Nutrition, Podcast

James Moran | EP#404

 August 21, 2023

By  Bernardo Gonçalves

LISTEN TO THE EPISODE HERE:

James Moran - That Triathlon Show

James Moran is the head of nutrition at Uno-X Pro Cycling Team. He has previously worked for Ineos Grenadiers, British Cycling, the English Institute of Sport, and as a clinical dietitian. In this interview we dive deep into nutrition for endurance athletes in general, and in the pro peloton specifically.

In this episode you'll learn about:

  • Nutrition in training, racing, and in the day to day
  • Supporting health as the primary objective of nutrition
  • Increased carbohydrate intake to support training
  • Supplements and ergogenic aids
  • Gaining weight to improve performance
  • When and how the Uno-X cyclists focus on weight and body composition
  • Nutritional differences between triathlon and cycling
  • Advice for amateur endurance athletes

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Shownotes

James' background

03:12 -

  • I'm from Manchester in the UK, and work as a performance nutritionist and registered dietitian. Currently, I hold the position of head of nutrition with the Uno-X Pro Cycling team. 
  • Before this role, I worked with Ineos Grenadiers cycling team, British Cycling, and the English Institute of Sport. 
  • Before venturing into sports nutrition, I was a clinical dietitian, working within various healthcare settings across the UK, mainly with individuals with type 1 diabetes.
  • Education-wise, the paths to becoming a dietitian and a sports nutritionist are distinct. 
  • In the UK, the title of "nutritionist" is not protected, meaning anyone can use it. 
  • There is an effort to standardise the training and education of sports nutritionists through the sport and exercise nutritionist register, but it's not a regulated title like "dietitian." In contrast, being a dietitian is a protected title in the UK, Australia, and some other countries. 
  • To become a dietitian, one must complete supervised clinical practice and work in hospital settings for a certain period, followed by additional training. I took a different route by initially working as a clinical dietitian and later pursuing a Master's degree in sports nutrition to bridge the gap in skills and knowledge needed for the sports industry. 
  • The training and approach between the two fields are quite different.
  • From a young age, I was drawn to the world of sports. Though I knew I wouldn't excel as an athlete, I was determined to contribute. 
  • Initially, I planned to become a physiotherapist when I was around 17 or 18. I was certain I wanted to be part of the athlete support team. Growing up, I played team sports like football and rugby, which were quite different from endurance sports.
  • When I turned 18, I pursued a sports science degree from 18 to 21. The path to becoming a sports nutritionist wasn't clear then, as it was still a relatively new profession, especially in the early 2000s. 
  • Consequently, I leaned towards the clinical route, hoping to gain experience in sports nutrition along the way. However, opportunities in this field didn't materialise as I had hoped. Instead, I built a career in the health system, occasionally assisting friends and semi-professional athletes.
  • A pivotal moment occurred during a conference where I discussed the relationship between type 1 diabetes and exercise. 
  • I crossed paths with Professor James Morton, who was associated with Team Sky then. We exchanged ideas, and I shared my career journey. 
  • He encouraged me to pursue a master's degree under his guidance at Liverpool John Moores University.
  • I decided to fully commit myself to this opportunity, living as a student for a year and relying on my wife's income. 
  • My goal was to emerge from this experience as a qualified sports nutritionist. 

Roles and responsibilities with Uno-X

07:54 -

  • I hold the position of Head of Nutrition, and my primary role involves overseeing the dietary needs of our riders. 
  • This includes managing their nutrition during training, at home, and especially during races. 
  • In practical terms, this means coordinating a team of carers and performance chefs who work together to provide the riders with the appropriate food and beverages.
  • During races, we have a dedicated team, including carers and chefs, who operate from a kitchen truck. 
  • My responsibility lies in ensuring the quality and structure of the nutritional offerings. 
  • Regarding our team structure, we have a nutritionist, Hannah Mayo, who takes care of our women's team. While she manages their dietary needs, I provide support and oversight in the background.
  • Furthermore, our development team focuses primarily on educating our members about nutrition. This involves working with partners such as Maurten to develop new products and enhance our riders' understanding of nutrition. 
  • Collaborating with various companies is a crucial aspect of my role to ensure we utilise the best resources available.

Particularities with James' work

09:27 -

  • The most demanding aspect of my role, which colleagues in other sports like football can relate to, is coordinating multiple concurrent events. 
  • Currently, we have the Tour of Denmark, the Arctic Race of Norway, and under-23 races happening simultaneously. 
  • This entails managing three races in three countries with distinct lineups and staff, ensuring everyone is clear about feeding strategies, weather conditions, individual nutrition plans, and specific nutrition products for each group of riders.
  • The logistical challenge of virtually being present in three places is undoubtedly the most challenging. 
  • We're gradually implementing systems to streamline this process, aiming for increased automation and reduced manual input. 
  • This would make managing these complexities less labour-intensive on my part. 
  • In the future, the plan is to bring in more nutrition staff to assist with these tasks.
  • On the flip side, the most enjoyable part of my job is working on major events like the Tour de France. 
  • This involves tackling a 21-day puzzle and months of preparation leading up to the race. 
  • Optimising the health and body composition of the eight riders and supporting factors like gut health, altitude, and heat adaptation are all part of the preparation. 
  • Each day presents unique weather, altitude, distance, and more challenges during the Tour de France. 
  • This dynamic nature of the race, along with the intricate planning involved, is what I find truly exciting and fulfilling.
  • For the recent Tour, I spent the entire month away from my family, a common situation for everyone involved. 
  • This extended period is crucial because a significant portion of my work with the team revolves around data analysis. 
  • While I can remotely collect a lot of data, being on-site provides a broader context often missed when solely looking at metrics like power and heart rate.
  • Engaging with riders, observing them, and discussing race tactics with directors is invaluable. 
  • These interactions provide a layer of understanding beyond what the numbers convey. 
  • During the Tour de France, I was mainly focused on ensuring the riders adhered to the prescribed nutritional plans. This was especially important during the crucial recovery period after each stage.
  • Being on the bus after the stage allowed me to ensure the recovery protocols were followed diligently. 
  • Often, riders might overlook recovery food due to fatigue or stress. My role was to ensure they received the precise nutritional support they needed, especially in the first four hours after a race. 
  • This attention to detail, even down to each unit of recovery food, contributed to the riders' overall health and daily recovery. 
  • Without my presence, it's possible that these vital aspects could have been overlooked.

Nutrition for racing

13:40 -

  • In terms of racing, I find it relatively more manageable compared to training. The riders have established routines and receive ample support, including a chef and provided food. 
  • Planning nutrition for races begins with predicting the energy demands of each stage. We develop a nutrition plan based on these predictions and the individual rider's needs. 
  • After each stage, if energy demands differ significantly from our assumptions, we adjust the plan for the remainder of the day to ensure energy balance.
  • Initially, our planning is numeric, creating a spreadsheet-based strategy. 
  • Each rider prefers different products, drinks, gels, and semi-solids. I recommend each stage, which they customise according to their preferences and carbohydrate goals per hour. 
  • Breakfast is essential, with rice, overnight oats, smoothies, bread, fruit, eggs, and yoghurt. 
  • The calorie and carbohydrate intake targets are often around two grams per kilogram of carbohydrates.
  • We adjust breakfast for demanding days or mountain blocks by adding extra carbs, like banana bread or smoothies. 
  • We adapt fibre intake based on race demands, opting for more fibre on flatter days and scaling back on intensive days to prevent digestive issues.
  • I guide them during races based on stage predictions, but fueling for the worst-case scenario is essential. 
  • Under-fueling can lead to problems during unexpected challenges like crosswinds. 
  • Individual preferences matter, and we don't advocate for excessive fueling. 
  • Our approach aligns with fellow expert Tim Podlogar. Starting around 80 grams of carbs per hour, we progressively increase intake throughout the stage. 
  • The average intake ranges from 80 to 100 grams per hour for most riders on most stages.
  • Our recovery protocol is quite strict and aimed at maximising glycogen resynthesis after a stage. 
  • In the initial three to four hours, we strive for around three grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight, typically using sources like Haribo candies. 
  • After crossing the finish line, some riders might have Fanta. Back at the bus, they consume a recovery shake with protein, dual-source carbs, and more Haribo if needed. 
  • A post-stage shower follows, and then a solid meal like rice or pasta is portioned based on their body mass and energy expenditure. 
  • We add extra smoothies and sweets for demanding stages with upcoming challenges, all carefully portioned and calculated. 
  • Despite sounding random, I know the exact portions for each rider, ensuring target intake.
  • The hotel has massages and treatment before dinner, for which I provide a plan, typically focusing on carbs, as our meals are naturally low in fat. 
  • Protein portions are controlled too. I guide them on rice, pasta, bread, dessert, and juice amounts, tailoring it for their readiness for the next day. Some riders meticulously record their intake, receiving constant feedback. 
  • Others follow plans with occasional updates, while some just confirm their adherence. 
  • We individualise the approach, with climbers or weight-sensitive riders often seeking more detail for precise intake management.

Protein intake

21:43 -

  • If not managed carefully, protein intake can become relatively high, potentially reaching around two to two point five grams per kilo. 
  • This might exceed the levels seen in much of the existing literature. 
  • However, what's notable is the sheer quantity of food cyclists consume, particularly pasta, bread, and other carbohydrate-rich sources, which inherently provide a good amount of protein. The protein intake can escalate rapidly when considering additions like 150 grams of chicken or fish and skyr yoghurt. 
  • This can lead to a calorie surplus since all nutrients increase energy intake.
  • My approach is to work with an energy or calorie budget. I aim to maximise the amount of carbohydrates within that budget, as carbohydrate intake is crucial for performance. Protein and fat intake usually self-regulate if carbohydrate intake is prioritised. I've encountered instances where cyclists consumed excessive protein, potentially leading to weight gain due to exceeding their energy balance. 
  • Conversely, some riders didn't consume enough carbohydrates, falling slightly below their energy balance and thus not providing enough fuel for their training.
  • Our primary focus is aligning carbohydrate intake with the specific requirements, ensuring adequate protein intake and allowing fat intake to naturally follow suit within the defined energy budget.

Calculating energy expenditure

23:24 -

  • Assigning a value for energy expenditure gives us a baseline, but adjusting it further as necessary is essential. 
  • When riders move through different stages, their energy predictions can be accurate, especially when riders finish stages or expend high energy in breakaways. 
  • The energy depletion can vastly differ between riding hard for a short period versus riding for six hours, even though both can significantly deplete glycogen.
  • Relative intensity matters too. A crucial consideration is understanding that relying solely on data is limited. 
  • Conversations with the riders are crucial. Learning how they felt during the race, their fueling strategies and the upcoming objectives are all vital elements. 
  • The initial energy prediction narrows the possibilities and provides a foundation, but fine-tuning comes after the stage.
  • This leads to my concerns about apps and software that streamline this process. 
  • They're too black and white, putting numbers in and getting numbers out. 
  • These tools lack the nuanced understanding of data and the athlete, and that's where a nutritionist's insight comes into play. 
  • Food can vary significantly, databases might differ, and variables like power data accuracy and altitude can affect outcomes. 
  • Flexibility in making adjustments along the way is crucial. Relying solely on a spreadsheet's number without considering these factors can be risky. 
  • It's a balancing act that requires both data and contextual understanding.

Athlete's self-nutrition intuition

26:12 -

  • As I mentioned earlier, one of our strategies revolves around the fact that I'm the only nutritionist for the men's pro team. 
  • With multiple races ongoing, many times, there's no nutritionist present. 
  • This situation allows the riders to somewhat self-calibrate and gauge their nutritional needs. This independence is essential for them to develop a rider's intuition about their nutrition, just like how they would handle technical issues if their power meter were to break.
  • In events like the Tour de France, a significant concern is fatigue, which often harms riders' appetites. The challenge lies in preventing this appetite decline, which can lead to under-eating. As the race progresses, usually around day 10 or 11, fatigue sets in, leading to emotional exhaustion and decreased interest in eating. 
  • In this scenario, my absence from the team becomes noticeable. Without my guidance, riders might not notice their decreasing food intake.
  • Over three weeks, this gap in guidance can widen, resulting in riders not recovering optimally and potentially not consuming adequate nutrition. 
  • I suspect that, in such cases, riders might unintentionally fall short of their nutritional requirements, which could negatively affect their performance.

Everyday nutrition

27:43 -

  • When riders aren't racing, they're either training or recovering, with these aspects interconnected. Energy balance forms the foundation, but I avoid being overly specific about riders' daily diets in their home settings. 
  • This is especially true as I work with around 30 riders in the men's pro team; providing exact dietary prescriptions for each day isn't feasible or necessary.
  • However, the approach shifts if a rider focuses on optimising body composition or undergoing a monitoring and education period. 
  • I conduct short interventions to equip riders with skills and understanding, establishing a framework. 
  • I step back and let them apply this knowledge at home, functioning as a consultant they can turn to for guidance and assessment.
  • Much attention is directed towards arming riders with the skills to cook and plan meals at home. This practical aspect, while challenging to quantify, is vital. 
  • Nutrition quality at home is emphasised, encouraging the consumption of fruits and vegetables. 
  • During races, we have a chef who ensures adequate intake of these foods, but in non-chef scenarios like hotels, nutrient-rich choices can be limited. T
  • Thus, at home, we emphasise "eating the rainbow" - incorporating various colours through fruits and vegetables.
  • Interestingly, working with Norwegian athletes reveals a distinct difference in fruit and vegetable consumption culture compared to those from the Mediterranean or warmer climates. 
  • Norwegian cyclists often have lower fruit and vegetable intake, possibly due to historical and environmental factors. 
  • To address this, we focus on strategies like frozen vegetables and fruits to ensure nutrient diversity even when tropical options might be less available or affordable.
  • When it comes to training, I focus on understanding the energy demands of each session. Sometimes, the energy demands of training can exceed those of certain racing stages. I consider factors like calorie and carbohydrate requirements based on the session's intensity. 
  • I encourage riders to develop their nutrition plans for training, which I then review and adjust if needed. 
  • I provide a more personalised one-on-one approach during concentrated blocks like altitude camps or when riders aim to optimise performance for specific races.
  • When I initially joined the team, I observed a few common issues. Many riders consumed too little carbohydrates on intense training days, often using training to manage their weight but not adequately fueling their workouts. 
  • I also noticed riders compensating for their hunger and depletion by overeating off the bike. 
  • Interestingly, there was a trend of consuming excessive protein and meat compared to the relatively low carbohydrate intake. 
  • This was particularly surprising to me. I remember being taken aback during my first training camp when I saw riders piling up their plates with meat before a challenging ride with intervals.
  • As a result, we've been gradually working on changing these patterns. Over time, we've focused on educating riders about proper nutrition and adjusting their eating habits. 
  • It's almost become a joke among riders as they reflect on their past eating patterns and how much they've evolved in terms of fueling their bodies effectively.
  • They're increasing their intake to eight to ten grams on regular days and up to twelve grams on more intense training days or during training camps. 
  • Recently, a rider who joined us last week consumed around 14 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram on a training day. He found it amusing because he would have been wary of consuming such a quantity a few years ago. 
  • However, he's now aware of the benefits it brings to his training, his progress, and the stability of his weight.
  • Previously, we observed significant weight fluctuations in riders due to underfunding. 
  • When exposed to higher carbohydrate intakes, their bodies would retain glycogen and fluids, causing a sudden increase in weight. Fortunately, these fluctuations have reduced considerably. 
  • Riders now maintain more stable and consistent weights day-to-day. As a nutritionist, my main goal is to ensure training consistency by supporting their nutritional needs. 
  • This consistency enables them to meet the demands of their prescribed training, avoiding situations where they excel one day but struggle for the following days.
  •  I strongly emphasise that training consistency should be underpinned by consistent and appropriate nutrition.

Training fuel quantities

34:08 -

  • When considering a more challenging training day, the logistics vary, especially in a race scenario where cars provide extra drinks and roadside supporters assist with hydration. 
  • Around 80 to 100 grams of carbohydrates per hour are targeted for high-demand sessions. 
  • However, this isn't sustained throughout the entire session. For instance, carbohydrates are increased during race-like intervals, leading into and during the intense work blocks. 
  • In contrast, carbohydrate intake is scaled back during the initial and final hours of the session, focused on easy riding. General endurance sessions also have a moderated carbohydrate approach.
  • Fasted training is less prevalent in the pro cycling world, even among younger riders. Instead, the emphasis is on completing the work and layering training sessions. 
  • The aim is to help riders manage training demands and maintain health. Focusing on high-fat oxidation during a session at the expense of recovery isn't a primary strategy, especially for younger riders. 
  • While it might be relevant for older riders in their 30s who have maximised other factors, the current group's priority is handling training demands and health. Thus low carbohydrate training is not frequently practised.
  • In terms of carbohydrate intake during training sessions, it usually ranges between 30 to 60 grams per hour. Adjustments are made based on the specific circumstances of each session. 
  • For instance, during a group ride where the pace increases unexpectedly, the intake might lean towards 60 grams per hour. 
  • It might be closer to 40 grams per hour on controlled solo or small group rides. 
  • I provide a framework and guidelines for athletes, who fine-tune it based on their goals.
  • However, we avoid using training to lose weight by restricting intake during rides. Instead, we emphasise a well-structured approach. The intense training itself already creates a calorie deficit. It's crucial to stay organised and planned to prevent returning from sessions overly depleted. 
  • If riders hold back on eating too long, they might eventually overeat, leading to inconsistent weight patterns. Thus, we promote moderation, consistency, and balance in nutritional choices.

Nutrition and health

38:21 -

  • Our approach to nutrition and performance is structured like an upside-down pyramid, focusing on ensuring training consistency. We prioritise providing enough calories and carbohydrates to support training sessions. 
  • This consistency improves overall health as riders meet their energy demands and maintain good carbohydrate availability. This also contributes to better immune function, lowering the risk of illnesses.
  • After establishing training consistency and health, the next layer optimises race nutrition. This step includes refining race-fueling strategies, training the gut, and addressing other specific needs. 
  • Once these three foundational layers are aligned, and a rider is experienced and stable, we may consider optimising body composition. 
  • Unlike some approaches that start with weight goals, we emphasise building a strong, robust, and healthy athlete who can effectively execute their race strategies.
  • For our young development riders, we don't monitor body composition. 
  • First-year professional riders have their body composition tracked throughout the season, not for immediate changes, but to understand their natural seasonal variations. We work with coaches to determine a potential long-term body composition target, considering factors like maturation and distribution of body composition.
  • Our holistic approach considers the rider's overall health and focuses on long-term success rather than short-term weight goals.
  • While weight is crucial in cycling, it's not the sole determinant of performance. Our primary principle is to ensure rider health and consistency, laying a solid foundation for refining other aspects of performance in due course.

Gaining weight to improve cycling performance

42:19 -

  • When I joined UNO-X, Jonas was the first rider I consulted with. Together, we participated in the Tour de France this year. He had been attempting to be a climber but struggled due to excessive focus on weight. 
  • He expressed his interest in becoming a more explosive rider and gaining weight. 
  • Over time, he gained around 10 to 12 kilograms, transforming into a powerful sprint lead-out and classic rider. This change allowed him to thrive in races like the Tour de France.
  • This shift from an approach centred on weight to a more holistic assessment of his abilities substantially impacted Jonas' career. 
  • Often, young riders aspire to emulate Tour de France winners, but not all will be suited to this role. Instead, understanding individual attributes, coaching input, and personal goals is critical. 
  • Physical attributes vary, with UNO-X riders being more versatile due to their involvement in cross-country skiing and hiking. Thus, the team's riders have diverse body compositions that align with their roles.
  • The strategy involves individualising body composition targets based on the rider's unique attributes. There's no one-size-fits-all approach; it's about optimising body composition to enhance performance. A rider's weight, body composition, and attributes are assessed and tailored to their race goals. 
  • For instance, climbers targeting high mountain passes require specific body composition optimisation compared to riders focused on flatter terrain.
  • The process often involves dispelling the perception that lighter is better. 
  • Some young riders have joined the team this year and are working to gain weight after potentially under-fueling during their earlier years due to the misconception that being lighter equates to better performance. 
  • The goal is to help these riders unlock their full potential by optimising nutrition and body composition. This exciting journey involves understanding each rider's genetics, goals, health, and age.
  • Optimising body composition is a dynamic process, adaptable to individual attributes and race goals while also considering health and performance enhancement.
  • Jonas was in his early 20s when that happened. My perspective on his height gain is that during puberty, growth hormone and testosterone can sometimes be suppressed due to factors like low energy availability and REDs (Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport). 
  • However, the body can rebound with proper nutrition and appropriate load management, almost like a squeezed spring being released. 
  • This rebound can lead to a significant response in these hormonal factors.
  • Unfortunately, not all athletes are fortunate enough to realise the impact of overtraining and inadequate nutrition until a health issue arises. 
  • Often, these health problems manifest as bone issues, stress fractures, menstrual cycle irregularities, or fertility problems in female athletes. 
  • The damage might already be done by the time these health issues emerge. 
  • This is why we strongly emphasise educating our younger athletes about these aspects, aiming to prevent such issues from occurring.

Power improvements with the weight gain

49:23 -

  • The initial six to twelve months were quite challenging for him. During this period, his body mass increased faster than his power numbers and bike performance. 
  • Psychologically, he needed a lot of reassurance and guidance from the coach to believe in improvement. 
  • Initially, it's tough because your power-to-weight ratio may worsen – your power might not increase rapidly, but your weight does. 
  • This phase can be particularly demanding, especially for individuals on short contracts with insecurities about their performance.
  • With younger riders, the focus is on laying the groundwork and building their engine. Simply losing weight won't transform a rider into a Tour de France champion if they were a certain weight at 20 and lost weight to match successful riders. 
  • Success requires building endurance, resilience, and a strong foundation. 
  • It's not solely about resembling accomplished riders like Chris Froome or Jonas Vingergaard. Instead, it's comprehending that years of training and consistent effort are necessary for high performance. 
  • Weight does play a role, but it's just one part of a larger equation.

Weight and genetics

51:29 -

  • Genetics play a significant role in an athlete's body composition; some naturally achieve their desired composition easily, while others must put in considerable effort. 
  • The challenge lies in finding the right balance, as pushing too far can be counterproductive. 
  • Set points for body composition often require trial and error; riders tend to overshoot initially and settle into a more sustainable range.
  • It's crucial to recognise that the body composition required for performing at an event like the Tour de France isn't the same for other times of the year. Weight targets must be adjusted based on the competitive period. 
  • For instance, climbers had distinct weight goals for the Tour, which were adjusted after the race to support immune system recovery and consistent training.
  • After intense events like the Tour de France, natural weight and body composition drifts occur due to mental and physical stress. 
  • This post-event relaxation period allows for a gentle increase in weight, which isn't a cause for concern. 
  • Our program benefits from not being under a World Tour schedule yet, affording us the flexibility to allow weight and body composition to cycle naturally.
  • The approach extends to the off-season, where riders are encouraged to gain weight to reset their systems mentally and hormonally. 
  • This helps avoid staying at race weight year-round, which isn't conducive to long-term health and performance. 
  • When riders arrive at the December training camp a bit heavier than at the end of the previous season, it's well within an acceptable range, facilitating a balanced approach to performance and well-being.

Weight fluctuations throughout the season

55:46 -

  • The impact of weight gain on cyclists is relative, with larger riders experiencing a more significant absolute change. Generally, the percentage increase falls between three to five per cent. 
  • Even though climbers might only be around two kilos heavier, this slight difference can matter. Some cyclists share their experience of weight increasing by around two kilos after a break. Still, once training resumes, it usually stabilises, hovering just a kilo or kilo and a half above their optimal Tour de France weight. 
  • While not substantial, this moderate weight gain is deemed advantageous, offering benefits for both mental and physical aspects of cycling performance.

Weight for non-climbers

57:00 -

  • Each rider is assigned a target weight that we collaborate on, but reaching the target doesn't require extensive effort for some. 
  • In cases where there's a slight increase in weight for races like classics, we might set a different target for events like the Tour. 
  • Achieving this target usually involves a focused training block and improved nutritional strategies. 
  • Even for the heavier riders, performance on mountain passes and staying within stage time limits are vital considerations, so there are specific parameters we need to adhere to.
  • Within our team, there's a considerable weight range. The lightest rider weighs around 58 kilos, while the heavier time trial and classics riders can reach 85-90 kilos. 
  • This variation is because different stages and races demand distinct attributes. Hence, personalised goals are crucial for each rider. 
  • Interestingly, some of our more robust classic riders also have lower body fat levels, primarily due to higher muscle mass. 
  • Understanding the complete picture is essential rather than just focusing on weight. 
  • This nuanced approach considers factors like muscle mass, power production, and overall performance attributes rather than merely relying on weight measurements.
  • Understanding the terrain where riders are expected to perform is crucial. I've had experience with a few triathletes who were overly focused on weight. It's essential to consider factors like course characteristics when setting priorities. 
  • While weight is significant, it's not the sole determinant. Aspects such as aerodynamics play a more substantial role in overall performance. 
  • Health is also a key factor; being a kilo heavier but maintaining good health and consistent training could be more advantageous than being two kilos lighter but missing training. 
  • Practicality should guide our approach.

Psychology of the pro peloton concerning weight

1:01:23 -

  • I don't ride in the pro peloton, so I hear about this second or third-hand, but riders still seem conscious of body image. The sport is image-conscious due to the tight-fitting clothing and other riders' and coaches' attention to the appearance. 
  • Our team takes a sensitive approach to managing this. Traditionally, coaches and peers might comment on a rider's appearance or eating habits. 
  • Still, we try to avoid these remarks because they can affect a rider's mind and affect them negatively. 
  • If a coach has concerns about a rider's weight or body composition, they come to me, and we talk to the rider to understand the situation and address it appropriately.
  • Food has a significant psychological aspect. 
  • People often turn to certain foods when they feel low or use food to control things. Handling these issues sensitively is crucial. 
  • Fortunately, we have Hannah in our women's team, who maintains a healthy culture around body image and nutrition. A young rider's quote stuck with me: "At the end of the day, the fastest rider wins, not the skinniest." 
  • This resonates well. A rider might look a certain way, but if they aren't fast, it doesn't matter. Our focus is on performance and health. 
  • If a rider is performing healthily, body composition and image naturally follow. This is something we emphasise in our approach.
  • As an outsider, I observed that there might be more sensitivity regarding these issues among women riders. When riders transition to our system from other teams, they often carry preconceived notions about weight and body image instilled by coaches or people from their previous teams. 
  • However, upon analysing data and working closely with the riders, we've been able to counter those notions. 
  • We focus on finding the right balance for each rider, considering their rider type and the terrain they need to perform on. 
  • For instance, sprinters should prioritise producing high watts at the end of races over shedding a couple of kilograms.
  • The challenge lies in finding the optimal balance between health, performance, and body composition. 
  • When our team decided to establish a women's team, I emphasised the need for a designated nutritionist. I communicated this to our general manager, who was supportive and even involved me in drafting the job description. 
  • This resulted in the recruitment of Hannah, our dedicated nutritionist, even before we had signed any riders. 
  • This provision is not always standard in all women's teams, making our approach unique and valuable. Ensuring proper nutritional support is a fundamental aspect of our team's philosophy.

Supplements

1:07:11 -

  • I'd describe myself as a curious sceptic and rather conservative in my approach. 
  • As a nutritionist, I'm constantly bombarded with claims from companies, products, riders, and podcasts about various supplements and organic aids. 
  • However, I'm cautious about these claims. If something seems too good to be true, it usually is. 
  • Given my background with the British Institute of Sports system, our team firmly stands on antidoping and contamination. 
  • We ensure that every product we use has undergone batch testing, and we provide our riders with batch-testing certificates and serial numbers for each product. 
  • Safety is my primary concern – is the product safe and free from contaminants, and does it contain what it claims to?
  • Effectiveness is the second aspect I consider. I delve into the scientific evidence and studies, particularly those conducted on similar populations. 
  • For instance, nitrates receive a lot of attention. Still, when closely examined, they show a neutral or even detrimental effect on performance in endurance sports for athletes with high VO2 max levels above 65-70. 
  • While they might benefit recreational runners, they might not suit elite riders with high VO2 max.
  • Our nutrition philosophy prioritises health. We begin with supplements that support overall health – omega-3, probiotics, and multivitamins. 
  • These act as an insurance policy for our riders, who often travel and may not always have access to quality nutrients on the road. 
  • Prebiotic supplements aid gut health, especially when riders can't consume enough fruits and vegetables. Additionally, supplements like New Zealand blackcurrant extract and tart cherry, rich in polyphenols, influence recovery. Vitamin D is also an essential supplement in our approach.
  • These supplements consist of concentrated natural foods. For instance, the New Zealand blackcurrant extract, equivalent to 80 blackcurrants per capsule, enhances the body's antioxidant defence, boosts immunity, and regulates inflammation during races and altitude camps. Similarly, tart cherry extract alleviates muscle soreness and aids recovery during demanding stages like altitude blocks or challenging races.
  • Vitamin D, a well-researched supplement, is vital for bone health. Even athletes in locations like Girona may lack optimal levels due to sunscreen and clothing, necessitating periodic testing and adjustments throughout the year.
  • Buffering agents such as beta-alanine and sodium bicarbonate are administered selectively to specific riders at certain times of the year. All these interventions are safe and evidence-based, tailored to individual athletes. 
  • Athletes have autonomy over their supplement intake; while some may choose a comprehensive range, others might refrain entirely. 

Caffeine

1:13:12 -

  • Caffeine is commonly used in cycling, but it's strategically integrated into our approach. 
  • We aim to optimise its benefits while considering potential drawbacks like sleep and recovery trade-offs. We encourage riders to differentiate between stages where peak performance is crucial and days when they can perform well without pushing to their maximum. 
  • Knowing that riders typically consume coffee, we factor this into discussions about caffeine, including using caffeine gum or gels.
  • In terms of dosage, the general recommendation is around three to six milligrams per kilogram of body weight, usually ingested an hour before the race. 
  • However, I believe that more isn't necessarily better. I usually start riders at the lower end of this range, approximately three milligrams per kilogram. 
  • Higher doses can lead to adverse effects like cramps, discomfort, and sleep disturbances, ultimately affecting overall performance and recovery.
  • Considering the extended ergogenic window of caffeine, we educate our riders on its effects. 
  • Caffeine's impact lasts for hours; after five hours, its concentration is halved. 
  • Therefore, we emphasise not leaving caffeine intake too late in a race. The peak effect occurs around 45 minutes after ingestion and gradually diminishes. To align with this, we advise riders to take caffeine about 45 to 60 minutes before the section of the race where they require a peak boost. 
  • If someone needs to be active in the race's early stages, they might even use caffeine chewing gum pre-race. 
  • Our approach to caffeine revolves around optimising performance gains with the least possible side effects.

Ketones

1:17:10 -

  • Currently, we don't utilise ketones within our team. I have even had to formulate a policy detailing what ketones are, the proposed mechanisms behind their usage, and why we have chosen not to implement them as part of our strategy. 
  • There are several reasons for this decision.
  • As a substrate, I am not entirely convinced by the data supporting their ability to enhance performance. 
  • While limited evidence suggests potential effects on recovery, some studies can be critiqued for their methodologies. New research has emerged about their use in conjunction with altitude training and EPO production, but again, the evidence isn't robust enough for me to wholeheartedly endorse their adoption.
  • The cost factor is another consideration. Ketone supplements come at a high price point for what they offer. What truly astounds me is how many athletes use ketones while neglecting their carbohydrate intake. 
  • Carbohydrate metabolism and performance have been extensively researched for over a century. 
  • Yet, many cyclists and triathletes are not optimising their overall diet and carbohydrate consumption yet are experimenting with ketones.
  • In essence, I approach this subject with curiosity but also scepticism. 
  • I am always open to exploring new research and discussing this with experts. However, the existing evidence does not convince me to recommend using ketones within our training regimen.

Nutritional differences in triathlon

1:19:17 -

  • Having worked with triathletes and runners, I have noticed specific differences between the two sports. 
  • The gut seems to undergo more stress for triathletes, mainly due to mechanical jostling during running and swimming. 
  • This potentially affects the ability to take on fuel effectively during the run. Triathletes often encounter more gut-related issues compared to runners. 
  • On the other hand, cyclists can usually consume more significant amounts of carbohydrates while cycling, as they maintain a stable position, allowing for better fuel intake.
  • I would emphasise addressing gut issues when working with triathletes, especially considering their prevalence within the sport. Heat preparation is also crucial for triathletes due to the consistent conditions in elite triathlons, particularly in hot weather. 
  • Unlike cyclists who might experience cooling on descents, this cooling effect is limited in long-distance triathlons.
  • Regarding body composition, I believe it's essential to strike a balance. While body composition matters, focusing solely on it might not yield the best results. 
  • Instead, optimising nutrition around training and competition could naturally lead to the desired body composition. 
  • Rather than chasing an optimal body composition from external sources, athletes should let it naturally align with their training and nutritional efforts.
  • I recall conversing with an aerodynamic expert from my time on the track. We discussed the relationship between weight, track performance, and aerodynamics. They highlighted that a small weight change might not significantly impact performance, emphasising that a few kilograms wouldn't substantially alter the numbers. 
  • Considering these factors, my focus when working with athletes would revolve around gut health, heat preparation, and a holistic approach to body composition and nutrition.

Heat and run impact on nutrition

1:22:12 -

  • When preparing for a race, I take a comprehensive approach to my nutrition. Around 24 hours before the race, I focus on limiting any potential irritants to my gut. 
  • This involves avoiding high-fibre foods, foods high in fat, red meat, spicy dishes, and anything that might stress or irritate my gut under heat conditions. Proper hydration is also a priority.
  • I believe in practising these nutritional strategies in the heat conditions, I'll be racing in. 
  • Many athletes train in cooler climates but then struggle when faced with a hot race due to not having practised fueling and hydrating appropriately for those conditions. 
  • The body's response to food and fluids can be pretty different in the heat.
  • If I'm preparing for a triathlon or a stage race, I usually focus on the day before the competition to avoid irritant foods. 
  • For stage races, the time window is often limited to just one day to the next. 
  • However, for a triathlon, whether you're an amateur or a professional, with more time between races, it's possible to dedicate around two days to avoid irritants.
  • Regarding glycogen loading, I generally reserve this for the 24 hours leading up to the competition. 
  • Balancing this with a reduced intake of fibre and vegetables can be challenging, as it might lead to feelings of hunger and sluggishness. 
  • So, I tend to scale back irritant foods about 36 to 48 hours before the race and then focus on glycogen loading in the 24 hours before the event. 
  • This loading program aims to maximise muscle glycogen while minimising additional weight in the gut, similar to strategies used for significant one-day races or challenging stages in multi-day events.

Nutritional differences between amateurs and pros

1:25:14 -

  • A dedicated amateur triathlete's life can be more demanding than a professional's. 
  • Amateurs have to juggle training with job responsibilities and family commitments. While professionals treat their training as full-time, amateurs strive to manage around 30 to 35 weekly training hours amidst their other life stresses. 
  • It's important to acknowledge this extra pressure when evaluating training plans.
  • Considering the limited time available, adjusting the training volume or intensity might be necessary. 
  • For instance, lower-intensity sessions could involve low carbohydrate or glycogen levels, potentially leading to better results for those who train fewer hours a week. 
  • However, external factors like poor sleep due to familial responsibilities can affect training outcomes.
  • To get the best results, it's crucial to prioritise health, manage the training load, and avoid using training solely for weight loss. Ensuring optimal nutrition is essential, as under-fueling can reduce training quality. 
  • Staying organised with meals and cooking can often be overlooked, but it's practical and beneficial. Instead of investing in new gear, amateur athletes should consider batch cooking to have ready-to-eat meals after training.

Common trends among amateur athletes

1:28:03 -

  • One significant observation I often make is the excessive focus on the pre-race breakfast. 
  • Many athletes tend to overlook nutrition aspects beyond the pre-race breakfast. This can lead to problems like having too much volume and fibre, resulting in a feeling of fullness and bloating. 
  • They may also not adequately consume carbohydrates 24 hours before the race.
  • From my perspective, if we've effectively loaded our muscle glycogen within the 24 hours prior, the pre-race breakfast is primarily meant to top up liver glycogen stores. 
  • It doesn't need to be a substantial meal, akin to the classic portrayal of the "three bears" with enormous porridge bowls. Overeating at this point can be detrimental.
  • What's crucial, in my experience, is not just training the body but also training the stomach. 
  • This involves practising race day nutrition strategies, such as knowing when and how much to eat during different race stages. 
  • This skill becomes even more vital when you're breathing heavily and need to take gels or drinks.
  • It's essential to rehearse these strategies during your training sessions. Additionally, testing your pre-race breakfast under realistic conditions is valuable. 
  • Waking up at the anticipated competition time and assessing how well you can manage that breakfast is vital. 
  • The suitability of eating at 8 am versus 5 am can be vastly different, and this insight can guide your choices.

James final takeaway

1:30:20 -

  • My overarching philosophy is to keep things simple. While I continuously explore and ponder new nutritional concepts, my role is to be a reliable source of guidance. 
  • It's the athletes' responsibility to adhere to their training regimen and excel in competitions. Concerning nutrition, my approach involves crafting straightforward and easily digestible strategies. 
  • The goal is to seamlessly incorporate these practices into their routines so that nutrition becomes an automatic part of their daily lives. 
  • This allows them to concentrate on their training and racing—the core components of their profession. My approach aims to streamline their nutritional approach for optimal performance.

Rapid-Fire Questions

1:31:18 -
What's your favourite book or resource related to endurance sports?Out of Thin Air: Running Wisdom and Magic from Above the Clouds in Ethiopia - book by Michael Crawley

Sport Nutrition (3rd ed.) - textbook by Asker Jeukendrup and Michael Gleeson

What's an important habit you've benefited from athletically, professionally or personally?
The principle of accomplishing tasks early. Completing tasks promptly, whether in training or work, ensures completion and maintains quality.

Who's somebody that you look up to or that has inspired you?
Within Uno-X, I find our head coach, highly inspirational. He encourages questions, challenges norms, avidly reads and consistently prompts me to see things from different perspectives. His approach spurs continuous growth and learning.

LINKS AND RESOURCES:


Bernardo Gonçalves

Bernardo is a Portuguese elite cyclist and co-founder of SpeedEdge Performance, a company focused on optimising cycling and triathlon performance. He writes the shownotes for That Triathlon Show, and also produces social media content for each new episode.

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