I am an 11-stone vegetarian, aged 48, height six feet one inch, and I work in the building trade as a plasterer. I have been mountain biking for three years and ride mostly on the Malvern Hills and around Herefordshire. The rides consist of one three-hour ride each week in the winter and two three-hour rides in the summer. The problem is, I do not seem to be getting any fitter, or the rides any easier. Currently I take supplements for the rides in the form of Go Electrolyte powder added to my water bottle. My diet is varied and I eat dairy produce. Could you suggest any other foods that should be included in my diet, or what foods to eat the day prior to a ride?
Charlie, email

I don’t think your diet is at the route of your slow fitness progress, it is more likely to be the frequency of your rides. Although your rides are of a decent length in themselves, the amount of time between your rides means that your body isn’t being stressed enough to see the improvements you want. If you could get out on your bike three or four times a week you will definitely find your rides get easier and your fitness increases. This doesn’t mean that you need to ride for three hours every time you get on your bike. Stick with one or two long rides at the weekend and aim to get in another two short rides in the week, even 30 minutes would help, but an hour would be ideal. You can do these rides harder as you aren’t riding for so long. Keep an eye on your diet, particularly foods with iron and protein, and make sure you are eating enough as you have a physical job as well as a hobby. But focus your attentions on getting out more in the week and you will see the benefits in your weekend rides.

Trans-fatty bastards

Just read your article on training for the Trans Wales and am fairly happy with our training schedule so far. We have just started to do short and hard mid-week night rides after a pretty busy January and February of mainly two to three-hour weekend rides. We did most of last year’s Merida marathons (50km) in around 4.5 hours and will step up this year to 75km and then 100km. We will be doing the opener at Builth Wells both nights and the following day, so that should hopefully give us a marker for our fitness levels.
Our biggest concern really is taking on enough fuel during the day and also how to re-charge in the evening ready for the next day. We currently train on High Five gels, usually one per hour, plus High Five energy drink, and we have just started to drink For Goodness Shakes after every training ride. We are already signed up for the Trans Wales event and would really appreciate your advice on nutrition for the whole week. I am 44 and my riding partner is 39.
Martin Shepherd, email

It certainly sounds like you are on the right track and are making sensible progressions with your training. You are already aware of sports nutrition and are using drinks and gels correctly, as well as paying attention to your recovery afterwards. However, don’t forget the part that ‘real’ food plays in a week-long event like Trans Wales. You will feel mighty sick of gels by the end of it if you are taking four or five a day. If you are riding at a steady pace you should be able to eat solid food in the earlier parts of rides so you aren’t relying solely on gels. Experiment with the old favourites; malt loaf, bananas, dried fruit, small sandwiches and cereal bars.
Don’t focus entirely on carbohydrates either, especially if you are riding for five hours plus. Something with a bit of protein and a small amount of fat will help your energy levels and concentration, as well as being a tasty alternative to sweet stuff. White bread with jam and cheese is a surprisingly good riding snack. Remember that you are fueling for the next day’s ride as well as surviving the stage you are in. Once you finish riding, have your shake and a small snack, and later on when your appetite is back, a proper meal. Regular fuelling and a steady well-paced effort will see you through the week comfortably.

Loading up

Just wondering if you could help me solve a problem. I eat a normal balanced diet with plenty of fruit, and carbs and protein. In the days leading up to a ride, especially the day before, I increase the amount of carbs with pasta. The problem being, come the day of the ride I don’t have the energy to push the bike, let alone ride it. With my normal daily diet I can ride with no problems, but if I increase the carbs I feel sluggish from the moment I get out of bed. As I have a 24-hour race coming up I would appreciate any help.
Steve Smith, email

There are many problems associated with the old way of carbo-loading. Traditionally, you would follow a depletion stage to diminish all your body’s glycogen (carbohydrate’s stored form) before loading up in the three days before. Athletes frequently had mood swings, digestive problems, and the bloating and sluggishness you complain of.
Firstly, check that you aren’t overeating. Remember, if you are upping the carbohydrate to maintain the same number of calories, you need to reduce the amount of fat and protein. Also, check the balance of your normal diet, it may be very high in carbs anyway and you are increasing beyond what you need even for carb loading. Another factor is that three to four grams of water are stored with every gram of glycogen, so fully re-stocking your glycogen stores can make you heavier than your usual weight if you normally operate with your fuel stores partially depleted.
If you want to stick with carbo- loading, follow a plan for six days prior to your event rather than just the final three. Consume a 50 per cent carbohydrate diet for the first three days and then increase to a 70 per cent carbohydrate diet (or 4.5 grams per pound of body weight) for the last three days.
For ultra-marathon events, such as 24-hour racing, there is a growing body of research that shows high-fat diets are better than carbo-loading. Our sister magazine Cycling Weekly covered this on January 17. If you are serious about your racing it would be worth getting your normal diet analysed by a sports nutritionist who will then be able to give you specific recommendations for your event.