Etixx - Quick-Step and Bakala Academy: Nutrition and Cycling
Etixx - Quick-Step works exclusively with Bakala Academy, where science meets sports, in order to optimize performance. Nutrition is one of the most important aspects of doing well on the bike. The team spoke with Sports Nutritionist Nicolas Paraskevopulos about the role of nutrition in the everyday life of our riders.
How does Bakala Academy tailor nutrition plans for the team?
We planned out a menu in preparation of the training camp we had in December. Plans cover their off-season as well as their season. This menu takes in account the daily energy needs and nutrient requirements of the riders. This means that the menu on a heavy training day is different from an easy day where they might have photo-shoots or other non-sporting events. However, most riders want an additional individual nutritional follow-up. That's why I was present at the first training camp in Spain: I sat down with the riders and discussed their goals for the season. I started with a body composition analysis and a personal nutrition coaching session. From that discussion onwards, and based on their initial body composition analysis, I help them work toward their specific goals using the menus we have provided. Given that preparation period is just starting it is normal that some of the riders are not yet at their competition weight, so this training camp the main focus is on improving body composition, say reducing body fat percentage and body weight, with minimal loss of muscle mass. I set up their personal meal plan for the training camp, and explain them what to change or not to change when they are back home. During the second training camp in January we had a second meeting and repeat edthe body composition measurements to assess the progress they made. The ideal time to improve body composition is between December and February. We want to start with nutritional coaching as soon as possible when training is relatively "easy" for them, because during the season it will be more difficult to get them close to their competition weight.
How do you try and balance the need to improve body composition and the need to conserve energy for training?
For professional riders it is even easier to do this than for the average Joe who has to combine training and work. I explain them that if they train in the morning, they should eat most of their carbohydrates — which fuels their performance during training — before, during and/or after their training session. They must learn to adjust their carbohydrate intake to the type of training. I tell them how many carbohydrates to ingest at breakfast, how many Etixx bars, gels, or sports drinks to consume in training, and how to use protein supplements and recovery drinks after training. So, for example, if a rider has an easy training day, he can eat his normal breakfast, a lower amount of carbohydrates during training and a protein-only shake for recovery after training. This will reduce his energy (kcal) intake. On a more strenuous training day, he must increase carbohydrate intake during training, and use a recovery drink with carbohydrates and proteins immediately after training. Another option for those aiming to lose body weight is to omit rice, pasta, bread and potatoes at dinner. However, carbohydrate intake should only be reduced when the riders don't need them to supply energy during training.
So despite all of these possible chances at adjusting their meals, they are still eating meals throughout the day?
The riders accumulate about six eating moments per day on average. This includes breakfast, nutrition during training, and an Etixx high protein drink or recovery shake after training, followed by lunch. They also eat a (protein) snack between lunch and dinner, which can bring the total to six. While the meals before and after training are most important for performance and recovery, the "other" meals throughout the rest of the day will have a huge impact on their body composition. So the key world for our riders is "consistency".
Are the meals different for the types of riders, for example a sprinter versus a climber?
They will have access to the same foods, but the amount they eat should be different. A sprinter has more muscle mass than a climber, so they need a higher intake from all macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fat). Relatively speaking the number is the same (grams per kilogram body mass) when training is the same, but absolutely speaking, they need more food volume just because they are "bigger".
We talked about carbohydrates a lot so far, but what about the role of proteins for these riders?
It is well known that protein ingestion, in combination with a resistance training program, promotes gains in muscle mass and strength. However, by manipulating the amount, type and timing of their protein intake our riders can benefit more from the hours they spend on their bike. Protein is the key nutrient in the muscle remodeling processes after training. These processes include the repair of damaged muscle tissue but also the synthesis of oxidative enzymes and mitochondria within the muscle cell, which help to metabolize the foods we eat into usable energy for the muscle. A slight increase in protein intake also helps to spare muscle mass while dieting to cut down body weight. Riders always lose unnecessary muscle mass in their upper body as the season progresses and energy expenditure increases, but we want to retain their muscle mass in their legs (which equals power) as much as possible. So high-quality protein intake is very important not only during the weight loss phase but also during competitive season. We also know that protein is not only crucial to stimulate training adaptations immediately after training, but probably as well throughout the rest of the day via balanced repeated protein feedings (≥20g of protein every 3-4 h). It is better for hunger control as well, so with weight reduction goals this can be important. I learn them to add a high-quality protein source (milk, eggs, meat, fish ...) to each meal and to eat 2 protein snacks daily, for example a protein or recovery shake after training and cottage cheese or Greek yogurt before bed rest. At training camps, for example, they have dinner late in the evening, so one protein snack is eaten between lunch and dinner instead of just before bed.
What about the role of fat?
Fats are very important for an athlete. This means our riders need to get a wide variety of fats from their diet daily. The menu includes fatty fish regularly so they ingest plenty omega-3 fatty acids. We always have other healthy fats such as nuts and seeds available as a snack or we include them (e.g. olive oil, avocado ...) in the preparation of our meals. We for sure try to provide sufficient high-quality fats during season preparation in the winter. During race season we focus more on supplying sufficient carbohydrates and high-quality proteins.
Are there any riders who have specific nutrition requirements?
There are always riders with the typical gluten or lactose intolerances. We try to provide alternative gluten and lactose free foods to these riders so they feel comfortable during training and competition. We always try to offer that extra individual meal alternative. So a rider that requires a gluten-free substitute can eat rice, a lactose intolerant rider can opt for a soy-based alternative.
So overall, since Bakala Academy is about where science meets sports, where does nutrition fall in that relationship in terms of its importance for cycling performance?
Only talented riders have the potential to become successful in professional cycling. However, it is only through training that a rider can reach his full potential and nutrition supports this process. Personalized sports nutrition optimizes performance during training and racing, it enhances recovery and the adaptations that occur after training and it helps riders to reach their optimal body composition for competition. These are all essential details that influence a rider's success in modern cycling, where differences are small and it is all about getting these last details right. Bakala Academy is up-to-date on the latest innovations in nutritional science, to make sure the riders get an optimal and innovative support. Sports nutrition alone won't make a champion, but at the end of a hard race with only the most talented riders left in the final, sports nutrition can be that difference between winning and losing.