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Performance Nutrition and Cycling - Beware the w/kg obsession

David Starr Nutrition Performance Training Weight Loss Weightloss

I've been riding bikes all my life really, with a slight break between the ages of 16 and about 29!

However, I have never been riding so strong and feeling so healthy as I do now, and that is in no small part to taking control of how I look after my body, creating that positive lifestyle spiral including good training, good resting, and also focus and discipline with what I put in my body to make it work properly. I was fortunate enough to have the assistance of David Starr, performance nutritionist to professional and elite athletes  and founder of Eat Drink Win to really take that holistic view and find what worked for me.

David has kindly agreed to let me talk to him about nutrition and everything connected, I hope in a series of blogs to follow, but initially, touching on quite a serious aspect that I see some endurance athletes becoming victims of.

We all have the desire to lose weight, improve our power to weight ratio, and acquire the classic skinny cyclist physique, and this can be a strong motivator to cut calories from the diet, or increase exercise.

David regularly sees that, for most people, a small drop in energy intake from food or a small increase in energy expenditure through exercise can result in gradual and safe weight loss.

He goes on to say, “Unfortunately, extreme fad diets or excessive exercise may result in low energy availability and RED-S (Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport), particularly in cyclists who already have low body fat levels. Typically, a competitive road cyclist will require around 1.5g/kg (body weight) of protein per day, with 30% of calories coming from fat, and the remaining needs met by carbohydrates. Modern training methods that include restricting carbohydrates around training are often mis-understood, leading to under-fuelling and problems with low energy availability which can cause serious long-term health problems”

He went on to stress that athletes ensure that energy intake and expenditure for the day is balanced, even if you train fasted or with low carbohydrate availability.

“I monitor my athletes’ food intake for a range of nutrients as well as energy values to ensure that they ‘fuel for the work required’ whilst achieving their health, personal and team goals.”

When assessing a new client, David will typically request a 4-day food diary to establish their usual food habits, followed up with an extensive discussion of their training and race fuelling.  In my case, and with many others, he will act as an additional coach on Training Peaks which is a useful platform to plan nutrition around the training program designed by their coach if they use one.  He was able to guide my own basic coaching knowledge correctly to this end.

Performance Nutrition and Cycling

“I often obtain blood tests to check for key nutrients and physiological markers, and may arrange a DEXA scan, which provides information about bone mineral density, lean body mass and body fat. From a nutrition standpoint, low energy availability and the risks of low bone mineral density is best avoided by ensuring sufficient energy intake, calcium and vitamin D, but more serious cases require expert medical help. With modern cycling kit and sunscreen, a rider may be deficient in vitamin D, so supplements are often recommended particularly through winter. I also work with the athlete’s coach to develop a resistance training program and use high impact exercises to stimulate bone metabolism.”

One thing I know I am looking forward to now Lockdown restrictions are easing is getting David to do a full re-evaluation on me with his recently acquired mobile testing equipment. He’ll come to me, 200 miles away, to do this – how exciting!

Recreational athletes typically don’t have access to nutritional or sports medicine support, so here are a few tips David has offered up help avoid low energy availability:

  • Modern activity trackers and your bike head unit can provide a reasonable guide to your exercise energy expenditure – add this to your resting energy expenditure ( can approximate this) and you have your target energy intake for the day.
  • If you notice a significant decrease in your on-bike performance take a break for a day or two and review your diet. Reduced performance could be an early indicator that you don’t have the energy to recover from your recent riding, so listen to your body.
  • Track your food for 3-4 days each month. Obsessive tracking can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food but checking occasionally may help you match your energy intake and expenditure.
  • Pay attention to your health. If you’ve been trying to lose weight and become ill, or if you’ve been cutting calories from your diet without your weight changing, these are signs that you may have gone too far. If you aren’t eating enough to support your lifestyle and exercise your health will suffer, and your body will shut down processes that need energy – like bone and hormone production.
  • If you have any concerns about your health, talk to your doctor and accept their help in addressing any issues.
  • To maintain your bone mineral density, you can add a small amount of weight bearing or impact to your exercise routine. If you are otherwise healthy, I recommend 1 minute of skipping each day, which provides the stimulus your body needs to preserve your bones.

In summary, I can certainly say that taking the advice of someone like David is an excellent step in really pushing you to the next level, and safely.  Whilst the watts/kilo number has become a bit of a Holy Grail now amongst a much broader swathe of competitive and casual cyclists (virtual cycling protocols perhaps one key factor for another day.....), it is still important to pay close attention to your health, sustainability, and maintenance when 'stripping the bark'.

I am confident in saying that since working this way on my nutrition, I have changed my body composition, and estimate I have permanently lost in the region of 8 to 9kg weight, my energy levels are much better, I sleep well, I recover faster and stronger, and, well..... Look damn good in my Shutt Velo Rapide kit!

Bring on the spring kit collection and a summer of racing.

Performance nutrition and cycling

- James Baggott

James is Shutt Velo Rapide's customer services manager and lives in Devon. 

Got back in to cycling inspired by the track stars of the 2000 and 2004 Olympics, now with a sizeable palmares of mad-hat bespoke rides around the UK and Europe, various 24hr and 48hr challenges with a sprinkling of crits, road races and TTs. 

Kent based Flat land power monkey to West Country aspiring climbing goat!  It's only a hill....get over it.

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