The diet of a professional cyclist: energy requirements and supporting metabolism using arginine

Cycling is a sport that involves large amounts of energy expenditure, something we can notice ourselves by merely looking at the exhaustion displayed on the faces of elite athletes that tackle the roughest trails out there. The number of kilocalories expended by a cyclist while ascending an incline is comparable to that an average individual would expend over the course of a couple of days, possibly more. Just like athletes involved in anaerobic training, such as bodybuilders, professional cyclists — and endurance athletes in general — must approach their nutrition and dietary supplementation with utmost care to support proper muscle metabolism.

What is the diet of a cyclist?

The breakfasts of cyclists typically consist of hearty meals rich in carbohydrates, which serve as their primary source of energy. At least two to three hours prior to a race, during training, and just before races, they supply their body with a sufficient amount of carbohydrates and protein by consuming snacks comprising bread and ham, cheese and other options. Carbohydrates also serve as a complement to their diet for muscle recovery, particularly through small post-competition meals consisting of boiled potatoes, fruits, and protein in yogurt and supplements in powder form.

The importance of vitamins

Apart from macronutrients, specifically carbohydrates and protein mentioned earlier, cyclists often supplement with several other micronutrients, notably group B vitamins. Among these, B1 is vital for carbohydrate metabolism, B2 for fat metabolism, B6 for protein metabolism, and B12, which aids the absorption of sugars and proteins and is indispensable for the correct functioning of the nervous system. Furthermore, supplementation of the minerals found in cells and bodily fluids is essential, as they facilitate the delivery of oxygen to cells. Calcium and phosphorus, vital to the musculoskeletal system, and sodium for water balance, are particularly crucial in cycling and endurance sports as a whole.

Nitric oxide (NO) in the metabolism of cyclists

When considering muscle metabolism, it is crucial to note that providing nourishment to the muscle fibers is essential in more challenging and steep trails. This is particularly important because the leg muscles require significant amounts of oxygen in these conditions. Nitric oxide (NO) is key to this process. Through its ability to relax the vascular smooth muscle, it increases blood flow at the muscle level, while also aiding in the elimination of excess fat, waste, and toxins, resulting in an overall increase in performance.

Supplementing with arginine...

Arginine supplementation is often recommended to professional cyclists as a way of facilitating nitric oxide (NO) production, for which it is the biological precursor. Arginine is at times combined with citrulline, an amino acid with potent antioxidant properties derived from watermelon rind. Furthermore, arginine is essential for glucose synthesis and, thanks to its immunomodulatory mechanisms, is beneficial in high-intensity training sessions and lengthy races, as well as muscle recovery following sporting competitions. Lastly, arginine is a precursor also for creatine, the latter being critical for athletes as it promotes the reduction of muscle damage due to its myogenetic effect, i.e., the formation of new skeletal muscle tissue cells.

... magnesium and potassium

Rounding out the dietary supplementation of professional cyclists are micronutrients, which are key to muscle and cardiac function, prominent among which are, of course, magnesium and potassium. Indeed, these are the “fuel” that keeps them functioning properly and they play an important role in preventing muscle cramps and tears. Additionally, magnesium plays a part in ensuring proper nerve impulse transmission, while also preventing mood swings related to psychophysical stress. Potassium‘s role is to combat fatigue, as it contributes to proper muscle function and aids in the regulation of arterial pressure.