As with nailing a good punchline, nabbing a personal best on the bike, reaping the biggest rewards from the weight room and getting the biggest bang from your nutrition comes down to good timing. Here’s what to do when for the best results. – By Selene Yeager
Aim for 5:30 p.m. As the day warms up, so does your body (literally—body temperature is lowest before waking and highest late afternoon), increasing aerobic enzyme activity and muscle function. Research on cyclists performing time trials found that performance is not only higher at in the late afternoon hours, but also perceived exertion is lower so the efforts don’t feel as hard. Of course, 5:30 isn’t a magical number. A 2010 study published in the journal Chronobiology International reported that performance peaks anywhere between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. So have a little lunch, saddle up and get after it.
Within 30 minutes of waking up…then again at lunch and again at dinner. Okay, that was a trick one—sort of. But with all the talk of carb deprivation, carb loading, and carb timing, there’s a lot of confusion regarding this essential macronutrient that not only feeds your hard working muscles, but also is the sole source of energy for your brain.
“Active cyclists who are riding an hour or two most days need about 1.36 grams of carbohydrate per 500g of body weight a day,” says Stacy Sims, PhD, senior research fellow at Adams Centre for High Performance, University of Waikato in New Zealand and author of Roar. That’s 204 grams (816 calories worth) a day for a 68kg rider, or about 40% your daily calories from carbs—more if you ride more or train hard. For the best performance—mental and physical—dole them out throughout the day, being especially sure to get some in the morning. “Your cortisol levels peak in the morning because of low blood sugar. High cortisol hinders immunity and encourages fat storage. You want to put some fuel, especially carbs, in your system within 30 minutes of waking to lower cortisol and improve function” says Sims.
Morning. For one, research shows that morning exercisers are more likely to exercise consistently than those who wait till later in the day. That makes sense when you consider your riding plans are less likely to be waylaid before work than once the day gets rolling. Getting moving in the morning also seems to put you in a state of greater motion throughout the day. A study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that when people exercised first thing in the morning, they not only racked up more physical activity all day long, but also were less susceptible to craving-inducing food images than when they skipped the morning session. Research also suggests that morning exercise leads to better sleep, which is essential for healthy appetite control and metabolism.
A month before its expiration date and within a week of cracking it open. It’s actually better to get your vitamin C from whole food, since you also get more of the 32 grams of fibre you need each day. But if you rely on a cool glass of OJ each morning for a daily hit of this essential antioxidant, pay attention to the timing. Vitamin C decomposes relatively quickly—about 2% a day once the container is opened, according to a study on ascorbic acid in commercial orange juice. The vitamin levels also drop over time while the container is sitting on the shelf, so much so that after 4 weeks you could just be drinking orange-colored calories with zero vitamin C. Buy fresh. Drink fresh.
Evening. For one, general strength and performance is better later in the day, as your body warms up and your energy systems are raring to go. Research also shows that grip strength and peak power hit their highest points between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. (peak power peaks at 6 p.m.). A 2016 study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Medicine also found that overnight protein synthesis—that’s making muscle while you sleep—were up to 37% higher in men who performed an evening bout of strength training followed by a snack of 30 grams of protein than in those who had their nightly protein without hitting the weights first.
Need to brush up on those cyclocross dismounts and remounts? Get out from under the covers and hop the barriers in the a.m. to sharpen those and any other bike handling skills you’d like to improve. Research on circadian rhythms and athletic performance finds that performance of skill-based sports and physical activities that require complex strategies and recall of coaching instruction is best when they’re completed in the morning hours.