All about – Sprinting

More often than not, be it a breakaway or a bunch finish, the deciding factor at the end of a race is who can sprint the fastest. But how do we improve our sprint and ensure we’re the one crossing the line first? There are several elements we need to consider both physiological, and also skill based. Let’s kick off with the physiological elements.


Torque is the force which we apply to the pedals, and is one half of the power formula (Power [W] = angular velocity [Radians] x Torque [Nm]). During sprints we often hit our peak force production, so increasing peak force is a good way to get faster at sprinting. You can do this via sprint drills during training, or by doing specific low RPM high torque sessions on the bike. The benefit of these is that high torque low cadence intervals are more maintainable than a sprint due to the overall power and energy requirement being lower. For example, a 1000 watt sprint at 100 RPM generates 95.49 Nm of force. Whereas it’s not unheard of in professionals training sessions to include drills at 30-40 RPM, which to generate 95.49 Nm of force require 300-400 watt intervals, which are more sustainable for them than 1000 watts! However, it is always better to start with higher RPMs, such as 70 RPM, so as to avoid excessive stress on joints if you are not used to those drills and avoid injuries from a huge shift in stimulus on the muscles. This is where the next training method for improving force production comes in…

Resistance training is possibly the best way to increase peak force generation. Although strength work has often been avoided by cyclists for fear of gaining muscle (if only it was that easy to build muscle), in reality it’s a great tool to improve force production on the bike when lifting heavy. For this, we need the equation F = ma (Force [N] = mass [Kg] x acceleration [m/s²). So, someone does a 100kg deadlift, where they lift the weight off the ground a total height of 1 meter in 1 sec. The force is 100 N. If the weight goes up with the speed remaining the same, more force is generated. As a Nm is the force of a Newton on a 1 meter moment arm (lever), the two are comparable as force measurements when applying N in the gym to Nm on the bike. It’s just that N is linear and Nm is angular. Let’s put this all in a N=1 study, me. My peak force this year was generated at 1285w and 108 RPM so 113.62 Nm. In the gym I did an incline single leg press of 120kg moving it about ~1m in ~1sec, so ~120Nm. Not wholly accurate as I wasn’t measuring or timing exactly, but comparable peak force production. My peak force now is significantly higher than when I was racing, primarily as I do more specific resistance work now even with a much reduced training volume. Of course when taking up a resistance training programme, it is important to start light, focus on movement patterns and technique, and building up to doing heavier lifting. Never start off all guns blazing, it will likely take a few weeks before you can do real high force focused sessions.


The other aspect of power and reaching peak levels, is speed. We need a high force but also a high angular velocity to achieve peak power outputs. For this, high cadence drills are very useful as if you can sustain a high force at a high RPM, you can achieve great acceleration as well as peak power. For example, even if peak torque isn’t massively high, high RPM can result in a higher overall power output. If you are doing, as track sprinters can achieve, 200 RPM, then you only need 71.62 Nm to achieve 1500 watts. Most road sprinters however will work at between 120-130 RPM so as to balance what is the highest sustainable and efficient RPM for them alongside peak torque. It takes some practice, especially when out of the saddle, so start at maybe 100 RPM and build up seated high cadence drills from there. Once you’ve become comfortable with that, move on to out of the saddle drills. You will find what naturally works for you through trial, error, and practice.

Again, gym work is beneficial here. Power workouts require the weight to be reduced, but the speed to be greatly increased. This can either be done weighted, or through use of jumps and plyometrics. As we don’t all have timing devices to measure our movements in the gym, plain old simple height is a good measure for checking progress. Box jumps are ideal as you can gauge progress by how far up you can jump. As you are overcoming gravity and your own weight, if weight remains constant, your jump height will only increase with increased power production. Your muscles have to generate a lot of force, but they have to do it quickly which translates to peak power output on the bike. Again, these are specialised movements and require a great level of form, technique, and muscular resilience. Only do these after strength phases in the gym, and start without weights getting the movement pattern dialled in before doing weighted work.

Technical skills

There is one other element, and that is your technical skills. This entails various different elements to ensure your sprint is its best at the end of a race.

Drafting and positioning – being able to ride the wheels in the bunch well is a vital skill in sprinting for two reasons. Firstly, you can save a lot of energy across the entire race if you spend more time drafting other riders, as well as savings lots in the run up to the final sprint itself. You can also get better positioning, allowing you to move yourself to the right place in the bunch at the right time to ensure that you are best placed to sprint for that win. It all depends on the size of the bunch, wind direction, and what the finish is like, but being close to the front while not being on the front is key.

Bike position – Almost always, a sprint for the win is a fast paced affair. So it becomes very important, as speed increases and air resistance increases exponentially, that we get as aerodynamic as possible. For most, this means sprinting in the drops, not the hoods, and holding your body low on the bike while maintaining visibility. Think Caleb Ewan or Mark Cavendish. You can however, also do the sprint seated on the tops, which can yield a very aero position, but a lot of riders generate power via throwing their bike side to side in a sprint. The important thing is the overall watts/drag.

Timing – This also links in with positioning, but timing of your sprint is very important. If you launch your sprint too early or too late, it can be the difference between winning and finishing out of the top-10. It pays to know from training what your sprint curve is like. If you can do a huge 10sec peak but then tail off after that, leave the sprint late. If you can sustain that power for 20-30sec, possibly best to launch early as long as you can accelerate quickly and break the slipstream to the rider behind.

Bike throw – this is a real art and often we see bike throws making the difference in professional races. The key is to push your arms outwards reaching forwards with the bars, while shifting your backside behind the saddle to gain a few extra centimetres. Just be sure to remain in control of the bike after you have done the throw.

Gear selection – Finally, getting the right gear is vital. Practice your sprints with various gear combos to find what cadence works best for you. Some people grind out big watts at 80-90 RPM, while others prefer a higher 120-130 RPM. Generally, as long as you can sustain the higher RPM, that will yield the best overall speed as you can accelerate quicker, and as you get fatigued your peak torque can suffer, so a high angular velocity will help maintain as high a power as possible. Also, be aware of the finish, if it is uphill you don’t want to be in too big a gear that is a grind, and if it drops down slightly you don’t want to be in too small a gear. As the chain is under huge load during a sprint, it is often better to avoid changing gear when sprinting, so select your gear before launching your sprint.

A bike throw can make the difference between 1st and 2nd

To ERG or not to ERG, that is the question!

It’s a question that I get from a lot of coaching clients when they have turbo sessions to do, and, as with pretty much any question related to sport science or training, it depends. But what does it depend on? Well that’s what I’m going to try and go through and discuss for you.

What is ERG mode?

First off, let’s dig a bit deeper into what ERG mode is. ERG is short for Ergometer, and what this does is control the resistance so that you can – in theory – maintain a very stable power output. 

Now, power is made up of angular velocity (radians per second, with 1 Rad/s equal to 9.5492968 RPM) and torque (the force you put through the pedals) – what ERG does is balance these two to produce a consistent wattage. 

So let’s say you are riding at 200 watts, this is made up of riding at 80 RPM ((200 / 80 = 2.5) x 9.5492968) producing 23.87 newton meters (Nm) of torque. The smart bike or smart trainer will put 23.87 Nm of resistance into the flywheel, so that you are pushing 200 watts at 80 RPM. If you increase the RPM to 90, then the resistance required to produce 200 W is now 21.22 Nm, so the trainer adjusts and decreases resistance. This also works the other way when RPM is reduced and resistance increases.

You can set ERG mode to be on or off on most training platforms and it will be active when you follow either an in app workout or a custom designed session you’ve imported. 

Benefits of ERG

So the pros of ERG mode are firstly that it controls the resistance power for us, allowing us to not need to focus on maintaining a power output as the trainer does all the work for us. This is great for those who want to do longer Z2 rides and remain under a certain power output to ensure that they don’t go too hard. Or alternatively for those wanting to do longer Tempo or Sweetspot efforts where you want the higher power to stay maintained and not drift below your power targets. 

The other big benefit is that sometimes it is hard to get exactly the right RPM to match your power output when just using your gears. This is where ERG is fantastic as you can change your RPM to whatever you feel most comfortable at, in whatever gear you choose, and the resistance will be applied accordingly so that your target power output is achieved. 

Downsides of ERG

However, it’s not all great and there are a few downsides to using ERG mode. Firstly, there is a question about the resistance being applied artificially. Although this is similar to how it is when we climb, as gravity provides additional resistance, it isn’t the best for those that want to perform on rolling or flat terrain where the changes in force applied and velocity are very variable. Sometimes it’s good to be able to adapt to those changes as in some cases just training on climbs or in ERG can affect performance on the flats. This has led some to suggest that over reliance on ERG can reduce our capacity to actually produce power sustainably at higher levels (think Sweetspot and up) as we are so used to requiring an artificial resistance to push against. There may be some truth in this, but equally on the flats at speed we have air resistance to push against. Others have suggested that ERG limits our mental resilience of being able to hold a set power, but if anything ERG can help at higher power levels (threshold and up) as there is no way to give up or drop the power level down. For some, it may be useful for pushing themselves, but equally you want to be able to do that without the artificial resistance.

Another downside is the reaction speed of ERG mode. Most high end trainers now have an ERG mode which is very fast to react to changes in either resistance, speed, or the power target of an interval. However some trainers are not as good at this. Let’s say that you have a set of micro intervals, 20 seconds at 120% Threshold, with 10sec rest at 40%, for 20 repetitions so a 10 minute block. Changing from very high resistance to very low resistance over a short period of time can sometimes be delayed, so what you may find is that when the 20s effort starts you do a very high RPM and resistance is low, then when the 10s recovery comes around the resistance doesn’t always drop straight away. 

The ERG Spiral of death is probably the most well known issue with using ERG. A few papers have looked into the limiters of cycling performance and suggest that our ability to maintain torque is the biggest factor in maintaining power output. When we are unable to apply the same torque, we reduce the gear so that we can spin a higher RPM and reduce torque applied. However in ERG, this isn’t the easiest, and what often happens is that RPM drops more and more and the resistance applied by the trainer increases more and more. In the end, the trainer wins as your RPM drops to a standstill and an insurmountable level of torque needs to be overcome. Fortunately, this is such a well known issue that many higher end trainers now have an anti-spiral of death feature, where they sense when resistance has become too much, reduce it, and allow you to get spinning back up to speed again.

Benefits of Level mode

For sessions where you want maximal power, such as sprints, or you’re doing micro intervals with lots of changes in resistance, then riding in Level, or Resistance mode is the best way to go. This involves keeping the resistance at the hub static and changing it using your gears, or you can have the settings so that virtual gradients are applied along with resistance. Using this mode, you can also drop the intensity if required during an effort, rather than being constrained to the power and resistance target set for you by ERG mode.  

The other benefit of Level mode is that it’s a bit more ecologically valid. What this means is that it’s a little bit more like the real world where you have changes in resistance via gradients and efforts are very unlikely to be as smooth or have that constant resistance behind them. There are also some suggestions that riding in Level mode is better for developing better pedaling efficiency than ERG mode. 

When to use ERG

I would say all of these little downsides of ERG and benefits of Level are quite marginal though, and at the end of the day, some of us may find it easier to complete a session using ERG mode simply because it’s one less thing to think about. My personal recommendation would be that for efforts where power is a constant (Z1 up to Z3/4) and you want to keep it below or above a certain level, ERG mode is the way to go. If you want to do sessions with short repeated efforts, maximals, sprints, or just a session with more resistance variability, then Level mode is best to use. Using a mix of the two will ensure that you don’t miss out on the benefits of either of these, and may help to make your overall training experience a bit easier and more enjoyable. 

How does caffeine affect cycling performance

We’ve all heard about the benefits of caffeine consumption for cyclists, and in fact it is the most effective legal performance enhancer out there! Studies have found that caffeine, when taken in the right dose, can improve performance by on average 4%. That’s one big performance gain! But how does it work and how much do we need to take? Let’s find out.

Coffee is probably the most common source of caffeine in most of our diets

How does caffeine improve performance?

There are several mechanisms to how caffeine improves performance. Firstly, caffeine can bond to adenosine receptors. Adenosine is released from the breakdown of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) which is how we produce all the energy within our body. The adenosine molecules then bind to adenosine receptors which then send signals to the brain telling it that we are experiencing fatigue and reducing our capacity to perform exercise. Caffeine can bond to these receptors in place of adenosine, preventing the signals from passing to the brain and thus reducing the onset of fatigue perception. This is the mechanism that is suggested to be the main performance enhancer of caffeine consumption in aerobic exercise, but also improves anaerobic performance as well along with other mechanisms.

Another area that caffeine has been found to have a small impact on performance is the increased utilisation of fat during exercise. The effects are small, with fat oxidation in g/min increasing from ~0.25g/min up to ~0.38g/min at 40% VO2max. (Gutiérrez-Hellín et al., 2018) while FatOx was also present at higher intensities up to ~70% VO2max. In addition to this, caffeine has been thought to increase the levels of epinephrine (adrenaline) by increasing overall levels of catecholamine. The increase of this can enhance the amount of fat the body oxidises, which in conjunction with the breakdown of triglycerides (how fats are stored) into usable fatty acids, this is the supposed mechanism for how caffeine improves fat oxidation. This could have a small impact both on fat utilisation, body composition enhancement, and also muscle glycogen sparing, but the effect in this regard is small and not as substantial as the other benefits associated with caffeine.

Calcium release is another benefit associated with caffeine consumption. Calcium is essential for muscle contractile as calcium causes a shift in the position of the troponin complex on actin filaments, which exposes myosin-binding sites (Kuo & Ehrlich, 2015). Essentially, the two muscle filaments can’t attach to each other and contract without calcium. This can potentially increase the maximal force production within the muscles (the anaerobic component). Interestingly, a systematic review by Mielgo-Ayuso et al., (2019) found that there were differences in how caffeine affects performance in men and women. It was found that particularly in the anaerobic performance gains, men experienced a higher performance increase than women in several studies. However there were far fewer statistical differences between men and women when looking at the effect of caffeine on aerobic performance and fatigue.

One final benefit of caffeine is the reduction in tiredness and increased levels of alertness. Particularly in a road race, where there is an element of mental fatigue when navigating the peloton, caffeine can reduce tiredness and mental fatigue, in part in the same way that it reduces central fatigue via adenosine binding site blocking.

Many studies have found caffeine has a significant improvement on TT performance

Where do we get caffeine?

There are many foods and drinks that we can consume which contain caffeine. Coffee is likely the one we are all aware of, but tea (black and green) contains caffeine as does dark chocolate. The amounts vary but in general a single espresso contains 60mg of caffeine with a brewed coffee being closer to 95mg, Black tea 47mg and Green tea 28mg, dark chocolate can have about 25mg per serving, while energy drinks and shots can contain between 170-220mg of caffeine per serving.

A can of coke is a good source of caffeine and sugar, also useful for recovery

How much caffeine should we take?

The recommended amount of caffeine for sports performance is 3-6mg/kg of body mass (Guest et al., 2021) with the performance enhancement from this being on average ~4% with variation either side of this. To put that into perspective, for a 70kg individual, that means that they should be consuming between 210-420mg of caffeine before exercise. That’s 4+ espressos! It is worth noting that minimal caffeine consumption required for performance can be as low as 2mg/kg but this is unclear and will not result in much gain for some individuals. Also, beyond 9mg of caffeine some people do experience negative side effects to the point that the performance enhancement is negated. The overall consensus is that individuals test different caffeine consumption amounts on themselves to balance the positive performance enhancements with what they can tolerate.

In terms of timings, it is recommended that you consume this caffeine 60min pre exercise as that is generally how long it takes to have an effect. However, caffeine gum has been found to act faster, within 30 minutes, but there is debate over how long the effectiveness of caffeine delivered this way lasts. In general, the effects last for around 4 hours, due to caffeine having a half life of 4 hours. After this point, in longer events say, it is beneficial to top-up with a caffeine supplement such as a gel or an energy drink

You probably need a few shots of coffee for optimal sports performance

What side effects can caffeine have?

The side effects of caffeine vary significantly due to the fact that they are often attributed with genetic variance in caffeine metabolism. However, with calcium release being stimulated, this can have a small impact on bone mineral density so it is important to consider factors such as energy availability being adequate and calcium consumption within the diet.

It has also been suggested that caffeine can contribute to dehydration due to it being a diuretic , however the liquid that is consumed along with caffeine in most of the forms that it can be consumed counters this additional fluid loss.

In higher doses, such as 9mg/kg, it has been found that caffeine can increase anxiety and cause shaking in the hands. This highlights why it is important to monitor the amount that you consume, but also be aware of the individual effect that caffeine has on you, as everyone responds to it differently.

Caffeine also has the effect of increasing blood lactate. Now this is not an issue, as lactate is then used as a fuel source potentially increasing overall energy production capacity. However, it is worth bearing in mind if you monitor your lactate levels in training that consuming caffeine will give a higher lactate reading at relative exercise intensities.

One area people often assume caffeine has an effect is heart rate, normally that it increases it. Interestingly, studies have found the opposite in sub-maximal exercise with caffeine consumption decreasing heart rate by 4-7 BPM (McClaran & Wetter, 2007). However, it was found that at rest and maximal exercise intensities, heart rate was not affected significantly. In terms of blood pressure, caffeine consumption did increase systolic pressure at rest, but had no effect during exercise.

Finally, there is often the effect on sleep. Some people find caffeine has virtually no effect on their sleep, while others experience significantly worse sleep. A good rule of thumb is to stop consuming caffeine between midday and 3pm, depending on bed time. This allows plenty of time for the 4 hour half-life of caffeine to reduce its presence in the body and limit its effect on sleep.

Best to lay off the lattes after 2-3pm

Caffeine tapering

An interesting and hotly debated area in caffeine supplementation for performance is caffeine tapering. Many athletes go by the basis that to get the full effectiveness of caffeine on race day they need to reduce the intake of it leading up to the event so as to reduce the resilience to its fatigue reducing mechanisms. However, the research around this topic is highly varied.

A study by Lara et al., (2019) found that continued caffeine supplementation over several days did lead to increased performance over a placebo. However, this magnitude of improvement decreased as the study went on suggesting a progressive tolerance.

Although another recent study found caffeine tapering not to be effective at enhancing performance gains from caffeine supplementation (de Souza Gonçalves et al., 2017). This study however did use 6mg/kg of caffeine supplementation which was significantly higher than what many participants habitually consumed. This is supported by a very recently published meta analysis on the subject by Carvalho et al., (2022) where the conclusion based on 60 studies was that “Habitual caffeine consumption does not appear to influence the acute ergogenic effect of caffeine.”

What we can potentially infer from these studies is that ‘it depends’. But, for the sake of practical recommendations and what studies have looked into, it appears that habitual caffeine use can blunt the effects of caffeine when consumed in the regular daily amount used habitually. So if you consume 3mg/kg/day and then take that amount on competition day, there may be limited benefit. But if you habitually take 3mg/kg/day and then use 6mg/kg on the day of an event, there may be a significant performance benefit.

It is also worth considering the fact that caffeine is essentially an addictive drug, which does mean that reducing the consumption of it from habitual to cold-turkey can cause side effects such as headaches and drowsiness (Graham, 2001). With this in mind, for sports performance you don’t need to stop your caffeine intake entirely, but perhaps reduce it to 2-3mg/kg/day and then supplement with 4-6mg/kg on competition day.

What does this mean for you?

In practical terms, for enhanced sports performance you should aim for between 3-6mg/kg of body mass, for some they may be fine with 2mg/kg. However, caffeine can have a negative effect on performance for some individuals, even at the lower levels. This is why it is vital to test caffeine consumption during training to determine the effect that it has on you and what level you should be consuming to be optimal for your performance. It is also recommended not to consume it after 3pm, possibly midday for some individuals so as not to affect sleep.


Gutiérrez-Hellín, J., & Del Coso, J. (2018). Effects of p-Synephrine and Caffeine Ingestion on Substrate Oxidation during Exercise. Medicine and science in sports and exercise50(9), 1899-1906.

McLellan, T. M., Caldwell, J. A., & Lieberman, H. R. (2016). A review of caffeine’s effects on cognitive, physical and occupational performance. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews71, 294-312.

Kuo, I. Y., & Ehrlich, B. E. (2015). Signaling in muscle contraction. Cold Spring Harbor perspectives in biology7(2), a006023.

Mielgo-Ayuso, J., Marques-Jiménez, D., Refoyo, I., Del Coso, J., León-Guereño, P., & Calleja-González, J. (2019). Effect of caffeine supplementation on sports performance based on differences between sexes: a systematic review. Nutrients11(10), 2313.

Guest, N. S., VanDusseldorp, T. A., Nelson, M. T., Grgic, J., Schoenfeld, B. J., Jenkins, N. D., … & Campbell, B. I. (2021). International society of sports nutrition position stand: caffeine and exercise performance. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition18(1), 1.

McClaran, S. R., & Wetter, T. J. (2007). Low doses of caffeine reduce heart rate during submaximal cycle ergometry. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition4(1), 11.

Lara, B., Ruiz-Moreno, C., Salinero, J. J., & Del Coso, J. (2019). Time course of tolerance to the performance benefits of caffeine. PLoS One14(1), e0210275.

de Souza Gonçalves, L., de Salles Painelli, V., Yamaguchi, G., de Oliveira, L. F., Saunders, B., da Silva, R. P., … & Gualano, B. (2017). Dispelling the myth that habitual caffeine consumption influences the performance response to acute caffeine supplementation. Journal of applied physiology.

Carvalho, A., Marticorena, F. M., Grecco, B. H., Barreto, G., & Saunders, B. (2022). Can I have my coffee and drink it? A systematic review and meta-analysis to determine whether habitual caffeine consumption affects the ergogenic effect of caffeine. Sports Medicine52(9), 2209-2220.

Graham, T. E. (2001). Caffeine and exercise: metabolism, endurance and performance. Sports medicine31, 785-807.

What are dual source carbs?

Article written for Styrkr and can be seen here.

What are dual source carbs?

Before we dive into carb ratios and what the different sources of carbohydrates are, let’s start on why carbohydrates are so important.

When we exercise, we burn predominantly either fats or carbohydrates. We use mostly fats at lower intensities, while we use carbs at higher intensities. When it comes to fuel stores, we have tens of thousands of calories of fat stored in the body, even in a very lean athlete, however we generally only have enough carbs stored for 90 minutes of exercise. This is why it is so important for us to consume additional carbs when we train and exercise, both to fuel the work that we do, and also replenish our carbohydrate stores for training the next day. 

Dual source carb mixes are common place in sports nutrition now

When it comes to carbohydrates, there are several different forms, and the main difference between them is how they are processed in the body. The primary ones that we want to be consuming are those that require less breakdown and these are most often found in sports nutrition as glucose and fructose. They are referred to as monosaccharides as they are made up of just one sugar molecule. However, there are uses for polysaccharides (multiple sugar molecules) that we will get into later on.

Glucose is probably the one we are most familiar with within sports nutrition, as it is one of the most readily absorbed. The way we get glucose into the working muscles is firstly via the intestine. This is where the first limitation of consuming single source carbs occurs. When we consume glucose, it is transported from the intestines to the blood via a protein transporter called Sodium-glucose transport protein 1 (SGLT1) which requires sodium to do this. This transport mechanism can only transport glucose at a rate of 1g/min, hence why 60g/hour was long seen as the maximum level of glucose that could be ingested during exercise. 

Fructose however, cannot leave the intestines via this method, and instead uses a transporter called Glucose Transporter 5 (GLUT5). Both fructose and glucose are then transported into the bloodstream via GLUT2. Fructose is then synthesized into glucose or lactate (yes, lactate is your friend and a useful fuel!) by hepatocytes (cells) in the liver. However, during the beginnings of exercise at higher intensities you will be depleting your carb stores, and so topping up with fructose earlier will ensure that you have a more ample supply of usable glucose for when you require it.

Dual carbs are often used in gels too now

What happens when we consume this mix of glucose and fructose, is that we are able to transport the sugars from the intestine at a faster rate, without causing discomfort or bloating. If we were to consume more than 60g/hr of glucose we would not be able to transport all of that and likely experience discomfort. Likewise just consuming that level of fructose only has been found to result in gastrointestinal distress. As for why the 1:0.8 ratio? Well, in a study by Rowlands et al., (2015) they tested various ratios of glucose to fructose, and found that the 1:0.8 ratio resulted in the highest exogenous carbohydrate energy and endurance power compared with lower or higher glucose:fructose ratios. 

However, consuming lots of glucose and fructose together has the issue of being excessively sweet and not the most palatable. In a study by Wallis et al. 2005, they combined Maltodextrin with Fructose. Maltodextrin is actually a polysaccharide but is made up of a chain of glucose molecules which are easily broken down. The benefit of using Maltodextrin instead of glucose is that it is absorbed as quickly as glucose, but lacks the excessive sweetness that would be found from a 1:0.8 ratio of glucose:fructose in the quantities required for optimal sports performance. In this study, the carb oxidation rates were found to be 1.5g/min, or 90g per hour. However, this was consumed at 1.8g/min, or 108g/hour. Practically what this means is that for optimal carb oxidation we probably want to consume a bottle of energy drink and a gel during each hour.

Secret Training BiG Energy uses a mix of Maltodextrin and Fructose

So what does dual source carbs do for our performance? Well, a study by Rowlands et al. (2008) found that fatigue was reduced when consuming a maltodextrin:fructose drink compared to maltodextrin only. And a study by Currell & Jeukendrup, (2008) found that glucose drink improved time trial power output by 9% compared to the placebo drink, but when glucose:fructose was used this was improved by an additional 8%! There are some big gains to be had from optimizing the amount of carbohydrates we use and by using dual source carbs!

Another benefit of dual source carbohydrates is that as well as being better for fueling prolonged higher intensity exercise, they also improve muscle glycogen resynthesis (Fuchs et al., 2016; Gonzalez et al., 2017), essentially they assist in recovery so that we can train or race more effectively the next day as well.

To summarise, using dual source carbs allows for greater carb oxidation rates because they can both be transported from the intestine to the blood and then the muscles at the same time, thus increasing overall carb availability. This both improves performance as well as recovery.

Wallis, G.A., D.S. Rowlands, C. Shaw, R.L. Jentjens, and A.E. Jeukendrup (2005). Oxidation of combined ingestion of maltodextrins and fructose during exercise. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 37:426-432.

Fuchs, C.J., J.T. Gonzalez, M. Beelen, N.M. Cermak, F.E. Smith, P.E. Thelwall, R. Taylor, M.I. Trenell, E.J. Stevenson, and L.J. van Loon (2016). Sucrose ingestion after exhaustive exercise accelerates liver, but not muscle glycogen repletion compared with glucoe ingestion in trained athletes. J. Appl. Physiol. 120:1328-1334.

Gonzalez, J.T., C.J. Fuchs, J.A, Betts, and L.J. van Loon (2017). Glucose plus fructose ingestion for post-exercise recovery – greater than the sum of its parts? Nutrients 9:E344.

Currell, K., and A.E. Jeukendrup (2008). Superior endurance performance with ingestion of multiple transportable carbohydrates. Med. Sci .Sports Exerc. 40: 275-281.

Rowlands, D.S., M. Swift, M. Ros, J.G. Green (2012). Composite versus single transportable carbohydrate solution enhances race and laboratory cycling performance. Appl. Physiol. Nutr. Metab. 37: 425-436.

Rowlands, D. S., Houltham, S., Musa-Veloso, K., Brown, F., Paulionis, L., & Bailey, D. (2015). Fructose–glucose composite carbohydrates and endurance performance: critical review and future perspectives. Sports Medicine45, 1561-1576.

Training and nutrition for female cyclists

When it comes to literature about training and nutrition for cycling, there is an abundance of current research available to best guide us on how we can train and fuel effectively. However, when you dive into these studies, a majority of them use only male participants for the studies. The main reason for this is that female athletes have more variables than male athletes due to hormonal changes over the month from their menstrual cycle, and that can affect the variables within a study that need to be controlled. Essentially, it’s easier to use male subjects, but also deeply unfair. This means that scientific literature around female athletes is a lot more limited, even though there are important differences between men and women. What we’re going to try and do here, is collect the scientific literature that is available for women to help them get the best out of their training and nutrition.

I will say that there are several fantastic researchers contributing to this area of sports science for female athletes. For example, Dr Stacy Sims, Dy Nicky Keay, and a host of other researchers who are listed at the bottom of this article in the References section.

Initially, we’re going to look at the different phases/sub-phases of the menstrual cycle. We’re going to base this off of an eumenorrheic 28-day menstrual cycle (MC). This changes between individuals, so tracking your cycle and being aware of it is a useful thing to do. A healthy (eumenorrheic) MC is defined as one lasting between 21 and 35 days. The MC usually starts from around 13 years old up until perimenopause at around 45 years. Things that can change the MC are pregnancy, oral hormonal contraceptives, or menstrual and ovulatory dysfunction. It is important to note that MCs can vary from person to person so the information in this article is based on generally accepted standards but may vary between individuals. 

Follicular phase

This is split into two distinct sub-phases, the Early Follicular phase and the Late Follicular phase. The Early phase covers the time when bleeding/menstruation/the period occurs. It is characterised hormonally by low levels of oestrogen (sometimes referred to as oestrogen), progesterone, luteinising hormone (LH), and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). This usually lasts for 4-6 days, and is a good indicator of whether your cycle is eumenorrheic. 

The Late phase is the duration between when menstruation stops and ovulation occurs. It is characterised by increased levels of oestrogen while other hormones remain stable. This usually lasts 7-8 days.

Ovulatory phase

Ovulation is when the egg is released into the ovaries and is characterised by oestrogen decreasing slightly, progesterone increasing, a small increase in FSH and testosterone, and a large spike in LH. It generally lasts for between 3 and 4 days.

Luteal phase 

The Luteal phase is split into 3 sub-phrases. The Early phase sees oestrogen levels drop significantly, while progesterone levels increase more. Both LH and FSH drop and become steady. The Mid phase sees progesterone at its highest level, while oestrogen increases. The Late phase sees both oestrogen and progesterone levels drop to their lowest before the menstrual phase starts over again. Each sub-phase lasts for 4-5 days each with the total Luteal phase lasting 12-13 days generally.

Training recommendations in eumenorrheic athletes

Firstly, although we are going to look at what current literature suggests for training based on group effects and trends, many of these studies, and a recent literature review, have found that there are large individual differences from person to person. So although these guidelines and trends may be helpful to inform your training, at the end of the day you as the individual is what matters. So setting your training based on you, and only you, is key. This is why we individualise all our clients training to be specific to them.

let’s look into why training recommendations change between the phases and sub-phases. Oestrogen has a neuroexcitatory effect, essentially this increases force production via improved neuromuscular function. Progesterone has a cortical excitability inhibitory effect, meaning that strength and power production is impaired. The results of this is that during the sub-phases when oestrogen levels are highest and progesterone at its lowest, it is recommended to focus more on strength workouts. So the Late Follicular phase and Ovulatory phase are likely the best times to focus on strength work both on and off the bike. This means that the Luteal phase, primarily early and mid phases can impair strength and power performance due to progesterone levels being at their highest.

Another element potentially affected by the MC is rapid force production, think sprints and high cadence work. In a couple of studies it was found that the motor unit firing rate in several leg muscles was reduced during the early Follicular phase while it was improved during the late Luteal phase. So focussing on fast movements in the gym such as plyometrics and sprint work on the bike are potentially ideal during the late Luteal phase.

Additionally, during the Luteal phase the body’s metabolism increases, meaning the basal body temperature is greater and muscle performance over shorter duration efforts such as track races and lifting could be increased. This is because greater body temperature results in improved muscle contractility and force production, potentially why the Luteal phase was found to benefit rapid force production. However, a proper warm up can result in the same overall impact, so what this means practicality wise is that a warm up may not be as essential during the Luteal phase, and warming up properly during the rest of the MC means there is no significant difference between phases. 

There have also been studies that have found that testosterone levels are higher during the Ovulatory phase. Although this requires more research to understand, the suggestion is that during this period performance levels could be enhanced as well as strength gains, especially from resistance training.

Inflammation is another factor in this process as well. During the early Follicular phase, inflammation levels are higher. What this means is that recovery from training can take longer and the rate of perceived exertion levels are sometimes higher. Nutrition and diet are some ways to combat increased inflammatory effects in the body, as is adequate sleep and proper recovery.

Finally we have a mental aspect of things, discomfort. Some women experience significant discomfort during the early Follicular phase during menstruation, while some experience cramps during Ovulation. This is why it is important to take these recommendations and apply them to you as an individual. You theoretically may perform better during the Ovulatory phase, but if you suffer from cramps during that phase and not during the Luteal phase, that can impair performance significantly. Additionally, I have worked with many female athletes over the years, and for some they find they perform better during menstruation, going pretty much against what all the literature suggests. 

This really does highlight why at the end of the day, you need to know yourself well, and why we work with every athlete on a case by case basis. Based on current literature, trends suggest that you should structure your training with more strength based workouts being conducted during the late Follicular phase along with endurance work, and fast power production and sub-maximal work being done during the Luteal phases. But setting the tougher sessions around when you feel best as an individual is key. If you feel best during the early follicular phase, do key sessions then. If you feel best during the late Luteal phase, do them then. If you feel lethargic around the Ovulatory phase, reduce training intensity and duration, perhaps focus on lower intensity sub-Lactate Threshold 1 riding. Tracking MC along with training data and RPE/perceptions can give you a clearer picture and help identify trends and patterns, and if you feel comfortable doing so, talk with your coach about this.

Nutrition recommendations in eumenorrheic athletes

During the early Follicular phase, the body is shedding the lining of the uterus, and protein requirements are increased significantly due to the need to synthesise more tissue. There is also an increase in inflammation in the body. Fuelling recommendations here are based around an increased need for protein after exercise and during the day, while increasing the levels of antioxidant rich foods (fruits, berries, turmeric, oily fish) can help to reduce the inflammation and see elements of discomfort. 

In the late Follicular phase, substrate metabolism is weighted more towards utilising carbohydrates with several studies finding that during sub maximal exercise, there was a greater percentage of energy derived from carbohydrates for women during the follicular phase (Ashley et al., 2000). What this potentially means is that greater carbohydrate supplementation is required before, during, and after exercise. Generally, the guidelines are given for around 60g/hour, but women tend to use fats more than carbohydrates compared to men anyway. So perhaps, during sub-max exercise, 60g/hour is useful, while at higher intensity you will want to experiment with what your gut can tolerate carbohydrates wise. As for recommended carb intake for female athletes, ideally you want to tailor to different training days. An easy day should be 2.5-3g/kg, with this increasing to 3.5-7g/kg based on hour long intervals, 2 hour moderate paced, 3-5 hours endurance, or 5+ hours heavy endurance.

As we move into the Luteal phases, substrate utilisation switches and the body becomes better at using fats than carbohydrates. Again several studies have found that fat oxidation levels were higher during the Luteal phases than the Follicular phases. This could mean that the overall requirement for exogenous carbohydrates is reduced, so maybe 40-50g/hour is more suitable at sub/max intensities. However, the Luteal phase is also characterised by an increase in metabolism, and some studies have shown that increased carbohydrate ingestions can increase serotonin in females during the Luteal phase, assisting with mood and effort perception. So if energy requirements are higher, that may negate the reduced carb needs, and improving mood could result in improved training capacity and recovery. Additionally, protein requirements are higher as the progesterone breaks down more protein to help rebuild the uterus lining, so consuming a higher amount of protein throughout the day is essential, especially post exercise, ideally 25-35g, and 1.7-2.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. 

Additionally, several of these studies have found that once you get to more maximal intensities, then the hormone levels don’t have so much of an impact on substrate utilisation, and fueling for the work required is where it’s at. So with that in mind, for a tough session with efforts above Critical Power, consume enough carbs before and during regardless of MC phase. For sub-max workouts, tailor carb intake a bit around the MC. When you feel you have more discomfort or cramps, increase anti-oxidant rich foods.

The biggest factor to consider overall though when it comes to nutrition is Energy Availability, which covers both overall calorie intake as well as enough carbs to fuel workouts. There are far more studies into energy availability in female athletes now especially in weight restricted sports such as Ballet, Gymnastics, Running and Cycling. Poor energy availability can result in Relative Energy Deficiency in Sports (RED-S). It can be experienced in one of two ways, the first is intentional, when we reduce energy intake to try and control body composition, and the other is unintentional, when we increase activity levels without properly fuelling the work. In fact, a study by Shriver et al., (2013) found that 91% of the female college athlete study participants did not fuel adequately. Negative side effects vary from feeling fatigued and less energised, to advanced reduction in bone mineral density, loss or dysfunction of periods, and in extreme cases infertility. An irregular cycle or loss of menstruation can be a sign of RED-S and should be addressed immediately.

For an athlete, what this means is that you should be consuming at least 45kcal/kg of fat free mass as your basal calorie intake. Below this means you are not fuelling your body adequately alongside your training. Remember, the energy we use during training is not the only energy we use during the day. We use energy to sleep, live, digest, walk to the fridge, and to recover after exercise as we rebuild tissue damaged by training to experience training adaptation. This is why for female athletes it is important to ensure you eat enough when your metabolism fluctuates, and listen to your body when it feels hungry. This is also a reason why fasted and low-carb training are not recommended for women, as the risks of low energy availability are higher and the proposed mechanisms for enhanced training gains are not scientifically supported in women compared to men for fasted training. 


Menopause is when the female body becomes unable to reproduce due to many changes within the body physically and hormonally. However it is defined by several different stages leading up to this. Firstly, we have perimenopause, the period of time leading up to menopause occurring and when hormones start to change significantly. This can happen 8-10 years before menopause. Oestrogen decreases overall, and can also become more irregular during the MC. Menopause itself occurs when a period has not been present for an entire year as oestrogen levels are so low that an egg cannot be produced. Both these stages come with a host of side effects that vary between individuals and can cause varying levels of discomfort and effects on exercise performance. What this can mean is that nutrition and training has to become less rigidly structured and requires more flexibility and adjustment due to how you feel and the swings in hormones during your MC. Once everything has stabilised post menopause, it becomes a little easier to plan consistently.

Due to the decrease in oestrogen as well as an increase in both muscle catabolism and reduction in bone mineral density, there is an increased need for power and strength workouts both on and off the bike. Ensuring muscle function and power is maintained means that including more intervals and high capacity efforts into your training is essential. Additionally, resistance training is a highly important factor as this can reduce both the rate of muscle and bone mineral density decline. 

In terms of nutrition, protein requirements are one area that increases significantly, with the ideal target being more like 2.2-2.4g/kg FFM as well as consuming branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), especially Leucine, during training sessions. The amount you require after exercise also increases from 20-30g (25-35g during Luteal Phase), to around 40-45g with regular 20-30g intake throughout the day. 

Oral contraceptive

The Oral Contraceptive Pill (OCP) has two distinct effects, to reduce natural levels of oestrogen and progesterone during certain MC phases, while supplements exogenous levels of those hormones during other MC phases to prevent pregnancy from occurring. The issue is that this change in the regular eumenorrheic cycle can affect performance. A full meta-analysis and systematic review found that OCP use did result in a slightly inferior exercise performance when compared to naturally menstruating women, but again the results varied and the guidance was to individualise your approach. For some women the OCP may impair exercise performance, while for others they may feel no ill effects at all. But it is important to consider the pros and cons for both exercise and also day to day life.


Hopefully this article has given you a heap of information to help you make informed choices about your training and nutrition around the menstrual cycle and menopause. Although scientific literature does offer some general rules and guidelines around training and nutrition around the MC, it is a research area that is ever expanding with new knowledge coming to light every year. It is also hugely important to consider that individuals will not always experience their MC the same way. This means understanding your own cycle, how you feel during it, and what works for you, should always be the priority. Tracking your cycle, and your training/racing results and perceptions is really important to work out trends and correlations for you as an individual. 

The big takeaway though – maintain energy availability, train strength and power, fuel for the work required, and listen to your body.


Ashley, C. D., Bishop, P., Smith, J. F., Reneau, P., & Perkins, C. (2000). Menstrual Phase Effects on Fat and Carbohydrate Oxidation During Prolonged Exercise in Active Females. Journal of Exercise Physiology Online, 3(4).

Carmichael, M. A., Thomson, R. L., Moran, L. J., & Wycherley, T. P. (2021). The impact of menstrual cycle phase on athletes’ performance: a narrative review. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(4), 1667.

Zderic, T. W., Coggan, A. R., & Ruby, B. C. (2001). Glucose kinetics and substrate oxidation during exercise in the follicular and luteal phases. Journal of applied physiology, 90(2), 447-453.

Elliott-Sale, K. J., McNulty, K. L., Ansdell, P., Goodall, S., Hicks, K. M., Thomas, K., … & Dolan, E. (2020). The effects of oral contraceptives on exercise performance in women: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Medicine, 50(10), 1785-1812.

McNulty, K. L., Elliott-Sale, K. J., Dolan, E., Swinton, P. A., Ansdell, P., Goodall, S., … & Hicks, K. M. (2020). The effects of menstrual cycle phase on exercise performance in eumenorrheic women: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Medicine, 50, 1813-1827.

Burke, L. M., & Dziedzic, C. E. (2013). 2 Carbohydrates Requirements for the Female Athlete. Nutrition and the Female Athlete: From Research to Practice, 25.

Wohlgemuth, K. J., Arieta, L. R., Brewer, G. J., Hoselton, A. L., Gould, L. M., & Smith-Ryan, A. E. (2021). Sex differences and considerations for female specific nutritional strategies: a narrative review. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 18(1), 27.

Shriver, L. H., Betts, N. M., & Wollenberg, G. (2013). Dietary intakes and eating habits of college athletes: are female college athletes following the current sports nutrition standards?. Journal of American College Health, 61(1), 10-16.

How to fuel your cycling

Be it a long endurance ride, a shorter more intense session, a time trial, or a road race, ensuring that your fuelling is optimised is an important part of ensuring performance is the best it can be, as well making sure you don’t hit the dreaded Wall! But how can we ensure that our fuelling is optimal for different cycling events, distances, or other factors? That’s where we’re going to try and help

Long easy rides

For longer endurance rides over 90 minutes, although they are lower intensity and where you predominantly use fats as fuel, it is still essential to fuel these adequately for several important reasons.

Firstly, we do still use carbohydrates during Zone 2 intensity rides, and if we are doing a 3+ hour long ride, and we have training to do the next day, it is essential that we keep muscle glycogen stores nice and topped up so that we perform well in the sessions over the coming days. However, as we want to improve fat oxidation rates in these rides and carb ingestion can reduce fat oxidation, it can be useful to delay exogenous carb intake until an hour into a longer Z2 ride, or at least consume lower glycemic index carbs before the ride and during the earlier stages of the ride.

Additionally, not consuming enough carbs during Zone 2 rides will affect the way we feel mood wise and also our head, as the brain predominantly uses carbs for fuel, so not enough carbs can lead to a sort of brain fog later in the day that can impact productivity. It is also important with these longer rides to ensure you drink enough fluids and, if it’s warmer or you are sweating more, salts. Not only is water needed for carbohydrate storage, but the salts are essential for maintaining muscle contractile function. Even if it is cold, you are likely wrapped up warm and still sweating and losing salts.

Finally, for long term health and performance it is essential that we maintain a good energy availability, which means as well as consuming enough calories to fuel the work and recovery, we also need to consume enough carbs. Risks of not meeting the energy and carb demands of our body is the possibility of slipping into RED-s (relative energy deficiency in sports) as well as impaired performance, recovery, and increased risk of moving into dysfunctional overreaching or overtraining. So pre-ride, during, and post-ride carbs are very important.

For ultra endurance events, or multi-day events such as LEJOG and the Trans-Continental, as there are no days to recover and any missed out energy intake is very difficult to catch back up on later in the event, it is even more essential to ensure you eat enough. For single day timed events, it will be fastest if you carb up well throughout. For the longer lower intensity events such as the Trans-Continental, it is more about overall energy intake as consuming the necessary carbs day in and day out would be very challenging on the gut and gastrointestinal system.

3 hour Z2 fuelling suggestion:

  • Pre – Porridge made with either 80g rolled oats/buckwheat (gluten free)/dessert rice (dry weight), milk or vegan alternative, 15g mixed nuts, frozen berries, maple syrup.
  • During – x2 750ml bottles of Secret Training Training Mix, x2 Veloforte Energy Bars, x1 Veloforte Energy Chews
  • After (within 30min ideally) – Baked beans on toast, or For Goodness Shakes (FGS) Recovery Shake, x1 Veloforte Protein Bar.

Short intense sessions

For shorter intense sessions under an hour, it isn’t essential to consume carbs during the training session, however it is important to ensure you are well fuelled before and top up after training. Ideally you want to eat a few hours before the training session to allow proper digestion of slower release carbs. If you are in a rush though it is important to consume faster release simple carbohydrates (higher glycemic index) to fuel the training session.

If the session is between an hour and 90 minutes long, it may be necessary to consume some carbs during the sessions such as a gel, energy drink, or some sweets for sugars. After the session it is also important to consume carbs and protein, ideally in a 3:1 ratio as that improves muscle protein synthesis as well as topping up muscle glycogen stores.

Hydration wise, intense sessions often lead to a higher sweat rate, and if doing the session on the turbo then it will likely be even warmer. Ensuring you’ve got a drink with suitable electrolytes will be essential to maintain muscle contractile function if it is a longer effort session, and will also help with reducing RPE during a warm and intense session. Mixing this with a carb drink mix is a great way to top up the fuel gauge for a tough session between an hour and 90 minutes.

60min interval session fuelling suggestion:

  • Pre – Any meal with a good balance of carbs, healthy fats, and protein 3ish hours beforehand, rice is ideal. If within 60min of the session, then fruit juice, banana, white bread and jam.
  • During – 500ml bottle with x1 Secret Training Hydration Tablet.
  • Post (within 30min ideally) – Omelette with rice, or FGS Protein Shake with Veloforte Wellness Bar.

Time trials

For the sake of this we’re going to focus on shorter TTs, so 20 minutes to an hour. Firstly, same as with a short intense session, it is vital to consume a meal several hours before the event to ensure there is limited gastric distress. Secondly, having faster release carbs just before the event. A few ideal ways of doing this are by sipping an energy drink in the hour leading up to the race, or an energy bar an hour or so before. Then, if a shorter TT, swilling and high carb concentration energy drink in your mouth to allow the carbs into the system quicker via the mouth and gums. If it’s a longer TT then consuming a gel 5min before along with caffeine gum is a good tactic, as well as taking a gel or high carb drink with you on the bike.

After the event it is again essential to refuel shortly after the event. A recovery drink is a good quick and easy way to do this, especially if you don’t feel hungry after intense sessions. Alternatively you can bring something simple like rice and a protein source (more protein if following a vegan/vegetarian diet).

10mile TT fuelling suggestion:

  • Pre – meal at least 3 hours beforehand, x1 Veloforte Energy Chews in the hour leading up to the event, or sip on a half bottle of Secret Training BiG Energy (half serving). If not in the evening, then Secret Training Energy Gel with Caffeine and Betaine.
  • During – non required.
  • Post (within 30min ideally) – Pack of supermarket rice and tin of tuna with sweetcorn, or FGS Recovery Shake.

Road races

Road races are of course a longer high intensity event where you will be using carbs at a higher rate for a longer period of time. For these it is again essential to fuel up properly in the morning before the event, but also to up the carbohydrates in the days preceding the event. Not the full on week of carb loading, but a couple of days of higher carb intake should be adequate.

During the race itself, the amount of carbs you will need will vary based on you as an individual. Depending on your gastrointestinal tolerance, power output, and demand for carbohydrates, then between 60-120g of carbs per hour may be needed. Ideally, 60g/hour of glucose is the maximum we can tolerate, with fructose added to increase the total exogenous carb intake levels to 90+g/hour. As the intensity will be high, the easiest way to consume these will likely be in more liquid forms such as high carb energy drinks and energy gels. It is important to trial these nutritional methods and strategies in training before an event so you can find out what works for you. Also, fuel based on the intensity, you don’t want to be fuelling while working super hard, so fuel while intensity is lower such as flats or downhills, and eat proactively not reactively, if you get hungry it’s likely too late!

Also important is consuming enough fluids and salts so as to avoid dehydration and cramps, and maintain ideal muscle contractile function. Other elements to consider are caffeine intake, bicarbonate, and beta alanine, as these three supplements have been found to be beneficial for performance in several ways. Caffeine is good for reducing the RPE of a relative effort level, while bicarb and beta alanine have been found to be useful buffers for muscle acidity.

As with all intense exercise, it is important to consume carbs and protein shortly after the event, as well as drip feeding carbs throughout the rest of the day. This will optimise recovery and ensure that you are better prepared for any training or events in the coming days after this event. Rehydration will likely be necessary too as at higher intensities we can sweat up to 2.5 litres an hour! However we cannot replenish this lost fluid at this rate or we will not feel good and likely be sick. So it is important to rehydrate well after the event and hydrate as much as possible, and is optimal for performance, during.

4 hour RR fuelling suggestion:

  • Pre – meal with 100-120g of carbs 3-4 hours beforehand, Veloforte Energy Bar 2-1.5 hours before, sip on 500ml bottle of Secret Training BiG Energy in the hour before.
  • During – x2-3 500ml bottles of Secret Training BiG Energy Peppermint with Bicarb, x2 500ml bottles of Secret Training Hydration tablets, x3-4 Secret Training Isotonic Energy Gels, Veloforte Doppio Caffeine Gel.
  • Post (within 30min ideally) – FGS Recovery Shake, Veloforte Protein Bar, 1000ml with x2 Secret Training Hydration tablets.

Hot weather or altitude

When training or racing at either altitude or in warmer conditions, there are two important considerations. Firstly, for both of them, the amount of carbs that you use during exercise will increase so it becomes even more important to consume carbs during training as well as around training too. So if you are used to 60g/hour, then increasing to 70+g/hour will be beneficial.

For hot weather, it also becomes more important to consume more water as well as salts. Consuming just large quantities of water will actually be detrimental to performance! Overconsumption of water without adequate salts can lead to a dangerous issue called hyponatremia. This occurs when our sodium levels drop too low, as when we sweat the sodium is needed to transport the water to our skin to allow us to reduce body temperature. However this sodium is needed to maintain cellular function, blood pressure, and transmission of nerve signals between cells. When sodium levels are too low in the body and we consume excessive water, the water is retained in the cells and causes them to swell and in some cases break down. Side effects of this in their most severe are seizures, coma and death. Ways to avoid this are to consume enough salts with fluids, and to not consume excessive water without salts. The side effects of dehydration are less risky than hyponatremia, with that being the leading cause of mortality during marathons.

You can work out sweat rate simply by weighing yourself naked before a workout, then weighing yourself after a workout with any fluid weight consumed during exercise subtracted. So if you are 75kg before, and 74.5kg after 1 hour cycling having consumed 500ml, your water loss is around 1kg/litre. It’s not exact as other elements are lost during exercise, but gives a close estimate. As for salt loss, this requires proper testing to determine the sodium concentration of your sweat. You can eyeball it to an extent with if you develop salt patches on cycling kit after riding in warmer conditions, but this will be a ballpark figure.

Hot weather (30ºC+) fuelling suggestion:

  • Pre – more carbs than normal pre workout meal.
  • During – 10g more carbs per hour than normal, plus added salt in bottles along with drinking more, menthol infused energy gel or drink may help too.
  • Post (within 30min ideally) – 1.5x more fluid than was lost during the entirety of the ride plus salts, carbs and protein.

Menstrual cycle

An area that has often been overlooked in the scientific literature, which is heavily male dominated when it comes to researchers and participants for studies, is female physiology and nutrition. Hormones have a great impact on the rate that we require energy, and also how our bodies prefer that energy demand to be met. For women who go through the menstrual cycle, their hormone profile changes throughout their cycle, and so too do their nutritional requirements.

During the Menstrual phase, the body is shedding the lining of the uterus and requiring more energy, and protein especially, to repair the tissue and because menstruation is an inflammatory process, increasing the amount of anti-inflammatory foods rich in antioxidants can be beneficial to recovery and performance in training.

For the Follicular phase, estrogen and progesterone levels are at their lowest (estrogen rises leading up to ovulation though) and the body relies more heavily on carbohydrates for fuel rather than fats. So if you consumed 60g/hour of carbs in training, you may need to up that as well as consuming more for pre ride and post ride meals. There are also several pieces of research that suggest that strength performance is reduced during the early follicular phase.

Moving into the Luteal phase, progesterone and estrogen levels increase before dropping down before menstruation, and the body becomes more reliant on fat as a fuel source. Along with this, the body’s metabolism increases so overall energy demands increase as well. So although carbs during and around training are not needed in the same quantities, overall energy consumption and availability are important to maintain performance.

Another factor to consider, is menopausal or post-menopausal athletes. The biggest change of nutrition guidelines here is the inclusion of more protein in the diet, and in particular consuming them during training. Using branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), specifically leucine, has been shown to be important for maintenance of muscle mass for menopausal and post-menopausal athletes. This should be combined with more power work on the bike and as part of your S&C routine.

Menstrual cycle phases fuelling suggestions:

  • Menstrual – more energy intake overall and more protein, also potential need to reduce training intensity
  • Follicular – particularly early phase, more carbohydrates required for regular fuelling, so extra 10-20g carbs per hour than normal and more before and after training. Some suggestions that strength is reduced in the early phase.
  • Luteal – fewer carbohydrates required but metabolism increases so overall energy requirements are higher. Eat more overall in training as well as pre and post meals. Veloforte Energy Bars are a good mix of carbs and fats.
  • Menopausal/post-menopausal – 5g BCAAs per hour when riding and greater protein before and after training.

A note on fasted and low carb training

Fasted training is an interesting one, as there have been shown to be some benefits to it, especially in improving fat oxidation rates during low intensity training as well as boosting certain gene signalling pathways for improved aerobic performance. However, chronic fasted training can result in low energy availability which over long periods of time can lead to relative energy deficiency in sports (RED-s). IF, and this is a big if, you want to incorporate fasted training into your routine, I would recommend no more than once a week, and ideally on the turbo so you can control intensity perfectly to not go above the first lactate threshold, otherwise performance and recovery are impaired. Additionally, research around fasted training has primarily been centred on male athletes, for female athletes, it is recommended to avoid fasted training all together!

We then also have low carb training, or ketogenic diets. For the purposes of this article, we’re looking at performance optimisation in non-diabetics, and in that case, low carb and ketogenic diets are generally not the best for performance. There are arguments that for ultra-endurance it is better to be more efficient at using fats, and this is true. However this does not mean having no carbs, and more current research is discovering that the maximum performance that is achievable comes about from being able to produce a huge amount of energy, and to do this properly, you need to consume carbs, lots of them! The downside of this is that if you miss a feed or aren’t disciplined with your fuelling, you will blow up. But the potential for greater performance is worthwhile, as demonstrated by Chris Froome at the 2018 Giro D’Italia, and the power that professionals are now doing in races with much better understanding of fuelling.


Hopefully you’ve found this information helpful and it will assist you in your aims to improve performance and optimise fuelling. If you want to find out more or have any specific questions, please drop us a message! We also offer both full nutrition planning, as well as further nutrition advice as part of our Elite and Premium Coaching packages.

Are you pedalling too fast or too slow? Ideal cycling cadence explained

It’s easy to self-select a cadence you’re comfortable with – but what’s optimal? And how can you improve it?

Article by Anna Marie Hughes (Read here)

With Contributions from Bryan McCullough of The Bike The Body

It might be something you haven’t really thought about – along with balancing and steering – since you first learnt to ride a bike, but the cadence you ride at can have a significant effect on your cycling performance.

From peak power production to longer endurance efforts – even injury prevention – there are a lot of reasons to pay attention to the rate at which you turn the pedals. Plus, the training benefits of mixing up the RPM in your sessions might well surprise you. 

There’s a lot more to this metric than you might at first have imagined – and a lot of potentially misleading studies too. So let’s dig into the details on all you need to know about cycling cadence and how to improve.


Cadence is the rate at which a rider pedals and is measured in RPM – which is how many revolutions our pedals make per minute as you ride. For example, if you have a cadence of 60 RPM that means your right pedal will have made a complete revolution 60 times in one minute. 

Real-time cadence and average cadence are data fields you can select to appear on your cycling computer. Your device can receive this data from a few different equipment set ups.

The cheapest way to measure cadence is by getting a cadence sensor, many of which attach to the left side of the chainstay. A magnet is then attached to the crank arm, and the sensor tracks how many times this magnet passes by it. Some bikes come with one as part of the stock setup. Low to mid-range bikes from Giant’s road bike range are equipped with ‘RideSense’ for example.

Power meters measure cadence themselves, so no need to attach a cadence sensor if you already have one of these. By extension, the same goes for power sensing turbo trainers and smart bikes.

If you come from a strength-based sport such as rugby or rowing, you’re more likely to be comfortable riding at a lower cadence with high torque, whereas if you’re a lighter rider you’ll probably be wanting to spin an easier gear at a higher cadence.

“Power is what riders are looking to improve and that’s a combination of angular velocity, which would be cadence, and the overall torque, which is the force applied through the pedal,” Andy Turner of ATP Performance explains.

A lower RPM requires high torque to develop the same power output as a high RPM with low torque – essentially there are different ways to produce a certain number of watts. 

When we talk about cadence, we’re thinking about what’s the most efficient way to produce the power that we’re looking for.


“A rider might be doing 300 watts at 90 RPM in a time trial, and what reduces isn’t the capacity to hold the RPM, it’s the capacity to maintain the torque – the force you’re pressing into the pedals – at that RPM,” Turner explains.

“Being able to generate more torque and maintain that for longer is what will help with prolonged performance, and increasing Functional Threshold Power or Critical Power.”

The benefit of riding with a low RPM and high torque is that you get better motor unit recruitment, with more neuromuscular pathways you’re able to recruit more muscle fibres within the leg.

“If you’re doing a maximal sprint, say around 80 per cent of the muscle fibres are working at maximal force, but some of them don’t actually have a neurological link to be contracted to produce the force,” Turner points out. 

“The motor unit activates several muscle fibres at a time, and by doing strength development work each unit can recruit more fibres – it effectively means that you can use more of the muscles that you have.”

The largest gains from strength training at the gym happen early on because of this motor unit recruitment. 

Cycling at a low cadence does put more strain on your muscles and joints though. 

“If you’re riding with a lower RPM that means that every time you’re pushing the pedal through there’s a higher force going through your foot, ankles, knee and hip, and that’s the link to increased stress and injuries,” physiotherapist and bike fitter Bryan McCullough of The Bike The Body notes. 

“There’s no clear evidence that lower cadence equals injury but it’s definitely associated with the development of front knee pain.”

At the same time, it’s very good to train with low RPM to develop strength and force development. The key is to build up gradually. 


A higher RPM can be more effective for performing well at the end of longer events and for improving your cardiovascular system in training sessions. 

“While a lot of studies have shown that lower RPM is more efficient, a slight issue with those studies is that they’ve generally looked at quite low power outputs and not taken into account some of the neuromuscular fatigue build up that you get from riding at higher torque levels, “ Turner points out. 

And as you go into higher power outputs, a higher RPM can be more efficient. 

“A time trialist such as Ganna is not far off from doing 500 watts for 20 minutes and he rides quite close to that 100 RPM in time trial events because, for him, that’s more efficient,” Turner says. “He’s still generating huge torque, but he’s combining that with the high RPM to produce an overall really high power output.”

A couple of studies have highlighted that riding at a higher RPM also helps with reducing something called muscle co-activation. 

“When you push down on the pedal stroke, you’re pushing down with your quads, but at the same time the hamstrings are actually offering resistive force against it if you’re riding at a low RPM,” Turner explains. “Whereas at higher RPMs, that doesn’t happen so much and so this results in a more efficient pedal stroke.”

Riding at a higher cadence can be beneficial for completing a training session in the intended heart rate training zone as it pushes you towards using your cardiovascular system. 

For this reason, a high RPM can be quite useful for eliciting a better VO2 max response when doing efforts. “Quite often people find that when riding at low RPM, they have a lower heart rate because it’s not as taxing on the cardiovascular system,” Turner points out. “So when they ride at high RPM, the heart rate often increases. 

“For VO2 max efforts, increasing cardiac output is actually what you want so I find high RPM efforts are quite a good way of getting that high cardiac output from people in training, and that can help with improved oxygen delivery to the muscles and also reducing fatigue at the end of longer rides,” Turner says.

Riding at a higher cadence is also something to be thinking about when you’re racing. “If you’re cruising along in the bunch waiting for the next move to go, it’s better to be riding at a slightly higher RPM,” Turner recommends. “If not, you waste time getting up to speed because your acceleration isn’t going to be as quick.”

If you’re in a road race – which tends to be quite a long event – riding at this high RPM for responding to attacks will also help with avoiding the end-of-the-race fatigue build up that you could have suffered with if riding at a low cadence for most of the race. 

But riding at a high cadence is only useful if you’re smoothly executing these fast pedal strokes. If you’re riding at too fast a cadence you may find that you’re bouncing on the saddle and this results in a lower pedalling efficiency. This is where working on developing your pedalling fluidity and perfecting your pedalling technique (which we’ll come onto later) can help. 

Pedalling at a high cadence is also not ideal if you are sticking in an easy gear.

Researchers in one study found that the ratio between oxygen delivered to muscles in your thighs and the oxygen that they take up simply is too low when you keep a high cadence – if you are in a relatively low gear.

For riders with experience this is not a problem because they tend to change up through the gears until comfortable with the higher intensity of exercise at their preferred cadence.

But novices and recreational cyclists sometimes stay in a low gear and spin quickly, even though the overall intensity of their exercise is relatively moderate.


The ideal cadence will vary from rider to rider, and it also depends a lot on what you’re doing.

If you’re looking to improve your VO2 max response in a training session or your focus is to perform well at the end of a race, then adopting a high cadence in those scenarios would be better.

“Most studies have found that 60 RPM is the most efficient. But when you look into it it’s generally in quite untrained people, and at a very low power for most people because they tend to do an average power and put that as the same for all participants, rather than a percentage of, say, their threshold power,” Turner points out. 

Generally, the lower the intensity, the lower RPM is the more efficient one, but it also depends on what you’re doing. When working at higher intensities, threshold and beyond, Turner says that around 90 RPM is going to be more efficient.

“A lower RPM can be more efficient at that time, but then, say, you need to perform at a higher capacity at the end of the ride, you might experience more muscle fatigue if you’ve been at too low an RPM,” Turner points out. 

As a high cadence does shift the training load onto your cardiovascular system you may find it harder to maintain if your fitness is lacking in this area. But equally, that’s a reason to spend time at the higher RPM to develop this side of your fitness. 

So, if you’re doing endurance riding, aim for around 80 to 90 RPM.

If you’re doing specific high torque workouts for developing strength then Turner recommends riding at between 50 and 60 RPM. But he caveats this saying that those who are cycling into their 40s, 50s and beyond shouldn’t grind it quite as much because bone mineral density is declining, and should instead slow it back to around 70 RPM.


your cadence in training sessions to improve your pedalling technique, work on specific training adaptations and to get comfortable at riding at the lower and higher ends of the cadence spectrum so you can easily adapt your cadence depending on the situation.

Riding at lower cadences will help you develop your strength, while working on your pedalling smoothness as you hit higher RPMs will enable you to pedal sustainably at this top end. 

Improving pedalling smoothness at higher cadences

If you’re a rider who finds you’re always grinding it with a low cadence, ‘rev outs’ is a session which Turner recommends for getting more comfortable with higher cadences. For this workout, find a flat section of road, shift into your smallest gear possible and spin up as quickly as you can. 

“Initially you’ll probably find that you bounce up and down on the saddle quite a lot, but as you get better at it, you’ll find you become smoother and can generate a higher RPM,” says Turner. 

As well as doing these short and sharp spin outs, you can also work at riding at a higher cadence within longer intervals. “Ride five to 10 minutes tempo blocks where you are really focussed on keeping your cadence between 100 and 110 RPM,” Turner suggests. 

Developing strength at lower cadences

To develop your strength at low cadence, you’re going to want to be at a low cadence compared to the high power you’ll be outputting. 

“Find a flat section of road, slow down to a walking pace – so not quite a standing start, but maybe you’re having to turn the handlebars a bit to stop yourself wobbling over – and then in the biggest gear, staying seated and without pulling on the bars too much with your arms, just really focus on driving down with each pedal stroke for 60 seconds,” Turner recommends.

Alternatively, Turner suggests doing 10 minute blocks at around tempo pace in a gear that lets you ride at around 60 to 70 RPM.

With low cadence drills, it’s better to start at a higher cadence and then work your way down. 

“If you start straightaway at, say, 40 to 50 RPM, you can get pain at the front of the knee,” Turner warns.  “When I prescribe riders low cadence efforts, I’ll start with 70 RPM and then when they get better at dealing with that torque load, decreasing the RPM or increasing the power output.


Indoor cycling sessions can also be a useful environment for focusing on your cadence as you don’t have any other distractions, there’s no potholes to dodge or traffic to be aware of.

“On indoor training apps such as Zwift, you ride on the virtual roads without the difficulty on [which adjusts the resistance to mimic climbs], and so you can just put it in whatever gear you fancy, and ride at the same RPM or whichever cadence you prefer, throughout the whole session.”

Average cadences also tend to be higher indoors than outdoors, so don’t compare the two.

“I very rarely end up out of the saddle when I’m on the turbo trainer,” Turner notes, “if you’re out of the saddle you’ll generally be at a lower RPM just practicality wise.”

“If you’re riding outdoors there will also be periods where you’re coasting and your pedalling will vary quite a bit with stop starting at junctions, and I think people will probably spend more time generally riding at higher RPMs indoors – it’s just a bit easier to do so.


“Shorter cranks will take less time to complete a full circle for the same given power,” physiotherapist McCullough explains. “And as such, as you shorten the crank, you will tend to pedal in a slightly higher cadence if you were to maintain the same power.”

If we hold all other variables, a change in crank length will see an increase in cadence, and that will potentially decrease the stresses on the joints. 

But for McCullough, crank length is a more interesting bike fit parameter to change if somebody is trying to avoid a hip injury – shorter cranks can help with reducing the amount of pressure over the top of the pedal stroke for your hip and can also help with getting down into a more aerodynamic position on the bike.

Cycle training for youth and junior riders

Prescribing the right training for youth and junior athletes is of great importance. The general model of training prescribed to adult athletes tends to focus on a pyramidical structure with low intensity taking up the base of the pyramid and high intensity efforts taking less volume at the peak. However, adults and growing pre-adults have very different training requirements due to differences in skeletal muscles and development of the metabolic systems. There are other psychological and educational issues that need to be considered as well.

It’s commonly viewed that for cycling, specifically endurance events such as road races, that high volume of low intensity is required alongside short durations of high intensity exercise so as to achieve greater mitochondrial biogenesis mediated via calcium signalling, which responds primarily to high volume, and the AMPK enzyme, which responds primarily to high intensity. However for youth and junior athletes there are other considerations that we’re going to look in to.

The duration of competition for youth and junior athletes is generally significantly shorter than that of U23 and senior level athletes. For British Cycling, youth races are limited to closed circuit and 60 minutes race duration. Junior races are generally limited to 100km at their longest in Regional A races, while final year juniors can race National B band races, 120km plus. This is a stark contrast to National A (130-180km) or UCI level events which can exceed 200km in the international scene. The point is, the duration of youth and junior events is significantly shorter, and therefore training does not necessarily need to be as high volume. A further reason why total training volume should be lower in youth and junior athletes is that they are often still in full-time education. This requires a lot of time during the week, while at the weekend time should still be made for social activities.

Another consideration for the type of training is that younger riders are able to grow their actual maximal aerobic capacity (VO2max) through increased actual lung capacity and other functions due to still growing and developing. Riders who have stopped growing can increase VO2max by reducing weight but can’t increase actual lung capacity at all, or muscle increases to the same extent. This changes what training is most suitable for certain age of riders depending on where they are on the development scale as shown by various researchers (Pichardo et al., 2018). Focus should be less on endurance and more on speed, power, strength and fundamental movement skills at a younger age, before switching to more endurance/metabolic conditioning and more sports specific skills as they get older.

It is also important to promote variation in sport and activities for several reasons. Firstly, the priority of training at younger ages should be fun with performance being a result of intrinsic motivation. Secondly, other sports can promote different movement skills and physiological development that a single sport may not provide. Focussing more on one sport and specialising is something that is often suggested as better done at the age of 16.

One final important aspect of training for younger athletes is nutrition. It is incredibly vital for athletes who are training to fuel adequately to allow adaptations to occur, even more so when building muscle mass (type 1 and type 2 fibres) as younger riders will be doing just in the growing process. It’s all too easy for younger athletes to see professional cyclists, who have achieved very lean physiques which would not be healthy to maintain year round, and want to emulate them. This can lead to stunted development, poor aerobic performance, and reduction in cognitive function in school. Proper energy availability should be a primary focus for youth athletes and their coaches as it will lead to better long and short term health and performance.

If you’re a youth, junior rider, or parent please feel free to get in touch with us about any concerns you might have to ensure that you or your child is training in a way that will best optimise health, education, performance, and having fun!


Pichardo, A. W., Oliver, J. L., Harrison, C. B., Maulder, P. S., & Lloyd, R. S. (2018). Integrating models of long-term athletic development to maximize the physical development of youth. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching13(6), 1189-1199.

The benefits of wind tunnel testing

The fan behind draws air over the rider to test CdA at different wind speeds

When cycling, the biggest force that our body has to overcome at speeds above 20kph on flat terrain is air resistance, with the faster we go the more of a force it is we have to face. Even up climbs air resistance is still a very significant force that we have to overcome. For example, when cycling at 30kph on a flat road, the resistive forces we have to overcome are rolling resistance (~20%) and air resistance (~80%). As we increase to 40kph this changes to a ~10/90 ratio! The way we can reduce the impact of air resistance is to decrease our coefficient of aerodynamic drag (CdA). Cd itself is dimensionless and represents the friction/texture of the shape, while A is the frontal area (measured in m^2), and CdA is also presented in m^2 as a measurement. A 1cm wide cylindrical tube on a bike would have a lower drag than a 2cm wide cylindrical tube, but probably a higher drag than an aero profiled 2cm wide tube. So although generally a smaller Area equals reduced drag, the shape can alter this a lot so even with a large Area, the Cd may be lower. Likewise in certain scenarios a trip like structure can reduce drag with the correct placement.

So what does this mean for a cyclist? Well if a ride can reduce their CdA, then the speed that they can travel at any given power output will increase. It’s a complicated process to determine exactly by how much as it is a combination of air pressure, temperature, speed, CdA, weight and rolling resistance. But in practical terms, reducing CdA will make you faster. The faster you go, the more watts you will save for a reduction in CdA. However as air resistance/Drag increases at an exponential rate as speed increases, the speed gain you get will be smaller at higher speeds. The formula for Drag is below.

F_{D}=\frac{1}{2} \rho v^{2} C_{D} A

So FD = Drag, 𝜌 = density of air, 𝑣 = velocity, CDA = coefficient of drag. As you can see, as Velocity increases the drag increase by a squared factor. So if velocity was 2 then drag would be 4, if velocity goes up to 4 then drag is 16. It’s not quite this simple, but it gives you an idea of how drag increases so much. Think how easy it is to go from 10kph to 30kph on the road compared to 30kph to 50kph.

Sounds simple then, reduce drag, increase speed, easy peasy. Easy ways to do that generally include reducing frontal area by getting lower or narrower. However this needs to be balanced with capacity to output power while maintaining the position. Additionally, aerodynamics is a bit of an art and what may be traditionally seen as something that would reduce drag, does not necessarily mean that it will. To do that you need to measure it.

Position and equipment can be tweaked and CdA measured to see what’s fastest

How wind tunnel testing can help you

The wind tunnel is one place where we can actually test our coefficient of drag in different positions on the bike and get a reading of how many watts a change in position may save. In general, testing of this sorts can regularly help people save between 15-40 watts on their position, sometimes significantly more depending on the starting point.

The way the wind tunnel works is by drawing air over the rider by using a large fan behind them. The speed of the air can be increased all the way up to 60mph, however for each individual rider the wind speed can be tailored to the speed at which they will be competing. The Yaw, or angle to direction of the wind, can also be changed up to 30 degrees, to simulate crosswinds. The faster a rider goes, the less Yaw they will experience generally. A time triallist travelling at 50kph will experience a lower Yaw angle in a 5kph crosswind than a ride travelling at 40kph. However, testing different Yaw angles is very useful as it helps ensure that any positional changes will be faster in a range of environmental situations such as cross winds.

Yaw angles are particularly useful for those wanting to improve their position on their road bike. Generally speaking, velocity will be lower on a road bike than a TT bike, so the likelihood of experiencing greater Yaw angles is higher. Additionally although TTs are traditionally where people look to find aerodynamic gains, if you can be more aero on your road bike you will be able to travel faster for the same effort when out of the bunch such as in a breakaway. You will also be able to conserve more energy for the finale of the race, and you can also increase your sprinting velocity.

More details about how wind tunnels work can be found here.

The 3D capture to ensure position consistency between runs when testing equipment

Equipement testing

Another way a wind tunnel can be used is to test different equipment. It’s all well and good seeing that Helmet A saves 10 watts over Helmet B, but that doesn’t tell us very much. We don’t know what position the helmets were tested in, what speed necessarily, along with the fact that different morphologies can result in very different outcomes and drag from different pieces of equipment. What may work well for one rider may be slower for another. Wind tunnel testing allows you to select equipment with confidence knowing that it will result in your travelling faster for fewer watts.

A quick change of kit to see how one jersey or skin suit compares to another

How we test you

Our testing is all carried out at the Silverstone Sports Engineering Hub, however the process begins before you arrive there and doesn’t finish till well afterwards.

To start with, we have an initial consultation with you to determine what it is we want to test and how we will go about doing that. Let’s say Joe Bloggs is wanting to improve their time trial times for 10 and 25miles. Their speed for these ranges from 40-45kph and they want to get to a speed of 50kph for them. All their course are flat out and back. So straight away we know that the wind speed we want to test at is probably between 35-55kph to allow for headwinds and tailwinds on course altering air speed. Ona sporting course we may test lower and higher for speed on hills and downhills. We will also do several biomechanical and morphological assessments to determine if there will be any positions on the bike that will not be sustainable even with appropriate S&C work.

Next we will look at your position on the bike. Doing this allows us to assess any obvious changes that could be made and tested in the tunnel. Ideally these images will be from in a race so we can see if your position changes under duress or with fatigue. It’s all well and good finding the ideal position but it needs to be sustainable. We will also discuss with you if there are any equipment items you wish to test out, say helmets or skin suits. Fortunately the SSE Hub does have access to many different helmets so you can test which will work best for you.

Once we get to the tunnel itself, the bike will be set up and the testing programme will have been drawn up to ensure that everything goes as smoothly as possible and you get as much testing for your time as possible. Once the bike is set up, an initial run will be done and a capture of your position on the bike will be taken. This ensures that during other tests you can maintain position if testing equipment, or show you how the position has changed from run to run.

After the testing has been completed, we will then sit down and have a full debrief. We will talk you through what positional changes result in the lowest drag, while also being mindful of your biomechanical limitations. Any equipment tests done will also show us what the fastest pieces are on you. Even once you have gone home, the testing doesn’t stop. For those that are coached by us, we will implement specific sessions on and off the bike to ensure that power output and comfort in the new position are optimised. For those not coached by us, we will still give you recommendations of what to include as part of your training to optimise power and comfort.

Front could be lower, but a hamstring injury prevents that. We work within biomechanical constraints to produce a sustainable position

The bottom line

There are no two ways about it, wind tunnel testing is expensive. However the benefits from it can help save money in the long run. Being able to test and compare equipment helps prevent you from purchasing items which won’t make you faster. Additionally the drag reduction gains you can make will likely far outweigh the cost per watts saved than say a new frame or even set of wheels.

If wind tunnel testing is something you are interested in, please get in touch with us and we can get you booked into the tunnel and saving watts for a faster 2023 season!

Top tips to cut fat and maintain muscle

Optimal body composition is something that many cyclists seek. However, before we dive into some tips to help you achieve this, first and foremost this is NOT about weight loss. Weight loss is a broader subject as you can achieve rapid weight loss by not eating carbs and losing the associated water weight, but performance will then be impaired. Additionally, fat loss to an extreme reduces performance dramatically as well as being detrimental to health and wellbeing. This is why this article will focus on an overview of optimal body composition, promoting reduction in excess fat mass and maintenance of both muscle mass and bone mineral density. We also offer this service in more detail via in-depth dietary analysis, with a detailed follow-up report, as well as a nutrition coaching package to complement our other cycle coaching packages. So, onto the tips!

Regular exercise and varying intensities

The first part of this might seem obvious, but getting into a routine and following a structure of exercise will help with maintaining long term exercise habits. Doing more exercise has many beneficial effects on body composition. Firstly, exercise itself obviously burns energy, and body fat. Low intensity exercise burns a greater percentage of fats, while high intensity exercise uses more energy in a shorter amount of time and the excessive post oxygen consumption (EPOC) means that the body burns more fat for a longer period after exercise has been completed. Additionally, training can help increase the rate at which you can burn fat – and also the total amount of energy you are able to expend – during exercise. By promoting aerobic exercise adaptations, we become better at utilising fats as a fuel and also using it at higher intensities. Following a varied training plan/routine that balances intensities and durations alongside work and family life is a great way to help achieve optimal body composition. 

Sprint work can increase EPOC after a session

Timing of food intake

This is one of the smallest changes that can have the biggest impacts on body composition. The timing of what we eat plays a big part in how our body uses that food. For example, sugar has been vilified in the media and health market recently, but if you’re doing endurance or high intensity exercise, then sugars (simple easy to use carbohydrates) are vital to ensure performance and also recovery. So if you’re doing a training session, consuming sugar during that session is going to be a benefit. Fuelling properly in this way will also help you not to give in to cravings after exercise, thus reducing your total daily calorie intake. When we consume sugar during or immediately after exercise, it doesn’t end up as stored fat and goes primarily into the muscles and the liver, to ensure that we have a good supply of glycogen (energy) to use for our next training session. However, if we wait a few hours after exercise to consume sugars, less of it is directed to muscle glycogen and more of it is directed to fat stores. This is why timing of nutrition is so important for optimal body composition and something that we help educate our coached athletes in.

Cake and sugars can have their place, ideally in and around exercise

Limiting processed foods

This is a slightly complicated one as, during and straight after training, processed foods such as energy gels and recovery shakes are useful for performance benefits, recovery, and optimal body composition. However, in our regular day to day diet, it is beneficial to reduce the amount of processed foods we consume. Although heavily refined sugars, deep fried foods and anything with trans fats are the main culprits when it comes to processed foods, nuts, fruits, and vegetables can still be over-processed. Even if given the option between a smoothie/fruit juice and whole fruits, it is better to have the whole fruits. This is because when we break down the fruit into a smoothie or juice, we lose some of the fibre and the need for our bodies to put in as much energy into digesting it. The process of digestion uses a lot of energy, and fibre is good for keeping us feeling fuller for longer and also promoting good gut health. So, when possible, try and limit intake of processed foods as this will be beneficial for optimal body composition. One small caveat is for those with digestive issues, where more easily digestible foods help with individual gut health. Additionally, a rider in a Grand Tour won’t want to waste energy digesting, so fruit juice is a great way of getting essential vitamins, sugars, and fluids. This is why there is not really such a thing as ‘bad’ foods, just bad timing.

You can still eat foods you enjoy, but small changes to them can increase their functionality and benefits towards achieving optimal body composition

Strength training

This is another multifaceted way of improving optimal body composition. Firstly, increasing muscle mass has the benefit of improving performance and power output on the bike. This in turn means that we are able to use more energy on the bike by working at higher power outputs. We also use energy during the strength training sessions themselves. Maintaining and increasing muscle mass is another part of the equation for achieving optimal body composition. Another benefit of strength training is that muscle mass actually requires more energy to maintain so, if you increase your muscle mass, your daily metabolic rate will increase and promote greater levels of fat burning when at rest. Therefore, in addition to all the associated health benefits of Strength Training, it is also a very useful part of the journey towards us achieving our ideal body composition.

When doing resistance training, additional protein intake can help improve muscle growth

I hope this article has given you some useful tips to help you towards your ideal body composition and associated fat loss or muscle gain. There are a lot of non-sustainable fad ‘diets’ around which claim to be fast-track ways to lose weight. However, by following a suitable exercise routine, fuelling adequately with the right foods at the right time, and incorporating strength training, you can not only promote fat loss, but also muscle gain. This results both in improved performance and also optimal body composition.