise.
Hydration schedule 1-2hours before a ride 450-600ml, 30mins before 250-450ml, on the bike – every 15mins 120-250ml, within 1hour post ride 450-700ml/bodyweight loss (heat, intensity, sweat rate, indoor workout may alter post ride hydration amount).
During a ride losing about 2% of body fluid is equivalent to approx 6% of performance decrease.
Interesting fact – Lemon coloured urine equals to dehydration of 12-18hours already!!! Darker urine even longer…
- b) Complex Carbs (starch, fibre, glycogen)
- they contain many sugars, but need to be digested (broken down). Examples – fruit, vegetables, cereals incl. oats and muesli, rice, bread, potatoes, pasta… further they can be sorted by Glycemic index, but we are not going into it right now.
- they are ideal source for off the bike carb intake, such as pre ride breakfast and post ride meals with some protein.
- they take longer to digest (release blood sugar more slowly) as a bonus they don’t spike your insulin (hormone made by the pancreas that allows your body to use sugar/glucose for energy or to store for future use). Good idea for pre ride nutrition, is to eat a good variety of complex carbs 2hours before start and get a coffee and a snack 1hour before (more on caffeine benefits and intake later). By variety of complex carbs I mean for example a porridge mixed with some berries, banana and raisins. As different carbs release energy at different rate, which is beneficial for constant supply of glucose.
On the Bike Nutrition – you’ll need 0.5-1g of carbs per kg of bodyweight each hour. That’s 35-70g of carbs for somebody that weighs 70kg. You should aim to spread that into micro-feeds every 20-30mins.
As a general rule of thumb, start with solid food such as flapjacks/energy bars/bananas, then move onto sweets and use gels in the last hour. The idea is that as you are sipping your energy drink every 15mins or so (see hydration recommendation above), getting steady supply of simple sugar, thus protecting your liver glycogen stores. As early as 30mins into the ride you start to eat solid food 1st (digesting and releasing more energy slowly) while fighting off the hunger. Then when you start running out of carb drink and fill up your bottles with water/electrolyte you also move onto sweets to keep the simple sugar supply. In the last hour it’s a good idea to take some gels (esp. caffeine gels), they will give you a needed boost and numb any pain a bit. Mind you need to take them with plenty of water to avoid indigestion (which is the second reason why we take them in the last hour).
- is complex glucose stored in our muscles and liver (around 300-700g in muscles and 0-160g in our liver) that is replenished by digesting carbohydrates off the bike.
- each 1gram of glycogen is stored with at least 3grams of water (emphasis of drinking enough fluids on daily basis).
- Muscle glycogen is vital fuel source during high-intensity exercise when the body cannot process enough oxygen to meet it’s needs. High intensity efforts which require the engagement of Fast Twitch muscle fibres, this will use up our glycogen stores faster.
We have 2 types of muscle fibres:
Slow Twitch(ST)- generate energy from both fats and carbohydrate using oxygen for muscle contraction, great for endurance
Fast Twitch(FT) – generate energy predominantly from glycogen for muscle contraction, great for high intensity efforts above FTP and sprints.
More on ST & FT later, but let me stress that using more FT fibres will use more glycogen faster. During intense exercise muscle glycogen particles are broken down, freeing glucose molecules that muscle cells then oxidize through anaerobic and aerobic processes to produce the adenosine triphosphate (ATP)molecules required for muscle contraction. The rate at which muscle glycogen is degraded depends primarily upon the intensity of physical activity; the greater the exercise intensity, the greater the rate at which muscle glycogen is depleted. As a result, high-intensity activity, such as repeated sprinting, can quickly lower glycogen stores in active muscle cells, even though the total time of activity might be relatively short. Once we deplete our glycogen stores we will loose the ability to sustain high intensity efforts.
From training point of view, you can’t have both, high intensity and long duration, and recover quick enough for your next hard training session. As a general rule, the higher the intensity of a training ride – the shorter the duration. The longer duration rides requires less intensity and more pacing. If training daily, keep High Intensity Training (HIT) rides under 2 hours including good warm up and cool down and mix them up with recovery and endurance rides. Usually no more than 3 HIT (FTP and above) rides are recommended per week, as you need to sufficiently recover from them to maintain quality. If not recovered properly Zone 5 HIT session becomes Zone 4 and so on… It’s best to avoid it, as you progress better by nailing your HIT sessions and properly recovering from them. Also important to point out, that recovery ridesshould be no more than1hour longand easy, with very light pressure on pedals and nice and high cadence – no grinding (for example post race or hard sportive).
I’m sure you heard of term Carb-loading.
Carb-loading is a process of restocking our muscle and liver glycogen stores 24 hours leading up to an event/race/sportive by eating more than normal amount of carbohydrates. I’ll have to stress that you don’t need to carb-load for every event as this very much depends on what training you are doing leading up to it. If you are taking couple of days off (or easy rides) before the event, you don’t need to carb-load as you were not depleting your glycogen stores in the last 2 days and even though you might have trained hard before, your glycogen stores would be replenished in the last 2 days using usual diet. Keep in mind that any extra carbohydrate that is not used up in our body as a direct source of energy or for glycogen replenishment is stored in form of fatand leads to weight gain.
Check the following link on more detailed info on glycogen https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6019055/
- Fat :
- provides concentrated source of energy, more than twice the potential energy that carbohydrate and protein do.
- helps fuel low intensityexercise. During exercise performed at or below 65% of aerobic capacity (low Zone 2), fat contributes 50% or more of the fuel that muscles need.
- aides endurance by sparing glycogen reserves, generally as the duration or time spent exercising increases, intensity decreases (and more oxygen is available to cells), then fat is the more important fuel source. Stored carbohydrate (muscle and liver glycogen) are subsequently used at a slower rate, thereby delaying the onset of fatigue and prolonging the activity
Any excess energy from eating predominantly carbs (but also fats and protein) that is not used by our body is stored in form of fat. Fat is more efficient fuel per unit of weight than carbohydrate (9 calories per gram of fat vs. 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate or protein). Carbohydrate must be stored along with water (1g of glycogen to 3g of water). Our weight would double if we stored same amount of energy as glycogen (plus the water that glycogen holds) that we store as body fat. Most of us have sufficient energy stores of fat, in order for fat to fuel exercise however, sufficient oxygen must be simultaneously consumed.
As stated above low intensity exercise level that uses exclusively Slow Twitch muscle fibres will burn carbs along with fats with sufficient oxygen intake. But not everybody has the time to train long hours each day doing endurance effort rides to burn fat. However endurance rides done correctly (low intensity) can also have positive effect on mitochondria of muscle cells. Mitochondria, the so called “Power Plants” of muscle cells, are the structures wherein aerobic metabolism takes place. Another reason why we need to master low intensity endurance rides when it matters, so we can be more efficient at using oxygen.
Another technique of fat burning is Fasted training (on empty stomach) but again intensity has to stay low and duration short. For example – morning commute to work could be done in fasted mode. But you should bring a post ride breakfast/meal with you (or buy one) and consume right after the ride. It’s not everybody’s “cup of tea” however.
Finally consider doing HIT sessions with Zone 1-2 for recovery in between efforts (yes even for fat burning). Zone1-2 recovery periods will ensure you are burning some fat by using ST muscle fibres. At the same time using FT muscle fibres for your HIT intervals you’ll be burning through your glycogen stores. In essence creating a buffer post exercise, so that any excess energy will be stored first in your glycogen stores rather than directly as fat. As a secondary benefit from HIT sessions, your metabolic rate will be increased, you’ll be burning more energy even long after exercise is completed.
- Protein – provides energy in late stages of prolonged exercise, when muscle glycogen stores fall (as commonly occurs in the latter stages of long hard endurance events) the body breaks down amino acids found in skeletal muscle protein into glucose to supply up to 15% of energy needed. As you can read from the fact above, protein is the last resort fuel source and because it breaks down our muscles (that we are trying to make stronger by training hard) it’s best to be avoided at all costs.
Protein is best used for building and repairing muscle tissue not as source of fuel for exercise.
Some nutritionist and coaches advise adding some amino acids to your usual energy drink to help reduce muscle damage and ease the aches. BCAA(Branched Chain Amino Acids) seem to work best when blended with carbs (such as Amino Vital’s Endurance mix) or mix amino supplement with your usual sports drink.
Or you can mix BCAA with your post ride recovery drink. I use SIS Rego and mix in some BCAA powder using water (never milk). The reason behind is that, body has to break down even protein supplement (such as whey or casein) to individual Amino Acids which are absorbed into our muscles. It is quicker than digesting meat (or any other food protein source), but by mixing some BCAA into recovery drink we get the fastest absorption into our muscles (recovery of our muscle tissue will be faster). And why water (never milk) I hear you ask? It’s because when you mix recovery drink with milk (I know it tastes better) you essentially slow down the absorption, because milk will clot-up in your stomach due to digestive enzymes/acids.
Timing of Protein intake for recovery it’s best done within first 30mins post ride, during the so called “Glycogen window”. As a rule follow the 3:1 carbs to protein ratio during this period (20g of protein and 60g of carbs for example). Body is only able to absorb approx 20g of protein every couple of hours, so spread the intake (steady supply). Good idea as stated above is to drink a recovery drink immediately post ride on arrival home, then you can take a shower and eat a good balanced recovery meal soon after that. Your recovery drink will already be “working it’s magic” as you’ll be only digesting your recovery meal.
Required protein intake (same as carbohydrate intake) depends on training load. It ranges from:
0.8g of protein per Kg of body weight per day on easier days
1.5g of protein per Kg of body weight per day in heavy training on hard days
up to 3g of protein per Kg of body weight per day of Grand Tour riders (back to back hard efforts each day for long periods)
Training Zones – to understand different training intensities it’s important to explain what each intensity means and give examples on appropriate training session. Check out Training Zones table below. I included Heart rate figures for reference (this was my HR back in 2017) and included % of FTP (Functional Threshold Power) not exact figures as it’s different for every athlete. Your FTP will change over time depending on fitness, so it’s important to check it (test your FTP) periodically.
|POWER Based Training Zones (Coggan Power Zones)|
|of FTP||of 175|
|Active||Easy spinning, light pedal pressure, minimal leg effort\/fatigue.|
|1||Recovery||<55%||<68%||Typically used for ACTIVE RECOVERY after hard training sessions or races/sportives,|
|<120 Bpm||between interval efforts or socializing|
|Example||20 Mins – 1 Hour the day after Sportive/Race|
|“All day” pace, or classic Long Slow Distance LSD training. Leg effort/fatigue generally low|
|2||Endurance||56-75%||69-83%||but may rise higher when climbing. Breathing is more regular than ZONE 1, but|
|conversation possible. Frequent daily training sessions of moderate duration (e.g. 2h+)|
|Aerobic||121-145||at ZONE 2 possible (provided dietary carb intake is adequate),|
|Threshold||Bpm||but complete recovery from very long Z2 sessions may take more than 24hours|
|Best performed solo (hard to influence pace/effort of the group)|
|Typical intensity of spirited ride or briskly moving paceline.|
|3||Tempo||76-90%||84-94%||Requires concentration to maintain alone, esp. at upper end of range.|
|Breathing deeper and more rhythmic than Z2, such that any conversation must be|
|146-165||somewhat halting, but not as difficult as Z4. Recovery more difficult, but consecutive|
|Bpm||days of Z3 still possible if duration is not excessive and dietary intake adequate.|
|Example||20+ Mins blocks could be included into your Endurance ride|
|Maximum effort you can sustain for 1hour|
|4||Lactate||91 –||95-105%||Just below to just above TT effort, taking into account duration, current fitness & weather|
|Threshold||105%||Continuous conversation difficult at best, due to depth/frequency of breathing|
|HR lag…||Effort sufficiently high that sustained exercise at this level is mentally very taxing.|
|FTP||166–180||Consecutive days at ZONE 4 possible, but only performed if sufficiently rested/recovered|
|Bpm||Typical training sessions performed in blocks of 10–30 Min in duration|
|Example||2×10-30 Min intervals with equal Recovery on flat road or preferably on a climb|
|Typical intensity of longer (3–8 Min) intervals intended to increase VO2max.|
|5||VO2||106 –||>106%||Severe sensation of leg effort/fatigue, such that 30-40min effort in a single session is|
|120%||difficult at best. Conversation not possible due to “ragged” breathing.|
|Only do it if well recovered, consecutive days not necessary even if possible.|
|>181 Bpm||Mind HR lag during initial stages of effort if paced on HR (start the effort steadier).|
|4 to 6 x 5 Min Hill Reps (twice the recovery of the effort duration if going for good quality|
|Example||or same duration recovery as effort itself, when building up stamina and resilience.|
|Short (30s – 3 Min), high intensity intervals designed to increase anaerobic capacity.|
|6||Anaerobic||N/A||Heart rate generally not useful as guide to intensity due to non-steady state of effort.|
|Capacity||Severe sensation of leg effort/fatigue, and conversation impossible.|
|Consecutive days of extended ZONE 6 training usually not attempted.|
|Example||Pyramid Hill reps 30s 60s…120s…30s with 5min recovery between|
|Neuro-||Very short, very high intensity efforts 5–30s (jumps, standing starts, sprints)|
|7||muscular||N/A||N/A||that generally place greater stress on musculoskeletal rather than metabolic system.|
|Power||Power useful as guide, but only in reference to prior similar efforts|
|You can include some sprints in the last hour of your long endurance/club ride|
|Bpm – Beats per minute of your Heart|
|FTP – Functional Threshold Power is maximum average power you can sustain for 1hour, any efforts above FTP are|
|ANAEROBIC, any efforts below are AEROBIC, could be different on climbs and flat road/TT|
|FTP test using Power meter : use good warm up for all tests with some efforts to open lungs and get the blood flowing|
|1.- ride hardest possible for 1 hour with good warm up (not the best way as hard to pace due to length of effort)|
|2.- 20min test, good warm up 15-20mins with some efforts, do on a flat/climb with no traffic or lights|
|20min test x 0.95 = FTP your FTP might be slightly different on a flat or a climb and also on turbo (due to heat)|
|3. – Ramp test – (smart trainer only) start at low Zone2 and ramp up every minute by 20Watts for elite and 25Watts|
|non-elite athlete, 25% reduction of the highest 1min power is your FTP|
|FTHR – Functional Threshold Heart Rate, is your average Heart Rate at FTP|
|FTHR test – 30min test, 1st 10mins discard as your heart rate will be still climbing, use the last 20mins, go as hard as|
|you can with good warm up. Measure your effort of the 1st 10mins of the test, you don’t want to blow up…|
|SWEET SPOT training – I’m sure you heard about it, SS intensity refers to high Zone3 up to low Zone4. Interval training at|
|this intensity is generally performed in blocks of 10-30+ mins. It’s called that because it strikes a desirable balance between|
|intensity versus recovery.
There are generally 2 ways on how to increase your FTP. 1 – Push up your FTP using (longer) Sweet Spot intervals or
|2 – Pull up your FTP from doing (shorter) above FTP intervals like VO2 hill reps.|
|You can also do UNDER-OVERs where you mix Zone3 with Zone5 (Under FTP with Over FTP) efforts in the same interval.|
|For example 5-10 x 1+min at Z3 with 30+seconds at Z5, keep the harder effort shorter, you can increase it over time.|
|Under-Overs will improve your ability to recover under strain, great interval prep. for racing.|
How to perform an FTP test: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hDsN73cQpWc
Please check the following 2 videos, as some athletes might produce the same FTP on one hand, but are completely different on the other (sprinter vs. climber). Sprinter/puncheur for example will need harder anaerobic Zone 6 &7 sessions, as is able to produce a lot more power in those zones than a climber. Links: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GdRbpdUGhDo
Types of Muscle fibres and effects on performance.
Our Muscle cells contain 2 distinct types of muscle fibres. The relative proportion of type I and type II fibres within a muscle varies from person to person and is determined by genetics. However, with limits, this ratio can be modified with exercise and training. But even without a change in the ratio of cell types, there is no question that both slow and fast twitch fibres can markedly improve their metabolic capacity with training.
- Slow Twitch (ST) muscle fibres are commonly labelled Type Ior red fibres.
These muscle fibres shorten at a relatively slow speed and generate energyfrom both fats and carbohydratesvia aerobic metabolism (using Oxygen). They have:
- high concentration of Mitochondria (so called “power plants”) of muscle cells, are structures wherein aerobic metabolism takes place.
- increased intracellular myoglobin (substance that enhances the oxygen supply of fibres), which gives the muscle its characteristic red colour. A function of myoglobin is to transport oxygen to the mitochondria of muscle cells where it can be oxidized, releasing energy for contraction in the process.
- low concentration of glycolic enzymes used for anaerobic metabolism
- relatively fatigue resistant
- Fast Twitch (FT)muscle fibres identified as Type IIor white fibres.
These muscle fibres are less efficient than the ST fibres (they fatigue more quickly) and are almost entirely dependent on Glycogen as fuel.
- low concentration of mitochondria (which compromises their ability to absorb oxygen)
- high concentration of ATP (adenosine triphosphate, molecules required for muscle contraction)and glycolytic (ATPase) enzymes
- a rate of shortening 3 to 5 times that of a ST muscle fibre
FT fibres have been further classified into two sub-categories FTa and FTxfibres.
FTa have greater quantities of myoglobin and mitochondria than FTx fibres, which makes them capable of greater aerobic ability and therefore greater endurance than FTx fibres. At the same time they have greater anaerobic capacity than slow twitch fibres.
FTx fibres are the largest and the fastest contracting muscle fibres of all, capable of producing the greatest amount of power.
FTa fibres can generate up to 5 times the power of ST fibres, while FTx fibres are nearly twice as powerful as FTa fibres.
FTx fibres have the lowest aerobic capacity of the three muscle fibre types, on the other hand capable of rapid energy release via anaerobic glycolysis.
Lactate Threshold explanation from the muscle type point of view.
Sub-maximal work is performed by the more aerobically efficient ST muscle fibres, while progressively more and more FTa fibres are recruited to assist them as the effort increases towards lactate threshold. The threshold for significant FTa fibre recruitment is believed to approximate a workload that corresponds to the lactate threshold. Since FT fibres produce more lactate than ST fibres during exercise, the exponential rise in blood lactate at workloads exceeding the lactate threshold probably occurs because significant numbers of FTa fibres are now contracting.
Cadence and impact on muscle type engagement and fuel source used as a result.
It has been reported in past studies that pedalling a higher cadences (80+ rpm), is more efficient than slower cadences. In one such study they were comparing 50 vs. 100 rpm of athletes, while measuring oxygen consumption rates, heart rates, breathing rates, power production and even blood lactate production. In order to compare, speed/power was kept constant across the two cadences.
The result was that all of the measured indicators were very similar between the two cadences for the 30min test. One significant difference however was the greater glycogen depletion in the slower 50rpm condition. Looking closer, the researchers saw that only the FT muscle fibres used more glycogen when pedalling at 50rpm than they did when pedalling at 100rpm.
It’s because the slower cadence resulted in fewer, but more forceful muscle contractions required to maintain the constant speed/power. It may sound counter-intuitive, but the higher force requirement (per each pedal stroke) of the slower cadence resulted in recruitment of more FT muscle fibres, since these fibres are capable of producing more force than ST fibres. As a result, over the course of a workout, FT fibres will get depleted of glycogen and fatigue. More FT fibres will need to be recruited as the duration increases, which results in an increase of the total number of muscle fibres activated.
In addition, research has found that the faster cadence results in greater fat oxidation (that’s using another fuel source and not depending on carbs alone). Basically since ST fibres are more efficient fat burners than FT fibres, higher cadences that resulted in greater ST fibre recruitment used less glycogen, which is very important in endurance exercise performance.
Examining high performance cyclists and triathletes seems to confirm that cadence of85-95 rpm is optimal for most athletes and most terrain (usually cadence on a climb will be 5-10rpm lower than on a flat).
The higher cadence will be more economical and thus will result in faster times on the bike.
Caution however!, too high of a cadence (100+rpm), will put more strain on your cardio-vascular system (increase your Heart Rate). You might be also wasting power by purely spinning too fast and if pedalling technique/body coordination not ideal, engaging unnecessary muscles (rocking/bopping in the saddle, gripping or pulling up on the handlebars), so no Chris Froome unless it suits your physiology.
To be more rounded athlete however (esp. for the purpose of racing) we need to be able to perform and put the power down in a wide variety of cadences. For example – being able to switch between low and high cadence and respond to accelerations and attacks.
Cadence tips – with the use of clipless pedals, comes the ability to pull up not just push down on them. Some athletes gets obsessed with pedalling efficiency and trying to achieve “round” pedal stroke (even application of power on the down-stroke and pulling up on the up-stroke to assist your other leg). This is NOT always the best practice.
While seated, you should always apply power, only on the down-stroke. Doing this will allow your other leg to have a micro recovery (when not under muscle contraction, thus not burning unnecessary extra energy).
There are times however when pulling up is more beneficial such as – out of saddle hill climbing (allows us to produce more power) and sprinting or one legged cadence drills(when trying to address leg imbalances).
Out of saddle hill climbing will produce more power, but not as sustainable if not trained. On one hand we will be using more of our body weight to push down on the pedals, but on the other hand we will be burning more oxygen as more muscle groups will be engaged (arm muscles incl. lats and rear delts to pull on the handlebars and core muscles to stabilize our posture).
Best done in short periods to relieve other muscle groups.
Upper body muscles used for out of saddle efforts could be worked on in the gym, in the off season for example, esp. rowing machine is great for that.
For more tips check out this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FpLXlyan5_8
Training Sessions for different Zones(see Coggan power zones)
Before we get to the training sessions, I would like to point out, that there are 3 distinctive indicators how we can measure our training intensity.
- Training on Feeling: how hard does the effort feel…
- by far the hardest to get right (to train at correct intensity for given training session)
- mostly used by somebody new to cycling or cycling for pleasure
However there are tools that we can employ to help us judge intensity better. Mostly using GPS bike computers and Strava segments. For example if training Zone 5 (Vo2) we know is an effort intensity that we can sustain for 3-8mins if done correctly (ideally around 5min). So we can pick a climb that takes us roughly that time to climb and do hill reps on that climb only. That way we can compare our results later using Strava, also after a while you will be able to judge better the intensity required to climb it in the fastest time possible. The longer the effort/interval, the more pacing required.
- Training with Heart Rate (HR)
- better pacing tool than going on feel
- important to consider heart rate lag (delay in heart rate response to immediate change in training intensity) during intervals
- could be affected by more factors such as (caffeine intake, stress before event, lack of recovery, high training load/overtraining, overheating, lack of hydration…)
Usually used in conjunction with a power meter, esp. when trying to establish your training zones doing tests or when doing longer intervals (10+mins). Not really helpful as a guide, for short intervals of under 8mins (because of the mentioned HR lag).
- Training with Power Meter (PM)
- by far the most helpful pacing tool (most accurate)
- instant response to change in training intensity (how hard you are pedalling)
- if used right, you will see the biggest gains in fitness and quicker progress as a cyclist.
Zone 3 (Tempo) sessions
Usually performed in blocks of 20+mins. Not necessary need to train as a stand alone interval session, best included into Endurance rides at a later stage (before adding more power/training higher zones).
Zone 4 and Sweet Spot sessions
- Usually performed as a stand alone interval session or could be included into a shorter endurance ride.
- Sweet Spot intensity refers to high Zone 3 up to low Zone 4.
- Both performed in blocks of 10-30mins, best on a climb, but do it on a flat road too as some athletes may produce slightly different power output. If performed indoors (on a turbo) count with up to 10% drop off in your power due to overheating and nature of power application on a turbo.
- No more than 3-4 of these interval sessions per week with recovery or easy ride (known as coffee ride) days between them.
- Fundamental difference between Sweet Spot and Zone 4, is that Sweet Spot sessions are more sustainable, less taxing and we can recover quicker from them, thus include more of them into our weekly schedule.
2 x 10-30min intervals with at least 5min recovery between them. Few training sessions below with the same 10-30min duration:
- You can implement variable cadence, as the same effort intensity can be applied in different cadence speeds with different impact on our body and energy source used.
- Could also include 10-30sec acceleration in/out of saddle every 5th minute or so (not quite under overs though).
- Under Over intervals: 1-2mins at high Zone3 (or under FTP) followed by 30-60s at low Zone5 (or over FTP)
- Another hard session is 45s at or just above FTP with 15s coast (best done on flat road, not climb as you will come to a stop, lol) you can change gear to get it spinning again or spin up big gear from slow speed gradually. Great session to stimulate changing pace and ability to respond.
Zone 5 VO2 sessions
- Ideally performed as a stand alone training session on a climb
- around 4-6 intervals per session with length of 5mins ideally
- VO2 intervals are usually key intervals for ability to perform well in races
- In other words if not incorporated into our training (pre race cycle) it could be the difference between getting dropped and staying with the group when the hammer is dropped or on short but blisteringly fast climbs.
4-6 x 5min Hill Reps with at least the same length of recovery between them as the effort itself. However to recover properly (to maintain high quality/intensity for longer) it’s advisable for recovery to take twice the effort length. There are different ways how you can pace each individual effort, there are few examples below:
- High cadence in the saddle (working more your cardio-vascular system – heart and lungs, targeting engagement of mostly ST muscle fibres and smaller portion FTa fibres) more sustainable and able to maintain quality/intensity with consecutive efforts
- Low cadence/high torque in or out of saddle (to stimulate more neuro-muscular system, a lot more FTa fibres are engaged to assist ST fibres) more taxing on the body, will see a drop-off in effort intensity over repeated efforts.
- Progressive effort until all out sprint to the top of the climb.
- Sprint for first 20-30sec then sit down, spin and try to hang on to the top. You will naturally fade, but this is OK, great way to stimulate race situation where pace at the start of a climb is too hot or somebody’s attacking.
- Alternate high cadence in the saddle with low cadence out of saddle (apporx 90 vs. 60rpm)
- On slightly longer climbs, can try 40/20 or 50/10 intervals. Where you go 40s at FTP and 20s at Zone5 or above. You can stay in the same gear and increase the cadence or shift gear appropriately to stay in the cadence window.
“Race Winning” intervals: simulation of efforts usually required at the end of a race to stay in contention for a result.
- 20-30sec Sprint followed by 2-5min at FTP and all out sprint (what you have left) at the end for 10-30s
- Up to 5 of these per session (boy you’ll feel them)
- You’ll need to recover properly between them so spin lightly in Zone 1-2 for at least twice the effort time
Zone 6 & Zone 7 sessions
- Essentially they are both anaerobic sprints
- in Zone 7 it’s “all out” (no pacing required) 5-30s Sprint which engages mostly FTx fibres, best performed on a flat road
- in Zone 6 the effort takes 30s up to 3min and there is an element of pacing required, FTa fibres will take most beating here, best performed on a drag/low gradient climb
- the higher the intensity of interval session, the more emphasis on being sufficiently rested and fresh for it.
Examples of Zone7 sessions:
- Standing starts 6-10 x 10-15sec, use big gear (such as 52/15…) come to almost complete stop and accelerate as hard as possible until you get on top of the gear (spinning around 100rpm, adjust gear appropriately) with 3+min recovery between efforts
- Seated standing starts 2 x 5 x 10-15sec, same approach as above…, with 5min recovery between
- 8 x 30s Sprints with around 3min recovery between efforts for good quality sprints and full recovery 2 x 5 x 30s with 30s recovery between and 5min cool down between sets of 5 (partial recovery, training both aerobic and anaerobic engine at the same time)
- “Base Sprints” up to 50min at Zone 3 with 8sec Sprint every 5mins
- Short sprints – great for Crit season:
- 9 x 5sec Sprint with 15sec rest/recovery and 5min cool down, then
- 6 x 10sec Sprint with 20sec rest/recovery and 5min cool down, then
- 3 x 20sec Sprint with 40sec rest/recovery with 5min cool down, double up on each session if “still easy”
Examples of Zone 6 sessions:
- 2 x 5 x 1min Hill Reps with 5min recovery, go as hard as you can, build up speed into the climb
- Pyramid Hill Reps 30s 60s 90s 120s 90s 60s 30s with 5min recovery between, the longer 90 and 120sec efforts require some pacing, don’t blow the gasket half way…
Check out following 2 studies of how different duration sprints affects performance improvements.
- Sprints that are shorter than 30sec do not usually produce improvements in aerobic and anaerobic endurance, at least not with the procedures that have been used in most research studies. Linossier and associates (1993,1997) studied the effects of high intensity efforts of 5 to 6 seconds. Repeats ranged from 4 to 30 with rest periods between repeats of 1 to 4 minutes. In both studies, subjects improved their rates of anaerobic energy release (anaerobic capacity) and their peak power. They did not improve their anaerobic or aerobic endurance however.
These results are understandable from a metabolic point of view. The energy for short sprints is derived from the release of energy by ATP and its rapid replacement via the breakdown of creatine phosphate that was used so that it is available for each successive sprint. This will reduce the demand for anaerobic glycolysis and therefore, the accumulation of lactic acid in muscles. Thus, even though fast twitch fibres will be recruited in large numbers during ultra-short sprints, the stimulus for improvements in the mechanisms of both aerobic and anaerobic endurance will be slight.
- In this study 6sec and 30sec sprints were compared. One group trained with 15 x 6 second sprints with 1 minute rest between each, while the other group did 8 x 30 second sprints with 90sec rest between each sprint. Both groups trained 5 times weekly for 8 weeks. The test consisted of five 30sec maximum effort sprints. The drop-off, or increase in time from the first to fifth sprint, was used as a measure of aerobic and anaerobic endurance with a smaller increase in time on the post-training test indicating an improvement of one or both. The increase in time from the first to fifth sprint was reduced by 54% in the 30second group while the group that trained with 6second sprints did not reduce their drop-off times. These results seem to indicate that, if your purpose is to improve muscle power through a faster rate of energy release, the efforts should be 5-10sec in length and the rest periods between repeats should be 1 to 3minutes. On the other hand, if your purpose is to use High Intensity Training for improving aerobic and anaerobic endurance, efforts should be at least 30seconds up to several minutes long with rest period of at least 90seconds.
Advanced Training Methods (Periodization)
- This approach takes Zone training to the next level. Instead of doing random HIT sessions every week (great at keeping sharp), this is a targeted approach towards a season goal (key race/sportive) that you are trying to be in the best shape possible for.
- Periodizationconsists of 3 distinctive cycles:
- longest of the three cycles and refers to your season as a whole (52 weeks)
- allows you to set your target event (you can choose several) and work backwards to create a program (using mesocycles) so you can be in peak condition for it/them
- because of it’s length, you will end up making changes to your macrocycle throughout the year as your target events may change, training may not be going to plan due to other commitments or you may get ill/injure yourself…
- refers to a particular training block, that is designed to accomplish a particular goal (anaerobic power, muscular endurance,VO2 power…)
- usually there are 4 mesocycles: Endurance, Intensity, Competition andRecovery(more below).
- typically 3 or 4 weeks in length (21 or 28-day mesocycle). Less experienced cyclist may opt for 16/5 training pattern (21 day mesocycle), which consists of 16 days of relatively hard training followed by 5 days of recovery and easy spinning. More experienced competitor might use 23/5 training pattern, known as 28 day (4 week) Mesocycle. If unsure which one to choose, I suggest you begin with 3 week mesocycle and shift to the longer option when you are ready.
- usually there are longer mesocycles during the preparatory phase and shorter during the competitive phase
- the main criteria for considering a length of the mesocycle depends on the time necessary to develop a certain ability
- each individual mesocycle works on the concept of overload and adaptation, by stressing the body over time, allowing it to recover and repeat. Athletes can therefore build fitness gradually.
- is the shortest training cycle, typically lasting a week with the goal of facilitating a focused block of training
- an example is an endurance block where we string together 3 or 4 long rides in a week to progressively load training volume
- another example incorporates block training, which consists of very hard workouts for 2 or 3 consecutive days followed by an equal amount of recovery (days off or very easy rides)
- generally speaking 3 or 4 microcycles (21 or 28 day) are tied together to form a mesocycle
- mostly used during the preparatory period where the adaptation of the main organ systems (mitochondria of muscle cells) is of high importance
- long moderate intensity rides (so no KOMs, no sprints…), the idea is quality volume. You are always kind of “on it”, never going full on. Because you’re not doing intensity, you can do bigger volume.
- is used to train your body how to efficiently burn carbs, fat and oxygen
- is the only mesocycle where you gradually build volume (for example 8hours in week 1 – with 2x3hour rides and couple of 1hour easy rides between, up to 14hours in week 3 – with 4×3 and 1/2hour rides and rest between)
- best done on your own (at the right intensity/pace). If you are doing your base endurance ride as part of a club weekend spin, then choose your training group wisely to avoid going too hard (above zone 3). Ideally stay within zone2, but not always possible in a group spin.
- World tour workouts by Phil Gaimon – Base Endurance https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oVMBFw-kLzg
Example: typical long rides are 3+hour for base endurance, gradually increase in later weeks
|Week 1||Preparatory microcycle||Medium volume||2 long base rides (short easy rides or rest between)|
|Week 2||Preparatory microcycle||High volume||3 long base rides (short easy rides or rest between)|
|Week 3||Shock microcycle||Very high volume||4 long base rides (recovery rides/rest between)|
|Week 4||Recovery microcycle||Low volume||Small load, easy rides and rest days|
Following video shows some Base training mistakes regarding pacing and also shows example of 3week mesocycles, simplified, so called – step ladder approach.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTMGxhXYkf8
- training load would be taken to highest possible level to induce a high stress on the body to evoke maximal super-compensation after following recovery
- such kind of mesocycles can be done only 2-3 times during the preparatory period (pre-competition)
- generally in this mesocycle we are focusing on zones 4 and 5 (FTP and VO2)
- designed to improve FTP in 3 weeks for example. Week 1- might be shorter intervals at VO2 intensity or Under-Overs (to pull up FTP), followed by Sweet Spot sessions in week 2 (to push up FTP) and in 3rd week – interval sessions at FTP intensity
- it’s advisable to do harder HIT interval sessions only if sufficiently recovered, as it may have a knock on effect on sessions later in the week. Better to do harder sessions at the start of a mesocycle when more fresh.
- make sure you fuel correctly (increase fuelling before and after HIT sessions, fuel less for easy rides) and use recovery and nutrition techniques described above (in sources of energy – carbohydrates and protein)
- example below showing very hard mesocycle 4/3/4 – HIT session every other day (suitable for an experienced elite cyclist) for easier pattern try 3/2/3 HIT sessions pattern
- Club spins are still possible (once per week), either use it as an easy ride in which case go with a group step or two below your usual one (chance to catch up with club members from different training groups). Or treat it as one of your hard sessions – in which case go with your usual group (go with the flow up to half way coffee stop), then do some efforts on the return leg closer to home (best done on your own)
- World tour workouts by Phil Gaimon: FTPhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ukGM9NSCiYI
Example: Intensity sessions in this mesocycle are all under 2hours in duration including good warm up and cool down (shorter if done on an indoor trainer – around 1hour or shorter). The higher the intensity session the shorter the duration of that training session. For example doing 4x5min Vo2 hill reps with 5min recovery between, you could be done and dusted in 35mins plus warm up and cool down time, all together in under an hour. Microcycle length is fairly similar (sufficient volume around 6-10hours).
One of the HIT sessions per week could be swapped for a Time Trial, or a ‘C’ race (explained below), you might not perform as well if still in heavy training weeks (don’t expect too much out of yourself)
|Week 1||Shock microcycle||Very high load||4 trainings with very high load, recovery/rest between|
|Week 2||Shock microcycle||Very high load||3 trainings with very high load, recovery/rest between|
|Week 3||Shock microcycle||Very high load||4 trainings with very high load, recovery/rest between|
|Week 4||Recovery microcycle||Small load||Recovery rides / rest days|
- it’s the opposite of Endurance mesocycle, the volume decreases from week 1 to week 3
- you might feel heavy legged coming of high volume and high load intensity mesocycle/s, but by decreasing volume and focusing on short intervals (under 3mins), you will get your sharpness back
- mostly focuses on anaerobic capacity and neuro-muscular power (anaerobic short hill reps and sprints Zone 6 & 7)
- you can include shorter ‘race winning intervals’ in this mesocycle (30s sprint followed by 2min at or above FTP and 30s all out sprint) up to 5 per session with good recovery between
- depending on length of season, you might plan few of these before your key races
- alternate with shorter 3 week intensity or recovery mesocycle, to address weaknesses or overtraining
- World tour workouts by Phil Gaimon: Openershttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSw1wSZE4fY
Race weight https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFkvdX1NWpo
Example: If your normal training week is 10 hours, in this mesocycle your training volume gets halved from 10hours in microcycle1 to 5hours in microcycle3 to get your sharpness back. 1hard session each week could be exchanged for a race (preparatory ‘B’ race)
There’s no structure in week 4 (listen to your body) if feeling too fresh – do few openers/short efforts. Too much rest can have a negative impact.
|Week 1||Shock microcycle||High load||3 trainings with very high load, recovery/rest between|
|Week 2||Preparatory microcycle||High load||2 trainings with very high load, short easy rides betw..|
|Week 3||Regeneration microcycle||Average load||1-2 training with high load, short easy rides between|
|Week 4||Recovery microcycle||Small load||Active recovery and few openers before event|
- is used during the transition period
- it’s characterized by a low training volume and intensity
- main focus is on active recovery and non-specific workouts
How to plan your season:
The first thing to do when planning your season is setting your goals.
A good way to set goals is using the S.M.A.R.T. model, which stands for:
- Specific – means something that is clearly definable and easy to assess. An example – get top 3 result in your key race.
- Measurable – means being able to establish criteria for measuring the goal. It also means being able to revise the goal after the event. An example – for a rider looking to do well in a sportive event, a measurable goal can be to finish within a time goal (6hours for example).
- Attainable – means being achievable. An attainable number of goals could be 3 and it is important to keep them achievable. Non-achievable goals can lead to de-motivation. For an A4 rider, an attainable goal could be upgrade to A3 in current season for example.
- Relevant – means a goal that is important to you. For an A1/A2 rider, that could be to ride Tour of the Northor achieve a particular result in it.
- Time-bound – means having a timeline for the goal to be completed in. It could be win a race by the end of June.
After the goal-setting step, you need to consider what are the ‘A races’. Those should be your season goals. For example for an A1/A2 rider, that could be Rás or Tour of Ulster. For a leisure rider, that could be Giant causeway sportive or Tour of the Glens (on our borders) or sportive abroad.
The ‘A races’are those you want to peak for, to be in the best shape possible. You cannot peak for the whole season. So it’s important to pick them and periodise your season and training appropriately.
It is possible to peak few times per year, if ‘A races’ are far apart (in terms of time). It is important to include in your periodisation an ‘in-season transition’ to allow your body to recover and regenerate, for then to peak again.
‘B races/events’these races should be the events that lead up to the ‘A races’ and that are also similar in style and competition. B races can be twice or three times as many as the A races. They can be good for fine tuning your form, performance, strategy and nutrition.
‘C races/events’ you can select as many as you want, but don’t over-plan. This could impact your training (mesocycles) and remember if still in heavy training you might not perform well, which could lead to de-motivation or overtraining. You can make this work for you, if you use C races instead of your High Intensity Training session. For example – go into a breakaway, do your intervals and if you get dropped, job done – hard training session complete. Sometimes you are also safer out in front, rather than sitting in a hectic, early season bunch.
Do you need a cycling coach?
All the advice above will NO DOUBT make you a better and stronger cyclist, but if you want to get the best out of yourselfand progress through the cycling ranks quicker, consider investing ina Coach.
Good Coach can have a vast amount of knowledge. Can be very helpful, when it comes to developing a training plan, improving your skills or dealing with performance plateaus. A coach can objectively diagnose problems that are impacting your performance. Coach could be a great source of inspiration. Never underestimate the tremendous psychological benefit an effective coach can provide. He/She can help motivate you during difficult times
While a coach can help you improve your cycling performance, coaching is not for everyone. For a variety of reasons, some individuals thrive in a coaching relationship while others suffer.
Before you hire a coach, answer these questions and be honest with yourself:
- Am I currently improving as an athlete?
If you are showing continuous improvement as a self-coached athlete, keep up the good work. While a coach may be able to boost your performance even more, stick with what you are doing, unless you hit a plateau where you just can’t seem to improve. This will be a better time to hire a coach
- Am I committed to improving my performance?
Everyone wants to ride and race faster, but are you both willing and able to make the sacrifices necessary to make this happen? Will you commit to a periodized training regimen that requires different types of training throughout the year? Are you motivated to maximize your performance and willing to put in the work required to get there?
- Do I have the time?
Competitive cycling is a very demanding sport that requires a significant amount of time to maximize your potential. Most cyclists have to juggle training and racing with work and family responsibilities. You will need to have sufficient time, not only for your training but for your interactions with your coach. Do you have the time, as well as the support from your family to make this happen?
- Am I willing to listen?
This might be the most important question. Are you going to listen to your coach and follow his/her instructions? While an effective coaching relationship consists of 2way communication where coach and client both take responsibility for creating success, your coach will have specific tasks he/she wants you to complete. Are you going to listen? Will you carry out the training plan as prescribed? Will you perform the workouts as directed? Or do you like to dance to the beat of our own rhythm? While there is nothing wrong with following your won path, it can limit the effectiveness of a coach-athlete relationship.
Caffeine intake tips:
- it’s beneficial taking some caffeine drink/supplement before and during long hard rides
- it can act as an effective ergogenic aid (performance enhancer) when used properly
- 21 research studies (the source I used) discovered around 3.2% rise in endurance performance with caffeine ingestion
- you’ll feel the caffeine effect from a dose of 3mg per kg of body weight (that’s 210mg for 70kg athlete)
- the effect tails off at around 5mg per kg of body weight (350mg for 70kg athlete), consuming any more caffeine will have no greater benefit on performance and may increase some of the unwanted side effects of high caffeine intake
- Side Effects – doses of 9mg/kg or more are likely to cause – anxiety, jitters, inability to focus, gastrointestinal unrest, insomnia, irritability and higher doses will risk of heart arrhythmias and mild hallucinations.
- Let me stress that taking any caffeine will also spike your Heart rate, so take with caution if any underlying heart problems
- When to take: 1hour before a ride (it takes 1hour for caffeine concentration in blood to reach it’s peak) and can remain in your system for several hours, you can top up the level after 3hours (or in the last hour of long endurance ride to give you additional boost)
- Instant coffee (such as Nescafe Gold) contains 3.2g of caffeine per 100g, which is 57.6mg per 1.8g tea spoon serving measure. That shows you’ll need approx 3 tea spoons (173mg) per coffee serving for a 60kg athlete to get 3mg per kg (level at which you’ll feel the benefit of caffeine intake). Or spread it into two servings – one with breakfast (2hour before a ride) and the other one an hour before a ride with a sweet snack.
Additional cycling tips:
- Endurance cadence techniques– if we are placing more emphasis on pedalling efficiency and fuel saving, then it’s essential to keep our cadence in the optimum range (around 85-95rpm) Not too high, that increases our Heart Rate unnecessary or not too low, that will put more strain on our muscles and burn extra glycogen (see cadence and impact on muscle type engagement). Use your bike gears to stay within that range, maintain the same intensity and shift to easier gear as your cadence starts to slow down (no surging on climbs, or trying to keep momentum uphill by pedalling ever harder to stay in the cadence range).
- Position on the bikeand importance of correct bike fit. We have 3 contact points with the bike (saddle, handlebars and pedals) how we set it up, could be a trial and error, if not sure. We could be preventing performance gains or introducing injury due to poor bike fit. Professional bike fitwill take into consideration flexibility, limb imbalances, previous injury or impairment, goal (different position for leisure/racing/time trialling), pedalling style… It could be money well spent, or there are numerous bike fit guides and videos on the internet if you want to do it yourself.
- Upgrades– famous Eddy Merckx comment “Don’t buy upgrades, ride up grades”, in essence true fact. You can make a lot bigger performance gain from training than buying upgrades. If you do however want to treat yourself, spend your money on aero clothing for example which is far cheaper than buying aero or weight saving upgrades for your bike. Also our body equals to 80% of the air drag compared to 20% for the bike, so you are getting bigger benefit for each pound spent.Check following videos that compare different aero upgrades/body position/clothing choices and their benefit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hd0fXhDkH84 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u3-55E8zOBs
- Eatingdark chocolatecan boost your performance, it causes blood vessels dilation. I’m not suggesting eating tons of dark chocolate every day, but if you indulge in chocolate on regular basis, try to replace it with dark version to boost your on the bike performance at the same time. Check following article https://www.health24.com/Fitness/Sports-nutrition/cycling-can-dark-chocolate-improve-your-performance-20160527-2
- 3 Day Rule– start to loose fitness if you leave it more than 3 days between your training rides (doesn’t apply when following a specific training plan). For example if you only train at the weekend and do 2big rides with very little training during the week. Do instead 1long ride on Saturday orSunday and spread the other ride time between 2-3 shorter High Intensity Training sessions during the week. You’ll be amazed how these HIT sessions can improve your fitness from as little as 30mins up to an hour per session (see training zones and sessions above)
- Muscle memory– it’s known that you can reach the same fitness level far quicker 2nd, 3rd, 4th time… than the 1st time, when you get back to training after a considerable time off. Be mindful however, that it will still take approx. twice as long as time off the bike. For example taking a complete month off the bike at the end of the season, will set you back 2months when you resume training. It’s good for mental health (esp. after long hard season) to take some time off the bike, but be mindful of the impact, if too long.
- Age and cycling– Cycling is a great sport as it has low impact on joints, tendons and ligaments, which means athletes may stay competitive even in the later stages of life. As you get older, your exercise capacity and ability to recover form intense training naturally declines. However regular cycling can actually slow down the progression of aging. It’s a good idea to include some strength/weight training to maintain and prevent loss of muscle mass. Check https://trainright.com/cyclists-benefit-strength-training/
- Most adults experience their biological performance peakbetween the ages of 20 and 35. After that you start to loose muscle and your heart and lung function weakens. That means, when you are coming to the sport later (perhaps 35+ year old) you may not get as fit as you would have, if taken up the sport in your teens or twenties (perhaps no more Tour de France aspirations ;-), but that doesn’t mean you can’t reach best shape possible considering biological decline due to age.
- Sleep– make sure you get enough sleep. Lack of sleep won’t impact your performance immediately, but over time it will impact your recovery and cognitive function which will make you feel more drained.
- Importance of cool downafter hard sessions, this allows the blood vessels to contract slowly and expires the waste products as carbon dioxide. If you just stop (without cool down) after especially hard and painful session, mentally you won’t be in a hurry to repeat it again any time soon (unless you take pleasure in pain and suffering :-), so gradually cool down to give a positive/easy end to your session.
- Compression socks– great for recovery, they improve blood flow and reduce pain and swelling in your legs. Also lower your chances of getting deep vein thrombosis (a kind of blood clot) and other circulation problems. Effects on performance during exercise is less clear, but UCI banns them in competition and restricts socks length. High compression socks may give unfair advantage in aero department, at the same time they may prevent getting cramps in calf muscle to certain degree. Tight fitting bib-shorts will have some compression effect on your thighs (a wee bonus).
- Stretching– cycling causes shortening of hamstrings, as we never fully extend our legs (it would cause rocking in the saddle). Stretching improves flexibility and elasticity, as well as helps prevent injury. Stretching is best done post exercise as your muscles are warmed up (more pliable). Doing stretching before a workout is less beneficial, as tighter muscles will perform better. Cycling is not high impact sport, that requires sudden changes in direction and risk of pulling muscles, so stretching before bike spin is not required as an injury prevention measure.
- Bike gearing, gone are the days when 53/39 with 11-25 cassette was your only choice for road cycling. The industry, rightly moved to lighter gears (compact 50/34, semi-compact 52/36 chainsets with cassettes up to 11-34) and allowed us to spin up the climbs rather than to use brute force. Bigger gears (big ring combined with bigger cogs) are more efficient as chain is bending less and is kept in straighter line, that might be OK for elite (top level) athletes pushing 5-6 watts per kg up the climb, but not for us mere mortals. Gearing should be chosen on the ability to maintain high cadence on the climbs (to save energy – see fast twitch and slow twitch muscles and cadence effects). My climbing bike has 34 / 30 easiest gear, but on gradients over 10% I’m still grinding if I don’t want to go into higher zones (FTP or VO2). Buy a bike with even lighter gears, if used in endurance events/sportives, to be able to climb with less effort while spinning lighter gears and saving energy. See climbing experiments below for more info.
- Climbing experiment 1 strava link https://www.strava.com/activities/3665528352
Using same gear 34/30 I climbed 3 different climbs (Mt. Ober GC, Fort road climb and Dows Hill Rep) 3 times each (4th effort was at FTP for comparison while changing gears and keeping high cadence). Once at 65rpm, then 75rpm and finally at 85rpm all in the saddle as smooth as possible. By climbing each climb in the same gear, I was observing gradient impact on how much power I had to produce to maintain given cadence. Climbs I chose were all uneven gradient climbs, to represent sections of all different gradients. All climbed on the same day within minutes of each other. Bike was stripped from all accessories, carrying only Wahoo Bolt and water bottle @ 7.3kg. Power meter used was left crank 4iiii unit calibrated before the ride.
I found that going up gradients of 11% and more, in 65rpm I had to produce upwards of 240watts (image 1)and thus entering my FTP zone (Dows hill rep and Fort rd climb data consistent with this finding). Let me stress, that I was doing a FTP effort in less than ideal 65rpm (240watts is approx 3.6watts per kg in my case).
Going up the same 11% section in 85rpm (more ideal climbing cadence) I had to produce 300watts (4.5watts per kg, my current zone 5, shown in image 2), effort sustainable only for a matter of 3-8mins.
14% section of the same climb in 85rpm was mighty 360watts (5.4watts per kg, anaerobic, image 4) definitely not sustainable for prolonged climbing and even in 65rpm I still had to produce 280watts (image 3) to get over that section (crossing over from FTP to VO2 power).
Climbing data shows, that to stay under my FTP effort while spinning at 85rpm, the climb gradient has to stay under 8%, otherwise I’ll run out of gears and will have to increase my effort or lower my cadence.
Conclusion:this shows the importance of choosing a bike with right gear ratios based on fitness and pedalling style. If you are one of the lucky ones who has more than one bike at your disposal, then it would be wise to spec one bike for climbing with light gears and the other one for flatter terrain. Don’t be obsessed just by gram saving.
- Climbing experiment 2
I was comparing high cadence (80-100rpm) in the saddle vs. out of saddle low cadence (60-70rpm mostly) on the same climb (Dows Hill Rep). Bike was also stripped of all the accessories, with power meter calibrated before the ride, with the exception of a water bottle. I left it on the top of the climb and took a sip out of it after each effort. Purpose of this experiment was to establish which is more efficient pedalling technique on a climb (high cadence in the saddle or low cadence out of saddle).
1st attempt (image 1) was high cadence in the saddle https://www.strava.com/activities/3688043086
It took me 3:34 to climb it with an average power of 312watts and 17.2km/h. Cadence dropped to 81rpm on the steepest part of the climb with power around 330Watts. On the flatter part of the climb (near the top) I had to keep changing gear to keep the power down (felt as if I was chasing a gear). I stayed in the small chain-ring (34) on the front the whole climb.
2nd attempt (image 2) was low cadence out of saddle https://www.strava.com/activities/3688075247
I tried to keep the same power as for the 1st attempt, resulting in 309watts average, but that was only enough for a climb time of 3:52 (some 18seconds slower) and avg. speed of 15.9km/h. I did have a missed shift, trying to shift into the big ring under load approaching the flatter part of the climb (had to sit down, shift and resume the effort). Even if I lost couple of seconds and few tenths of avg. speed, because of it, the difference was still very significant.
3rd attempt (image 3) was low cadence out of saddle https://www.strava.com/activities/3688111807
In this attempt I tried to match my “climb time” from the, in the saddle effort, 1st time up the climb. It took me 3:36 this time, almost matching my 1st time, but in order to do so I had to produce 333watts (that’s extra 21watts) and averaged 17.1 km/h. I produced a lot more power in the 1st half of the climb (over the steep section). Again I had a missed shift into the big ring (same as in 2nd attempt), after which I paced the 2nd half on the climb in order to finish in the same time (very close to it).
It seems that climbing in the saddle in a nice and high cadence is not only more sustainable but more efficient at the same time, provided your bike gearing allows you to do so.
Out of saddle climbing allows us to produce more power, but at low cadence of 60-70rpm is less sustainable and less efficient. It’s still the preferred choice to get over steep parts of the climb, if staying in the saddle would result in low or very low cadence.
It seems that where the inefficiency occurs is at the switch-over point between down-stroke and up-stroke (top dead centre in relation to the bike angle caused by the road gradient) – see small photo below.
When pedalling out of saddle at low cadence, during this transition is where we loose cadence momentum (which is more noticeable the steeper the gradient), thus loosing a bit of forward momentum as a result. Another fair point to raise is the nature of shifting body weight from one side of the bike to the other to assist down-stroke (moving the bike side to side). This can also affect the transition the slower the cadence.
On the other hand, when climbing in the saddle using high cadence, we have more momentum in our pedal stroke through Top Dead Centre and therefore it doesn’t slow down our cadence or forward momentum as much.
Benefits of joining a cycling club:
Even though this cycling guide and tips may seem comprehensive enough, there are still loads more you can learn by joining a cycling club (like Phoenix Cycling Club). Benefits like:
- cycle with like minded cyclists of all abilities (from complete beginners in group C to elite racers in group A, with B3, B2 and B1 groups between)
- develop new friendships, you’ll meet people from all walks of life
- boost your motivation (easier to get up in the morning if you are meeting your B1 mates at 9am sharp at House of Sport)
- cycle in a group is safer than by yourself (more visible) and help in the case of a mechanical or a crash
- discover new routes – roads you’re never been on (or climbs in Gary’s case),
- learn from more experienced cyclists or find mentors, you just need to ask the right questions J
- first step into racing and time trialling, we have our own Club League on Tuesday nights from Arpil to August
- improvement in bike-handling skills (confidence and ability to reach for food and drink while riding is essential in a group)
- development in group riding skills and etiquette and many others…
Video links for further source of vital information:
Science of cycling, how to be an elite cyclist with Louis Passfield
Phil Gaimon videos/tips:
How to PR/KOM on Stravahttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLAmYdvo8MM
Climb pacing tips (4:50 -8:30)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5YBoAL8ARQ