When it comes to on the bike training, the first approach that comes to mind when looking for ways to adjust the training stimulus would be to change the efforts/riding that you are doing. After all, the way we make gains and improvements is from adjusting the training stimulus to cause stress to our body and reap the physiological adaptations that occur due to these stresses. However, there are many other ways to create a new training stimulus and stress the body to create useful, new adaptations.
A common method that many people will be aware of is fasted training or, more specifically, low carbohydrate (CHO) availability training. This can be achieved in multiple ways: either by training first thing in the morning after a long fasting period (sleep) or consuming a low carbohydrate breakfast; or you can train hard, refuel with low carbohydrate and then train again later with low CHO availability. Most people regard fasted training as a way of creating a calorie deficit so as to reduce body fat. It can be helpful for this but often the ride is short, easy and therefore low energy cost so therefore does not create much of a deficit. The biggest advantage of low CHO training is the increased stress that it places on the body to create more mitochondria (biogenesis). Fasted training can create a higher mitochondrial density within the muscles, improving the body’scapacity to utilise available fuel sources and therefore produce more power. It’s a useful session to include when time is short and you can’t do massive endurance rides where your body will almost inevitably end up in a low CHO state. However, it needs to be done in a careful and considered way. A lot of people training on low CHO can feel a bit more mentally fatigued, which can affect your ability to work (I didn’t do these sessions while I had assessments at uni). Another issue is that overly long use of low CHO training can result in energy availability issues and eventual overtraining, in part due to the increased physiological stress of low CHO training.
At the other end of the spectrum, there is high CHO and even overload training. A lot of sports nutrition companies have brought out massively high carb energy drinks. Traditionally, 60g/hour was the thinking behind maximal carb consumption. This then changed to 90g/hour when using glucose and fructose sugars mixed together. Now, an increased number of multi-source carbohydrate drinks are recommending up to 100g/hour,with some studies finding that 120g/hour was tolerable, but only with training! Training with high CHO or overloading can improve the body’s gastric emptying capacity, as well as increasing glycolytic enzymes. These changes both result in a greater capacity to tolerate and process carbs thus leading to a potential ability to operate at a higher power for longer (ideal for racing!). Again, this requires training in order to acclimatise the body and will often lead to some gastric discomfort in the early days or, at worst, a Tom ‘Poomoulin’ scenario. Another factor to consider when consuming greater quantities of carbs is that more fluids and salts will also be required to ensure that the drinks are an isotonic solution and therefore more easily absorbed and utilised. The energy drink that you use can have differing effects on you because of this. I have trialled numerous high carb drinks (and gels – I’ll cover that in a future blog) and have found two in particular that work well for me, while others left me feeling quite sick or gave me a big blood sugar spike, which shouldn’t happen when exercising at a moderate to high intensity. High carb gels have never worked for me and always lead to bloating and discomfort. Primarily, I believe this is due to cramming in double the carbs into essentially the same liquid volume, resulting in a ratio of carbs:fluids:salts which is not ideal. Finding the right product for yourself will require a certain amount of trial and error on your part during training in order to determine what works best for you but having expert guidance can help make the process a little easier.
These are just two nutritional strategies to help get the most out of your training by changing up the training stimulus. To get the best out of these methods, it is recommended to try them either under the guidance of a someone who is suitably qualified or by reading extensively around the subject and using yourself as a bit of a test subject. Ideally both! After all, what works for one person may not work for you – and what works for you now may still not be the optimal way of realising your full potential.