Top 5 Nutrition Tips for Cyclists: Tip Number 4

Tip 4: Focus On Your Frame by Catriona Courtney M.Sc B.Sc.Hons

 Cycling is considered a non-weight bearing exercise and cyclists, both male and female, are at risk of developing low bone mineral density. We can turn over more than 10% of our skeleton in a year – it’s a constant process of building new bone and helping to clear the damaged bone.

Nutrition plays a key role in this process. A recent study has shown that not fuelling before, during and after exercise, using restrictive eating practices such as fasted cycling sessions can all increase the risk of fracture and reduced bone health and affect performance. You also need to provide enough available energy to ensure bone health is maintained, and the process of repair and building of bone can continue.

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Even over one six-month season, out of 19 cyclists reviewed, 10 were classified as having low bone mineral density, and lost 1%-1.5% BMD in the lumbar spine and neck, despite completing heavy resistance training which one would expect to improve bone heath. These cyclists had an average age of 24, but similar studies of master cyclist athletes have shown a higher prevalence of osteoporosis and osteopenia compared to inactive people.

We know that calcium and vitamin D have an impact on our bone health. Other nutrients that help maintain bone health include protein, phosphorus, Magnesium (found in mainly plant foods such as spinach, seed, beans, nuts eg 30g of almonds has up to 40% of daily needs),  Vitamin K (found in spinach, kale, broccoli, dried fruits) also diet high in fruit and vegetables are associated with better bone mineral density .

Research (by Haakonssen et al) has demonstrated that a calcium-rich meal 90 minutes prior to intensive exercise increased the signalling systems which are related to bone building and breaking down.  More research is required on best prevention strategies but possibly focusing your calcium intake in a meal prior to cycling, ensuring adequate Vitamin D (mainly from sunlight, Fortified foods, Salmon/mackerel/sardines, Eggs ) and a good balance of protein, fruit and vegetables nuts and seeds may benefit the maintaining bone mineral density over the season also including weight bearing resistance exercise will benefit and minimizing fasted training and restrictive carbohydrate and eating practices.

Adults in Ireland over 19 are recommended to take in 800mg Calcium/day=  post menopausal women 1200mg . Examples of Calcium and vitamin D include a cheese omelette (120g) with tinned salmon = 400mg of calcium and 13mg of vitamin D, if you add a 200ml glass of fortified milk and you get another 200mg of Calcium and 4 ug Vitamin D.

A really great podcast to start listening to is Fuel the Pedal below is link to recent podcast on cyclist and bone health.

Dr. Nicky Keay – Bare bones in cyclists: Time to bring “Real” Nutritionists into the sport



Catriona Courtney is a Registered Sports and Exercise Nutritionist(SENr Graduate Member) and lives near Kinsale in Cork (but still very proud of her Kerry upbringing😉).  Catriona specializes in nutrition for endurance sports like cycling, running, triathlon and ultra endurance.  For information on her services, contact her through her website or follow her on Facebook  and Instagram @elev8nutritionir