Stretching Exercises for Cyclists

Stretching exercises for cyclists - contortionist
Great for checking out your saddle sores

Unlike running or swimming, riding a bike is not something that the human body was naturally designed to do. It is essentially a mechanical action repeated over and over again. The restraints of the bike mean that only certain muscles are used and even those are not pushed through their full range of motion.  Asa result, over time, the muscles that are used shorten, causing tightness.

Our muscles work in opposing pairs.  For instance our biceps and triceps work together to allow us to move our forearms up and down.  Contracting the bicep causes the forearm to lift.  Whilst this is happening the tricep is relaxed. To move the forearm back the tricep contracts whilst the bicep relaxes.

The mechanical action of cycling relies overly on only one of a pair of muscles, resulting in one of the pair growing stronger than its partner.

Both the shortening of the muscles and the strengthening of one of the pair causes imbalance. The stronger muscle exerts more force on all the supporting structures, such as bones, and this is exacerbated by the tightening of the muscle. This imbalance pull the body out of proper alignment resulting in aches and pains and possible long term damage to bones, ligaments and tendons.

To restore balance and harmony you need to use some of the strength exercises for cyclists to help equalise strength and carry out some of the stretching exercises below to counteract the muscle shortening effect of cycling.

A stronger, more balanced you will not only improve your general wellbeing it should also enhance your cycling experience.

Easy stretches that are ideal for cyclists

These stretches can be performed pretty much anywhere, at any time but you should warm up before beginning.  You could do a couple of sets of burpees to get you going (strength exercises for cyclists).  The ideal time would be after a ride because you are already warmed up and you can stretch out those muscles before they have a chance to settle into their shortened form.

When performing the stretches you should stretch until there is a little discomfort and tension but not pain. Once at this point hold the stretch for at least 20s. This allows the muscles to relax into their lengthened state.  Ideally hold the stretch for 60s. Once you become more accustomed to stretching you can push the stretch a little more after 20s, once your feel the muscles relaxing, then hold there.

Some exercises use a wall for support but once you have mastered the moves a wall is not necessary.

Start by performing each stretch once and build toward 3 or 4 times each.

Calf stretch

Calf stretch image
If you cannot find a wall, try and push over a lamp post – don’t let its size intimidate you

Benefits: upper and lower calves.

Stand with your hands flat against a wall at shoulder height. Push one leg about 50 centimetres behind you and place the foot flat on the floor (making sure your toes are pointing straight forward). Keep your back knee straight and your heel flat on the floor, lean forward. You should feel this stretch in the top of your calf. If you bend your back knee slightly (keeping the foot flat on the floor) you should feel the stretch lower down.

Hold the stretch and then repeat with the other leg

Downward facing dog

Stretching exercises for cyclists - Downward facing dog yoga pose
You don’t have to go this in a group

Benefits: back and hamstrings.

Begin on your hands and knees with your hands slightly in front of your shoulders on the floor and your feet resting on your toes. Lift your knees from the floor, straighten your legs and raise your bottom in the air whilst moving onto the soles of your feet and pushing your heels into the floor.  Try to keep the back straight by pushing into the floor with your shoulders through your arms.  You should look roughly like an inverted V rather than an inverted U.  You should feel the stretch through your back and your hamstrings.

Many cyclists have particularly shortened hamstrings.  When first starting this exercise you can alleviate the discomfort by placing your feet wider apart or raising your heels slightly.

Hamstring stretch

Stretching exercises for cyclists - Expanded leg yoga pose

Benefits: hamstrings.

Stand with your feet wide apart and legs straight. With your hands on your hips bend forward as far as you can whilst keeping your back straight.  You should feel the stretch in your hamstrings.

If you hamstrings are particularly tight you can alleviate the discomfort by either placing your feet wider apart or bending your knees slightly (or both).

Quad stretch

Stretching exercises for cyclists -quad stretch small

Benefits: quads and hip flexors.

Start on hands and knees with the soles of your feet against a wall. Take your right knee off the floor and place it against the wall with your toes pointing upwards and your shin against the wall (your whole right leg below the knee should be against the wall, toes pointing to the ceiling). Now, taking most of your weight on your hands, move your left leg so that the sole of the foot is on the floor in front of you with knee bent at a right angle (corner of a square.  You should feel the stretch in your quads and hip flexors. Hold the stretch for a few seconds until the muscles relax then slowly take your hands from the floor and place them lightly on your left knee. The more upright your body the greater the stretch.

Repeat with the other leg.

Camel pose

Stretching exercises for cyclists - Camel yoga pose

Benefit: groin, thighs, back, the chest, the front of the shoulders and back of the neck.

Start sitting in a kneeling position with the soles of your feet against a wall and your toes tucked under. Slowly rise up bottom off your heels, bringing the thighs and torso upright. Gradually move your back into an arc until the back of your head makes contact with the wall. Bring your hands towards your heels. The further down you reach the more intense the stretch.

Seated glute stretch

Stretching exercises for cyclists - Seated Glute Stretch
Imagine a chair. And you don’t have to wire your ankle to your knee. Unless you like it.

Benefits: glutes and hips.

Start sat in a chair with the soles of your feet on the floor, toes pointing forwards. Lift your right leg and place your ankle on your left knee.  Keeping a straight back bend forwards from the hips. You should feel the stretch in your glutes and hips. The lower you bend the greater the stretch.

Repeat with the other leg.

Rotated back stretch

Stretching exercises for cyclists - Rotated back stretch

Benefits: back and hamstrings.

Start lying on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor.  Bring your knees towards your chest and then roll your knees to your right side, resting them on a pillow. Now stretch both arms out from the body, along the floor.  You should feel a stretch in your back.  Hold the position for a few seconds until the lower back relaxes then slowly straighten your legs.  Ultimately your aim is to touch your toes to your outstretched hand.

Repeat with knees to your left side.

Reclined diamond stretch

Stretching exercises for cyclists - Relaxed diamond stretch
Metal pole up the bottom optional.

Benefits: chest, shoulders, hips and groin.

Sit on the floor and bring the soles of the feet together so that your legs form a diamond shape. Lean back on your elbows. The lower you recline the greater the stretch.  For comfort you can support yourself with pillows or lie back on a rolled up duvet. Hold the stretch of a few minutes or until you wake up.

Kickstart your Lands End to John O’Groats planning

Land's End to John O'Groats Route Book Special Offer - image

Download FREE samples

Everything you need to know to get you started on your Lands End to John O Groats adventure is contained within these three books: a How To, a detailed account of riding the Google Map route for LEJOG and a ‘safe’ Route Book using GPX files.

Available as electronic or paperback books from as little as £2.99 each or all three for £5.98.  That’s less than an inner tube or a Costa coffee with a slice of cake.

Where to next?

Back to training for Lands End to John O Groats cycling or onward to look at endurance training,  interval training or strength training for cyclists.

Maybe you would like to visit one the most popular pages on the site, which concern planning your End to End, thinking about the cycling equipment you will need, what you should be eating and drinking whilst cycling and how to create a route for Lands End to John O Groats. Or you can read my own account of cycling End to End to get some idea of what to expect.

Lands End to John O'Groats Cycle Route Guide Image of Man Lifting Page

Strength Exercises for Cyclists

There is no doubt that all cyclists can benefit form off the bike resistance training. It will help you to ride longer and stronger.

This does not mean you have to hit the gym.  There are many exercises you can do at home, some of which require no equipment (so no excuses).

I have split the exercises into those relying upon your own body weight for resistance and those for which you will need to use weights.

You do not have to do all of these exercises.  In fact it is a good idea to mix up your routine with different exercises to keep things fresh and to give your muscles varying challenges.

You should complete the exercises in sets of repetitions.  You can vary the number of reps in each set depending on how new the exercise is to you and how much weight you are using (where relevant).  For instance on one day you might decide to use a light weight and do 15 reps per set and on another a heavy weight and only do 6 reps per set.

You can decide which exercises to use and how may sets of each you wish to complete. You should start out easy and build to more exercises and more sets with greater weight, where relevant, as you become stronger.  Try not to put yourself off by overdoing it early on and becoming too stiff and achy. In the long run slow and steady will get you there.

An internet search will reveal a multitude of exercises you can perform but I have put the ones that I found most helpful below. I have made a suggestion for the numbers of sets and reps but this is entirely a personal matter and depends on your physical starting position.

No Weights (Bodyweight)

Strength exercises for cyclists - on a mountain top image

These exercises require no equipment so can be performed anywhere, at any time – go as extreme as you like.

Press up

Good for: upper back, arm and core.

Start with arms extended to the floor, shoulder width apart and legs extended behind, feet hip width apart, body and legs in a straight line. Lower your chest towards the floor, keeping your body in a straight line, until your elbows are a right angle.  Push back to the start.

Start with 3 sets of 5 and build to 5 sets of 10.

Plank

Good for: core.

There are two standard start positions for the plank. The first is very similar to the press up; arms extended to the ground at shoulder width apart, legs extended behind you with your legs and back forming a straight line but this time with your feet together. The second and more common is the same but supporting yourself on your forearms with your hands clasped in front of you.

From the start position you should push your heels together and back, tense your glutes and the muscles in your thighs and tighten you abs.  The secret to a good plank is to make sure your body and legs are in a perfect straight line – no sagging in the middle nor bottom in the air.

Start with 3 sets of 30s with a 60 second rest between.  Build to 5 sets of 60s with 60s rest between.

Rocking press up

Good for: upper back, arm and core.

Start in a press up position.  Complete a press up but at the end roll your body to the left and raise your right hand and reach towards the sky.  You should look a little like an aeroplane with your left hand (and your feet) on the floor, the right hand pointing straight up. Roll back to the start position and repeat, this time rolling to the right, extending the left hand towards the sky.

Start with 3 sets of 6 (3 each side) and build to 4 sets of 20 (10 each side)

Straight leg arch

Good for: glutes.

Lie face up with your legs bent, your heels close to your bottom.  Point your right leg towards the ceiling in a straight line.  Tense your glutes and raise your hips until your shoulders form a straight line with your hips and knees.  Hold the position for a few seconds then lower.  Repeat for a full set then repeat with the left leg raised.

Start with 3 sets of 5 for each leg and build to 4 sets of 10.

Squat

Good for: glutes, quads, calves and core.

Stand with feet wider a little further apart than shoulder width, feet turned out slightly. Extending your arms straight in front of you, squat down until your bottom is below knee level. Hold the position for a couple of seconds then slowly push back to the start position.

Start with 3 sets of 5 building to 4 sets of 10.

Leaping squat

Good for: glutes, quads, calves and core. Also has some impact, which is good for maintaining strong bones.

Complete the squat but rather than pushing slowly back to the start position extend your legs rapidly and leap into the air.  When you land begin the next squat immediately.  To add an extra you can swing your arms and clap your hands over your head as you leap.

Start with 3 sets of 5 building to 4 sets of 10.

Lunge

Good for: glutes, hamstrings and quads.

Stand with your arms at your sides and feet hip width apart. Keeping your back straight take a step forward with your right foot, moving your body forward until the right knee is at a right angle. Tensing your glutes and right legs muscles return to the start position.  Repeat using the left leg.  This is one rep.

You can increase the intensity by taking bigger steps but don’t overstretch or you will lose balance.  As your core strength improves you will be able to take bigger steps whilst maintaining balance.

Start with 3 sets of 5 building to 4 sets of 10.

Side lunge

Good for: glutes, hamstrings, quads, hip adductors.

Stand with your arms at your sides and feet hip width apart. Keeping your back straight take a step to the right  with your right foot, moving your body sideways until the right knee is at (or near) a right angle. Tensing your glutes and right legs muscles return to the start position.  Repeat using the left leg.  This is one rep.

You can increase the intensity by taking bigger steps but don’t overstretch or you will lose balance.  As your core strength improves you will be able to take bigger steps whilst maintaining balance.

Start with 3 sets of 5 building to 4 sets of 10.

Snow angels

Good for: entire back and core.

Lie face down, arms extended at your sides, feet together. Tense your glutes and raise your arms, feet and chest.  Maintaining the body position and straight arms and legs swing your hands over your head whilst simultaneously moving your feet apart (the snow angle bit). Move arms and legs slowly back and return to start position.

Start with 3 sets of 5 building to 4 sets of 10.

Sitting oblique twist

Good for: core, in particular the obliques (side stomach muscles).

Sit on the floor with shoulders relaxed and hands held to your chest, knees bent and heels on the floor about hip width apart.  Keeping a straight back, lean backwards until you feel your abs starting to tense.  Then, keeping a straight back and your hands on your chest, twist to the left from the waist.  Return to facing forwards and repeat to the right. This is one rep.

Start with 3 sets of 4 building to 4 sets of 10.

Triceps dip

Good for: triceps.

Sit on the edge of a sturdy chair (or similar object) with your hands on the chair either side of your hips.  Supporting yourself on your hands, extend your legs in front of you. To start make sure your arms are extended but without the elbows locked.  Now bend your elbows, lowering the body towards the floor, until your elbows are at right angles.  Straighten your arms back to the start position.

Start with 3 sets of 5 building to 4 sets of 10.

Burpees

Good for: most of the main muscle groups and really gets the heart rate going.

Stand straight, with your arms at your sides. Squat down, placing hands on floor, shoulder-width apart. Jump legs back into press up start position. Perform a press up and immediately jump legs back towards your hands, into the squat position. Extend legs and jump, swinging arms overhead to clap your hands above your head.  On landing immediately drop into squat to begin next repetition.

Start with 3 sets of 5 building to 4 sets of 10.

With Weights

With all of the weight exercises try out the movement without weights first. Then start with very low weights and build up. The first time you try an exercise (or the first time you have done it in a while) don’t jump in at a heavy weight, you will just be asking for an injury.  You may want to get results fast but a muscle strain might put you back 2 weeks.

Press up, pull up

Good for: upper back, arm and core.

Start in a press up position but holding dumbbells with the weights parallel to the body, feet shoulder width apart.  Perform a press up, then, keeping your back straight, pull the right hand dumbbell up to your chest. You will need to tense the muscles of your left side and push the left dumbbell into the floor to keep balance.  Return the right dumbbell to the floor.  Repeat, this time lifting the left dumbbell. Left and right are one rep.

You can increase the difficulty of this exercise by placing your feet closer together.

Start with 3 sets of 4 for each leg and build to 3 sets of 10.

Deadlift

Good for: glutes, hamstrings, quads and lower back.

Stand holding dumbbells by your sides. Keeping a straight back and slightly bent knees, hinge at the hips and lower the dumbbells until your back is almost parallel to the floor.  Try to keep the weights close to the body. Then, maintaining a straight back, tense your glutes and push your hips forward to raise our body back to the start position.  Whilst you will be using the muscles in your shoulders and lower back your concentration should be on tensing your glutes and using your legs to avoid undue pressure on the lower back.

Start with 3 sets of 5 building to 4 sets of 10.

Sitting oblique twist with weight

Good for: core, in particular the obliques (side stomach muscles).

As the name suggests this is a seated oblique twist with the addition of weight.  Hold a weight (plate, dumbbell, full water container, small dog) close to your chest whilst performing the exercise.

Lunge with weight

Good for: glutes, hamstrings and quads.

This is the same as a lunge but undertaken whilst holding dumbbells with straight arms to the side of your body.  Your arms should remain perpendicular (90 degree angle) to the floor throughout.

Start with 3 sets of 5 building to 4 sets of 10.

Side lunge with weight

Good for: glutes, hamstrings, quads, hip adductors.

This is the same as a lunge but undertaken whilst holding dumbbells with straight arms to the side of your body.  You will need to lean forward slightly, keeping a straight back, to allow the weights to remain perpendicular (90 degree angle) to the floor.

Start with 3 sets of 5 building to 4 sets of 10.

Snatch, pull and press

Good for: glutes, hamstrings, quads, arms and whole back.

This exercise can be performed with a dumbbell but is a little less awkward with a kettlebell.

Stand with your feet shoulder width apart holding a kettlebell with both hands. Keeping a straight back squat down and place the kettlebell on the floor between your feet. Tensing your glutes and pushing with your legs, stand up and in the same motion lift the weight to chest height. Adjust your grip to hold the sides of the handle and push the kettlebell straight overhead. Lower it to your chest and readjust grip to the top of the handle, ready to start again.

Start with 3 sets of 5 building to 4 sets of 10.

Kickstart your Lands End to John O’Groats planning

Land's End to John O'Groats Route Book Special Offer - image

Download FREE samples

Everything you need to know to get you started on your Lands End to John O Groats adventure is contained within these three books: a How To, a detailed account of riding the Google Map route for LEJOG and a ‘safe’ Route Book using GPX files.

Available as electronic or paperback books from as little as £2.99 each or all three for £5.98.  That’s less than an inner tube or a Costa coffee with a slice of cake.

Where to next?

Back to training for Lands End to John O Groats cycling or onward to look at endurance training,  interval training, or stretches for cyclists.

Maybe you would like to visit one the most popular pages on the site, which concern planning your End to End, thinking about the cycling equipment you will need, how to look after your bike, what you should be eating and drinking whilst cycling and how to create a route for Lands End to John O Groats. Or you can read my own account of cycling End to End to get some idea of what to expect.

Lands End to John O'Groats Cycle Route Guide Image of Man Lifting Page

Endurance Training for Cycling from Lands End to John O Groats

Your main training focus for cycling end to end will be in increase your endurance.

We are not pros so I’m am not going to get technical about heart rates and power outputs and red blood cell concentrations and so on.  There is great benefit to be had from these things but they are not strictly necessary for the purpose of touring from one end of the country to the other (unless you are going for a record – but then you should know what you are doing in terms of training already). If you do possess the tech then you can use it to record and monitor your progress but it is not essential.  I ride with a heart rate monitor on long rides but mainly only to make sure I didn’t over cook it and suffer later on.

Fundamentally, to increase endurance you have to ride further than you normally do.  Very simple but not necessarily easy.  The secret is to build up by no more than 10-15% per week.  That way your body can cope with the adaptation without becoming exhausted.

As an example, let’s say you had a target ride of 100 mile taking place on 1st June.  Back track through the calendar 8 weeks to the beginning of April.  This is where training, ideally, should begin.  Your training goal will be to be able to comfortably (see box) ride 75% of the target distance (75 miles) as one long ride by the time of the event.  If at the beginning you can comfortably ride 35 miles then your first week target would be 40 mile.  Then ramp up by about 5 mile a week until by the time of the event you are covering a distance of 75 miles.

Image of Men Holding Sign for Lands End to John O'Groats Training Page

These training distances are for one long ride a week.  However, to increase your fitness you really need to be riding twice this distance in total every week.  And you should ride at least four times a week. So, for example, in the final week of training you might be looking to complete one ride of 75 miles and three rides of 25 miles each.

A simple chart would look like this:

 

Base

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

Event

Single Ride

35

40

45 50 55 60 65 70 75 100

Other rides

 

40 45 50 55 60 65 70

75

 

I have produced a blank 8 week training plan for cycling End to End which you can download.

Perhaps the best way to get the other rides in is to bike to work if you are able.  This is a great way of stealing training time and you can use the getting home sessions, when it doesn’t matter if you get too hot and sweaty,  to do some interval work to improve your speed and cardiac response if you need to.

When training you should try to replicate the conditions you will face on your end to end as much as possible.  This means cycling on the types of roads you are planning to use,  riding in all weather conditions, covering the same sort of terrain, using the same sort of rest periods and eating the same kinds of foods. 

Aside from getting you fit, training is also important in ironing out any problems you might encounter that could put an end to your ride.  If you are not used to riding for long periods you might start to notice sores and pains that you have not encountered before.  These might be caused by your riding position or technique and training is a good opportunity to make small adjustments to try and correct any issues. Image of Man with Bad Back for Lands End to John O'Groats Training Page

Personally I started to develop lower back pain and sciatica during training. With a bit of experimentation I discovered it was caused by driving too hard up very steep hills whilst sat in the saddle.  Or probably, more correctly, not having good technique when cycling up hill and hence stressing the muscles in the lower back.  This caused pain and inflammation, which led to the sciatica.  Unfortunately many of the Audax routes I was using for training seemed to relish in 20% + hills so I had to learn to stand, out of the saddle, which I always find tiring over any distance.

Lands End to John O Groats Training Plan Example

As an example, I have set out below how I planned my End to End training. 

I had devised a main road route and needed to ride about 150 miles a day to complete the tour in six days.  I started training about 6 months before the event so I had lots of time to build up my base miles.

During training I commuted to work on my bike which amounted to about 110 miles a week.  This was a great base to be starting from because it meant my body was used to riding several days in a row.  All I had to do was get it to a state where it could do about 7 times the distance each day. 

My plan was to build up to being comfortably able to cover a 100 mile distance by the time I got to the intensive training period, 8 weeks before the ride.  I planned one long ride each weekend starting at about 50 miles and slowly building up to the 100 miles.  From there I would ramp up until I could complete a 150 mile ride two days consecutively, with a recovery week 5 weeks before the event.

I would also extend my commutes to work slightly each week to increase my base miles and get my body used to cycling longer on a daily basis.

 

Base

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

Event

Single Ride

100

110

120

130

+ 70

60

130

140

+ 75

150×2

150

6×150

Other rides

110

110

130 150 110 130 150 170 64

 

The final 150 mile ride was planned for the weekend before the event.  In the week leading up to the event I commuted to work on the Monday as a recovery ride from the 150, nothing on the Tuesday, a recovery commute on Wednesday, nothing on Thursday and then a recovery 20 mile ride on the Friday from Wick to John O’Groats.  All with the aim of being fresh and perky, raring to go at 6 O’clock Saturday morning.

Good plan.

What really happened was somewhat different.   I never did increase my commuting mileage because, let’s face it, getting to work is always a mad panic.  In fact, with one thing and another, I didn’t manage to commute everyday of every week.  And making up a couple of lost commutes at the weekend as well as a long ride just doesn’t happen.  And of course not all the long rides happened.  And when they did they were normally a bit longer than anticipated because I was trying to catch up lost rides (and if you’re going to ride 85 miles you might as well make it a 100).

So I didn’t put in all the miles I had planned and my lovely tapered profile looked more like a saw blade with broken teeth. But I did intensify my training in the last couple of months, riding at least one 100 mile plus ride each weekend.

What I didn’t do was cycle on the types of road I would be using on the ride.  This was largely because there aren’t a lot of main roads [at least what the rest of the country calls main roads] near my home.  And also the terrain I trained on was somewhat different to most of my route.  Having done nearly all of my cycling in Devon and Cornwall I was most surprised (pleasantly) to find that most of my route was relatively flat.  This worked well for me because, whilst I hadn’t completed all the miles I had planned in training, the miles I had put in were much harder than the miles I would have to cover on my ride.  A 150 mile ride through twisty, gravely lanes, constantly up and down 10% + hills with little or no flat in between is more draining than 150 miles of gently undulating main road (at least physically).

Not training on the same terrain worked out well of me because I went from hard to easy (relatively speaking).  If you come from a flat area and are planning a sight seeing tour through Cornwall, Devon, the Cotwolds, the Lakes and the smaller roads of Scotland then you need to find some hills to train in.  Or failing that, ride with your back brake half on.

No matter what you have planned it is inevitable that life will get in the way.  Ultimately you will have to do what you can and then try and polish your fitness on the ride.   

In 2013 I rode the proper way round from Land’s End to John O’Groats and my training was very different to the above plan.  I had trained for the Audax London-Edinburgh-London (LEL) ride (875 miles, so about the same as a short end to end but with only 5 days to complete it).  My training had consisted of commuting 3 days a week, a couple of 80 miles rides and then an audax super randoneur series (200km, 300km, 400km and 600km).  Ten days before LEL I was knock over by a lorry and damaged the ligaments in my knee.  As a result I failed to complete the ride, hence the end to end ride a couple of months later.  So my training for the end to end was the training I had already done plus the 500 miles I managed on the event.  This was a lot of mileage but you will appreciate it was quite a different approach.  I was able to do it that way because I already knew my body was capable of doing the distances so it was just a case of getting the miles in using up as few weekends as possible.

In 2014 I rode LEJOG again and had an even more radical training plan.  I basically relied on my existing fitness, although the only riding I had done since my LEJOG the previous year was commuting 3 days a week to work.  I did manage a couple of 100 mile + rides a little before the ride, one of which was longer than my longest planned day, just to give myself a psychological boost.  I took it easy on the ride and managed ok, feeling stronger (but more tired) at the end than the beginning.  The benefit I had was the knowledge that I had completed the ride twice before and I knew what to expect. Ultimately long distance riding is as much about the head as it is the legs.

Kickstart your Lands End to John O’Groats planning

Land's End to John O'Groats Route Book Special Offer - image

Download FREE samples

Everything you need to know to get you started on your Lands End to John O Groats adventure is contained within these three books: a How To, a detailed account of riding the Google Map route for LEJOG and a ‘safe’ Route Book using GPX files.

Available as electronic or paperback books from as little as £2.99 each or all three for £5.98.  That’s less than an inner tube or a Costa coffee with a slice of cake.

Where to next?

The most popular pages on the site concern planning your End to End, including training for long distance cycling, thinking about the cycling equipment you will need, how to look after your bike, what you should be eating and drinking whilst cycling and how to create a route for Lands End to John O’Groats. Or you can read my own account of cycling End to End to get some idea of what to expect.

Lands End to John O'Groats Cycle Route Guide Image of Man Lifting Page

VO2 max

VO2 max is a measure of the maximum (max) volume (V) of oxygen (O2) that your body can process in a given time.

Training for Lands End to John O Groats cycling - VO2 max test

To understand VO2 max you first need to understand the distinction between aerobic and anaerobic exercise.

It is all to do with oxygen. Our bodies prefer to metabolise energy using oxygen. If you have sufficient oxygen (and energy supply) your muscles work without undue fatigue. This is an aerobic state and you can sustain this level of activity for several minutes or longer.

If you push your body to the point beyond which it can supply enough oxygen then the muscle cells must rely on other reactions to fuel muscle contraction. This is an anaerobic state which produces waste molecules that impair muscle contraction and cause a deterioration in performance.  The muscles become fatigued – they are in a weakened state and they hurt.

VO2 max is a measure that indicates the point where your body switches between an aerobic state to an anaerobic one.  It defines the maximum effort you can sustain for a few minutes right on the edge of an anaerobic state.

The fitter you get the more oxygen you can process and the higher your VO2 max.

Where to next?

Back to interval training for cycling Lands End to John O’Groats, look at endurance training or visit one the most popular pages on the site, which concern planning your End to End, thinking about the cycling equipment you will need, what you should be eating and drinking whilst cycling and how to create a route for Lands End to John O Groats. Or you can read my own account of cycling End to End to get some idea of what to expect.

Lands End to John O'Groats Cycle Route Guide Image of Man Lifting Page

Lactate Threshold

Lactate (lactic acid) is a byproduct produced by type II (fast twitch) muscle fibres when they process glucose for fuel. It is the substance that makes your muscles hurt when you are exercising.

The good news is that your type I (slow twitch) muscle fibres reprocess the lactate back into glucose for reuse by the type II muscle fibres.

All is well whilst the type I muscle fibres have the capacity to reprocess the lactate being produced by the type II muscle fibres.  But if you exercise at a level of intensity that means the type II muscle fibres are producing more lactate than the type I fibres can cope with, things start to go wrong. Any excess lactate must be passed into the blood stream to be processed elsewhere in the body and if you continue to maintain the same level of activity more and more lactate is produced and the amount in the blood rises exponentially until the body blows up.  Not literally but we all know that feeling when we suddenly cannot carry on pushing anymore and have to rapidly drop our level of effort considerably.

Your lactate threshold is the point at which the lactate in your blood begins to rise exponentially.  On the road it represents the hardest you can ride for a prolonged period of time without blowing up.

Where to next?

Back to interval training for cycling Lands End to John O’Groats, look at endurance training or visit one the most popular pages on the site, which concern planning your End to End, thinking about the cycling equipment you will need, what you should be eating and drinking whilst cycling and how to create a route for Lands End to John O Groats. Or you can read my own account of cycling End to End to get some idea of what to expect.

Lands End to John O'Groats Cycle Route Guide Image of Man Lifting Page

Interval Training for Cycling Lands End to John O’Groats

End to End Interval Training

Interval training will assist you on your Lands End to John O’Groats ride by increasing your strength and speed.  It involves a series of intense efforts interspersed with recovery periods during a training session. A typical interval session might be a warm up followed by a series of high energy output efforts for a short period, each followed by a longer rest period, with a cool down to finish.

Research has shown that by regularly completing interval training over a period of a few weeks you can improve your:

  • lactate threshold
  • fatigue threshold
  • muscular efficiency
  • stroke volume (the amount of blood circulated with each beat of the heart)
  • VO2 max

You may not understand some of the things in that list but the good news is that you do not need to. The most important thing is that it can all lead to an increase in power output of up to 6% in as little as 4 weeks. Your body adjusts to the short but hard intervals by making anabolic changes. More protein is synthesised in the muscles, making them stronger. This means you will be able to cycle faster for seemingly the same amount of effort (you will actually be putting in more work and using more energy for that extra speed but because your body has adapted during training it will not feel like it).

Whilst long distance cycling is more about endurance than peak power output, the underlying physiological improvement will enable your body to work more efficiently, reducing your fatigue over long periods.  It will also help at times of peak output on your trip, like hauling your laden bike up long, steep climbs.

The other advantage of interval training is that it is quick (not easy, far from it, but quick). Endurance training involves hours in the saddle whilst an interval training session might typically be about 40-50 minutes.

Many people prefer to conduct their interval training on a turbo trainer or at the gym. There are good reasons for this:

  • The road is full of obstacles and other traffic. By their nature the intense peak effort will push you to your limits. At this point the body is not necessarily 100% in control and this could be dangerous.
  • Your training schedule might be telling you to put in a 100% effort for the next 30 seconds but that might not be possible if you are just coming to a junction or find yourself on a downhill. Equally you may be due a recovery period only to find yourself on a steep uphill section.
  • If it is cold and wet you can get chilled at the beginning of a training session yet rapidly overheat when the intervals kick in.

You can overcome most of this by choosing your training route carefully but, depending on your local area, it is not always easy to find ideal roads.  And what started as ideal might become inadequate as your strength and fitness improve and you are grinding out longer distances over the same interval periods.

However, if you commute to work by bike and can fit in some intervals this is a great way to sneak in some quality training.  Unless you have a shower at work it might be best to do them on the way home though.

Interval exercises

The following exercises are just examples and illustrate the broad range of interval training that you can do. Some require fairly precise timing whilst others are a little looser.  The less rigid ones are perhaps the better ones for the road and you do not have to follow them exactly. For instance, on my commute home from work I have a series of hills that enable an interval session that is roughly:

  • 15 minute warm up
  • 30s flat out
  • 90s recovery
  • 30s flat out
  • 90s recovery
  • 30s flat out
  • 3-4 minute recover (depending on traffic lights)
  • 30s flat out
  • 4 minute recovery
  • 30s flat out
  • 4 minute recovery
  • 30s flat out
  • 10 minute cool down

This is not a perfect interval training session but is more beneficial than just twiddling home.

Notes on terminology:

If you have a power meter or a heart rate monitor then a flat out effort will be at over 90% of your maximum.  If you do not have any tech then by the end of each intense effort you should be struggling for breath. You’ll soon know when you are flat out because you will not be able to push any harder.

Recovery does not mean stopping. You should continue to pedal but at a pace that will allow you to get your breathing under control and your heartrate back down before the next interval begins.

Simple sprints

  1. 20 minute warm up
  2. 15s flat out
  3. 3-4 minutes gentle recovery
  4. Repeat 2-3 x6 or until max effort drops
  5. 5 minute cool down

30 second intervals

Thirty seconds is a good interval duration for most riders.  It is long enough for you to be able to get up to your max but not so long that your effort is dwindling dramatically before the end.

  1. 10 minute warm up
  2. 30s flat out
  3. 60s gentle pedalling recovery
  4. Repeat x 4
  5. After last effort pedal easily for  4 minutes
  6. Repeat 2-5 x 2 (3 sets of 5 interval in total)
  7. 5 minute cool down

Beginners may wish to increase the recovery time between intervals to 90s and also only perform 3 sets of intervals.  As you fitness and confidence increases you can reduce the recovery time down and add in the third set.

3 minute repeats

  1. 20 minute warm up
  2. 3 minutes as hard as you can maintain for that period
  3. 3 minutes gentle recovery
  4. Repeat 2-3 x5
  5. 5 minute cool down

Descending intervals

These intervals are made up of 5 minute intense effort and recovery segments.  The effort time decreases with each interval with a balancing increase in recovery.  This allows you to go at full power for each interval even though your muscles are beginning to fatigue. Knowing the next effort is shorter is also a great help mentally.

  1. 10 minute warm up
  2. 45s flat out then 4:15 recovery
  3. 40s flat out then 4:20 recovery
  4. 35s flat out then 4:25 recovery
  5. 30s flat out then 4:30 recovery
  6. 25s flat out then 4:35 recovery
  7. 20s flat out then 4:40 recovery
  8. 15s flat out then 4:45 recovery
  9. 5 minutes cool down

2 minute hill repeats

If trying to keep track of timing and counting the number of intervals is getting you down you could try this simple but painful training session:

  1. Find a short sharp hill that will take a couple of minutes to climb.
  2. Approach the hill in a high gear, at speed, and power up the hill, trying to maintain your speed and effort all the way up. It might take you a couple of goes to get the gear right.
  3. Once at the top (or as high as you can climb at maximum effort) turn around and roll back down.
  4. Repeat x 5
  5. 10 minute cool down

As your fitness increases you may have to find a longer hill.

Kickstart your Lands End to John O’Groats planning

Land's End to John O'Groats Route Book Special Offer - image

Download FREE samples

Everything you need to know to get you started on your Lands End to John O Groats adventure is contained within these three books: a How To, a detailed account of riding the Google Map route for LEJOG and a ‘safe’ Route Book using GPX files.

Available as electronic or paperback books from as little as £2.99 each or all three for £5.98.  That’s less than an inner tube or a Costa coffee with a slice of cake.

Where to next?

The most popular pages on the site concern planning your End to End, including training for long distance cycling, thinking about the cycling equipment you will need, how to look after your bike, what you should be eating and drinking whilst cycling and how to create a route for Lands End to John O’Groats. Or you can read my own account of cycling End to End to get some idea of what to expect.

Lands End to John O'Groats Cycle Route Guide Image of Man Lifting Page

Training and Nutrition

Anyone who can ride a bike can complete a Lands End to John O’Groats cycle. However, if you are not fit enough and do not eat the right sort of things then it might take you a long time and it might not be very enjoyable.

Most people will need to do some training before cycling Lands End to John O’Groats. There are many books written about cycle training but I have tried to summarise the basics of what you might need on the training page. It includes a rudimentary 10 week end to end training plan that you can adapt to the duration of ride you intend and your current fitness level.

Equally important to your success on your end to end cycle is getting the right sort of nutrition. Again there are countless books available that can help you. I have distilled out the main things you should know about nutrition for your end to end with special attention paid to hydration during your ride. It is important to get the nutrition right early on. You need to eat and drink correctly whilst you are training to get the best out of it.

Lands End to John O'Groats Cycle Route Guide Image of Man Lifting Page

Training for Land’s End to John O’Groats Cycling

Image of Man lifting Weights for Lands End to John O'Groats Training Page

How much training do I need to do and when should I do it?

The amount of training you will need to do so that you can cycle from Lands End to John O’Groats will depend on your current fitness level and what the objectives of your ride are. If you are a regular cyclist and you intend to take a leisurely three week tour your training requirements will be somewhat less than someone who hasn’t been on a bike since they were a kid, doesn’t do much exercise and wants to complete a charity End to End in a week.

As to when – preferably before the ride!

In truth, if you are an active cyclist and you are taking a couple of weeks for the trip you might get away without any training at all, providing you are prepared to suffer a bit on the way. By active I mean that you are used to riding distances of 70 miles plus and cycle at least an average of 50 miles a week, every week.

If you are intending to take less time you will need to do some training, unless you are already pretty fit.

What sort of training should I do?

What type of Training for cycling End to End

You can use your training to improve your speed and/or your endurance.  Probably the most pertinent for an end to end cycle will be endurance but you may wish to improve your speed if, for instance, you are riding in a group and are worried about holding the rest up or you want to cover a prodigious number of miles a day and also want as long as possible to recover before you start again the next day.

The basic principle of any training is to stress the body so that it adapts to the new pressures being put on it.  There are two main factors here, firstly you have to push the body harder than you normally do in order to achieve any gains and secondly you need to give the body time to recover and rebuild itself after each stress session.  If you do not do both of these things you will not get full value out of your training.

In terms of improving your endurance you will need to concentrate on increasing the duration and frequency of your rides at a given level of effort.  To up your speed you will need to increase the intensity of your riding using intervals to push your body’s capacity to process oxygen and nutrients more rapidly and efficiently (this will also have a positive knock on effect for your endurance).

Also of importance, but often ignored by many cyclists, are off bike exercises to improve flexibility and strength.  To save you valuable time and considerable effort I have scoured the internet and tried out many exercises on your behalf and have produced a summary of both stretching exercises and strength exercises for cyclists.

Use the links below to find out more about each training discipline:

Endurance training for cycling end to end

 

Interval training for cycling end to end

 

Stretching exercises for cyclists

 

Strength exercises for cyclists

 

As a final word on training, make sure you agree your training plan with your partner, if you have one.  Remember that they will probably be taking on a lot of extra household burdens, plus possibly ferrying you around to events.  That’s not to mention having to listen to your constant barrage of moans and groans (lows) and excited speculations and hypothesizing about the ride itself (highs).Image of Man Holding Flower for Lands End to John O'Groats Training PageIf you are lucky enough to have a partner by the end of the venture a little thanks would not go amiss.

Kickstart your Lands End to John O’Groats planning

Land's End to John O'Groats Route Book Special Offer - image

Download FREE samples

Everything you need to know to get you started on your Lands End to John O Groats adventure is contained within these three books: a How To, a detailed account of riding the Google Map route for LEJOG and a ‘safe’ Route Book using GPX files.

Available as electronic or paperback books from as little as £2.99 each or all three for £5.98.  That’s less than an inner tube or a Costa coffee with a slice of cake.

Where to next?

The most popular pages on the site concern planning your End to End, including training for long distance cycling, thinking about the cycling equipment you will need, how to look after your bike, what you should be eating and drinking whilst cycling and how to create a route for Lands End to John O’Groats. Or you can read my own account of cycling End to End to get some idea of what to expect.

Lands End to John O'Groats Cycle Route Guide Image of Man Lifting Page

Hydration

LEJOG - Hydration - Image of man soaked under cloud

When out on your bike have you noticed any of the following symptoms towards the end of a ride?:

  • increased heart rate
  • increased breathing rate
  • increased body temperature
  • fatigue
  • muscle cramps
  • headache
  • nausea

I would be most surprised if you haven’t.  Most of us put this little list of common cycling ailments down simply to not being as fit as we should be.  Whilst this is probably true and will not help the situation, it is much more likely that the main cause of all or any of these symptoms is dehydration.

Your body is over 70% water.  So you can imagine that it is quite important stuff.  Unfortunately the body uses it up and leaks it out so we have to drink to top our supplies up.

There is a lot of scientific research about what happens when we become dehydrated; which are the first parts of the body to dry up and die etc..  All pretty gruesome reading.  But, without getting into the whys and wherefores, the consequences of not keeping your water tanks full (becoming dehydrated) are generally agreed as the list above.  The amount you have to become dehydrated to experience these symptoms varies from research to research but you should start to suffer from them if you are 3-5% dehydrated.  This means your water tanks are 3-5% empty.

However, research has also shown that the body’s ability to produce energy can be significantly affected by even a small drop in hydration and that this increases with each further percentage drop. When you bear in mind other research that suggests we generally operate at 1% dehydrated this means that normally we are under performing from the moment we get on our bikes. Then as the ride progresses, if we put in less liquid than we leak out, our ability to produce energy gets worse and our performance suffers. If we let our water tanks deplete to the 3-5% level we being to suffer the more severe symptoms listed above.

If you become 10% dehydrated you can expect:

  • muscle spasms
  • vomiting
  • racing pulse
  • shriveled skin
  • dim vision
  • painful urination
  • confusion
  • difficult breathing
  • chest and abdominal pain
  • seizures
  • unconsciousness

Of course if you are grinding up a 20% climb you might well have a racing pulse and difficulty breathing and arguably you must have been pretty confused to go that way in the first place. And the two bottles of red wine (lots of antioxidants) you got through last night might account for the shrivelled skin, dim vision and vomiting. So just because you have some of these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean you need hospitalization. Just be aware. Especially if you consider that if you become more than 10% dehydrated you might die.

Lands End to John O'Groats Hydration - Dehydration symptoms

Now, that is all very good, but you do not actually have water tanks with handy gauges to tell you how full of water you are, so how can you tell? The most obvious indicator the body has for dehydration is thirst. Unfortunately the consensus of scientific opinion seems to be that you are already 2-3% dehydrated before you feel thirsty. So if you wait until you are thirsty you are already substantially under performing and getting close to the first list of symptoms.

Another indicator is the colour of your wee. 

 

When fully hydrated it should be the colour of pale straw (nice subjective term for you to argue over with your riding companions – “Does this look like pale straw to you?”). The point is, your body starts to regulate water when the level in the tanks starts to go down. Less is leaked out in your urine so it becomes darker in colour. If you notice it becoming darker during a ride you need to start drinking more. Of course it is not always that easy. On long rides I ride with one bottle of energy drink and one of water with an isotonic tablet in it that contains various vitamins and minerals. The side effect of the tablet is that my wee becomes bright, luminous yellow, which is great fun for weeing in the dark but not so good for judging my hydration levels.

LEJOG Hydration - Image of Man needing a Wee

So, it is always best to know your own body and to have some idea of how dehydrated you are getting whilst riding over various distances. I know I am normally good at keeping topped up over shorter rides but I lose discipline on longer ones. To judge your hydration levels weigh yourself before and immediately after a ride. Any weight you have lost in kilos is equivalent to fluid loss in litres (roughly 1lb loss = 1 pint). So if you have lost 2 kg you have used up 2 litres from your tanks. This needs to be replaced at 1½ x the fluid loss so you will need to drink 3 litres of water to fill your tanks. And also means you should have drunk this much more on your ride. If you have gained weight during your ride you should consider spending less time on the pub break next time.

Also take into consideration the temperature and riding conditions. You will need to drink much more in hot sunny conditions than in cold wet ones. And a flat route will probably result in less liquids leaking out of you than a hilly one.

Lands End to John O'Groats Hydration - Sports Drink Concentration Image

Even so, most of your fluid loss will be due to sweat. This means that your body will be losing vital salts as well. Make sure that these are replaced. The easiest way to do this is with isotonic drinks and gels or with isotonic tablets added to your water bottles.  Failing that salted crisps are a good thing to have as a back up.  They also provide a welcome carbohydrate boost and are usually quite palatable, especially if you have been relying on sweet stick stuff all day.So the answer is to know your body and drink, preferably little and often. And if you get thirsty you have not drunk enough and you need to immediately increase your intake.

Kickstart your Lands End to John O’Groats planning

Land's End to John O'Groats Route Book Special Offer - image

Download FREE samples

Everything you need to know to get you started on your Lands End to John O Groats adventure is contained within these three books: a How To, a detailed account of riding the Google Map route for LEJOG and a ‘safe’ Route Book using GPX files.

Available as electronic or paperback books from as little as £2.99 each or all three for £5.98.  That’s less than an inner tube or a Costa coffee with a slice of cake.

Where to next?

The most popular pages on the site concern planning your End to End, including training for long distance cycling, thinking about the cycling equipment you will need, how to look after your bike, what you should be eating and drinking whilst cycling and how to create a route for Lands End to John O’Groats. Or you can read my own account of cycling End to End to get some idea of what to expect.


Lands End to John O'Groats Cycle Route Guide Image of Man Lifting Page

Nutrition

Image of man sitting at table for LEJOG - Nutrition

I am not a nutritional expert but I have researched the subject in depth.  What follows is a summary of much reading on the matter and hopefully distills the relevant points without getting too deep into the science.

I am going to say this at the very beginning and remind you again at the end of this section:

Getting your nutrition right during training and on your trip will give you greater benefits than anything else you can do to prepare for the ride.


On a fundamental level this means making sure you consume the right amounts of food and drink at the right times.
  On a higher level it means eating and drinking the right things.

I have separated hydration out as a category in its own right because it is so important.

Your body needs fuel.  More precisely it needs the energy contained in the fuel.  The proper unit of measure for this energy is a kilo-joule but a more commonly known unit is a calorie, expressed as cal or kcal.  There are 4.2 kilo-joules in a calorie.

The estimated average daily energy requirement for a normally active woman is 2,000 kcal or 2,500 for a man.  These are figures for ‘average’ people and will vary depending on your size but can be used as good ball park figures.

Your body stores energy in the form of fat and as glycogen in the muscles and liver.  The glycogen store, when fully topped up, equates to about 2,000 calories.  The amount stored as fat varies from person to person but for most of us it is too much!  The energy in fat is not as easily accessible as that stored as glycogen and to optimize energy release from your fat stores you need to be exercising at fairly low levels of intensity.

When exercising your body requires more energy.  It will obtain this energy from the most available source, which is food being processed by the stomach.  If this is insufficient it will then deplete the glycogen supplies and then move on to either fat or protein (produced by breaking down muscle mass), depending on how much effort is being expended and how rapidly the energy is needed.  Okay, it’s not actually that simple but that linear view will be sufficient for our purposes: we’re not top flight athletes.

The amount of additional energy you need will depend on the amount of effort you are putting in.  On a fairly gentle recovery ride you might need an extra 3-400 calories per hour of riding.  If you are powering along at maximum speed in hilly terrain the figure could be more like 800-1,000 per hour.  Personally I don’t get too scientific about it and work on an average of 600 calories per hour.  So if I ride for 5 hours I would need an extra 3,000 calories.  This means that in total I should consume 5,500 in the day.

If I ate my normal 2,500 calories and let my body use up its entire 2,000 calories glycogen store (not wise – see box on Bonking on the Bike) I would still be 1,000 calories short.  This could come from fat but if I am working hard it is much more likely to be extracted by breaking down the protein in my muscle.  If I don’t put any protein and energy back in, the net result is I am exhausted and my muscles are weaker than if I hadn’t exercised in the first place.

So I need to put in lots of calories.  In the above example more than twice as many as I would on a normal, non-cycling day.  And ideally I should keep my glycogen supplies topped up as much as possible throughout the ride.

Where do the calories come from?  Well, from what we eat.  More specifically from:

Carbohydrates

100g

400 kcal

Protein

100g

400 kcal

Fat

100g

900 kcal

Alcohol

100g

700 kcal

Good news!  That liquid lunch break at the pub is a brilliant way of topping up the glycogen supplies.

LEJOG - Nutrition - Image of Men Chinking Beer Glasses

Sadly not.

Although alcohol contains a lot of energy per gram and is rapidly absorbed by the body, the available evidence suggests these Calories are not used significantly during exercise.

And unfortunately there are also negative effects:

  • it is a diuretic and contributes to dehydration
  • it slows down glycogen production and release from the liver so energy is slow to get to the muscles and the stores are not topped up quickly enough
  • it can make you wobbly!

In fact studies have shown that cycling after taking alcohol requires more energy, produces a higher heart rate, and stimulates a higher cardiovascular demand.  And you fall off a lot.

Lands End to John O'Groats Nutrition - Bonking on the Bike image

So what should I eat?

Having read all around the subject and found vastly conflicting views, it seems to me that the answer to good nutrition whilst training is not really any different to good nutrition when you are not training.  You should eat a well balanced diet combining carbohydrates (about 60%), protein (about 15%) and fat (about 25%) [and maybe a little alcohol].  You will need to eat more of it though to replenish the extra energy you are using.

Image of What to eat riding LEJOG - bowl of sweets for Lands End to John O'Groats - Nutrition

Carbohydrates – 60%

Carbohydrates are the cyclists main source of energy.  They are basically either simple carbohydrates which the body can break down and utilise very quickly or complex ones that take a little longer.  Put another way, some get used up very quickly and others are slow burners.

A useful tool is the Glycemic Index.  This gives a ranking of carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100 according to the extent to which they raise blood sugar levels after eating.   The higher the GI a food has, the more rapidly digested and absorbed its energy is.  I have included a table of some common food types but if you want to find the GI value of other foods visit http://www.glycemicindex.com/ which has an extensive database.  Most people are surprised at the GI value of some foods the first time they come across them.  For instance grapefruits, which are sweet and sugary are low GI and white rice, viewed by many as a bulk slow burner, is one of the highest GI foods going.

Image of bread for Lands End to John O'Groats - What to eat riding LEJOG

In general we should eat foods with low GI values to help maintain a steady blood sugar level.  However, whilst on the bike we might need to use high GI food to provide a quick boost, especially if close to bonking.  Personally, if I am going on a long ride I try to pack in some low GI foods before I start and then keep up a regular supply of medium/high GI foods interspersed with low GI foods whilst on the move.  After the ride pack in more low GI foods to provide sustained energy for recovery. 

 

Glycemic Index (0-100)

Low GI Foods

Medium GI Food

High GI Foods

Peanuts

14

Boiled potatoes

56

Mashed potato

70

Grapefruit

25

Sultanas

56

White bread

70

Red lentils

26

Pitta bread

57

Watermelon

72

Whole milk

27

Basmati Rice

58

Swede

72

Dried apricots

31

Honey

58

Bagel

72

Skimmed milk

32

Digestive biscuit

59

Branflakes

74

Low-fat fruit yoghurt

33

New potatoes

62

Cheerios

74

Wholemeal spaghetti

37

Coca cola

63

French fries

75

Apples

38

Raisins

64

Coco Pops

77

Noodles

40

Shortbread biscuit

64

Jelly beans

80

White spaghetti

41

Couscous

65

Rice cakes

82

All Bran

42

Rye bread

65

Rice Krispies

82

Peaches

42

Pineapple, fresh

66

Cornflakes

84

Porridge made with water

42

Croissant

67

Jacket potato

85

Baked beans in tomato sauce

48

Shredded wheat

67

Puffed wheat

89

Milk chocolate

49

Mars bar

68

Baguette

95

Stoneground wholemeal bread

53

Ryvita

69

Parsnips, boiled

97

Crisps

54

Weetabix

69

White rice, steamed

98

Banana

55

Wholemeal bread

69

Glucose

100

Fat – 25%

Image of Chips for Lands End to John O'Groats - What to eat riding LEJOG

Fat has long been labelled as an evil in dietary terms but it is an essential part of our nutritional needs.  A lack of fat in the diet can adversely affect blood pressure and blood clotting, inhibit the body’s ability to control inflammation and lead to low energy levels and poor recovery from exercise.

Fats come in three varieties:

  • Saturated – If any fats are ‘evil’ then these are they.  These major contributors to heart disease have no known positive benefits for sporting performance or even health generally.  Typically these fats are animal based, such as cheese and butter, and are widely used in processed foods.  Of course most of us find them to be the tastiest fats as well.
  • Monounsaturated – Generally monounsaturated fats are widely believed to be the healthiest of all the fats.   They are said to help reduce the bad form of cholesterol in the body and to increase the amount of good cholesterol.  Sources of monounsaturated fats include nuts, seeds, avocados, olives and oils made from these products.
  • Polyunsaturated – These contain ‘essential fatty acids’ which the body cannot produce by itself and have to come from food.  Whilst they can also reduce the harmful kind of cholesterol in the body they can also reduce the good cholesterol so need to be balanced with monounsaturated fats.  Good sources of polyunsaturated fats are vegetable oils and oily fish.

Protein – 15%

Image of Chicken for Lands End to John O'Groats - What to eat riding LEJOG

The major consideration for a long distance cyclist is that protein’s role in maintaining and replacing the tissues in your body.  Your muscles, organs and many of your hormones are made up of protein, and it is also used in the manufacture of hemoglobin, the red blood cells that carry oxygen to your body. Protein is also used to manufacture antibodies that fight infection and disease and is integral to your body’s blood clotting ability.

So you need protein to help your muscles repair after you have been punishing them all day, to maintain your red blood cell count so you don’t need a transfusion every evening, to help fight off illness and to make sure you don’t bleed to death from minor road rash.

Good sources of protein include:

  • Meat – e.g. beef, poultry, pork and lamb
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Dairy products – e.g. cheese, yogurt and milk
  • Eggs
  • Beans, peas, oats and legumes
  • Tofu and soy products
  • Nuts and seeds

For post ride recovery try a yoghurt after a short ride or a milkshake after a longer effort. It can be worth trying a carbohydrate and protein recovery drink after an all day effort to maximise recovery before the next day.  On my JOGLE I tried to make sure I drank a whey protein drink as soon after the end of each day’s ride as possible.

 

There is also evidence to suggest that protein can help the body in the processing of glycogen and that consuming protein and carbohydrate in a ration of 1:4 optimises the absorption rate.  You can buy sports drinks made up in this proportion.  Personally I find them heavy on my stomach but replicated the effect on my JOGLE by  eating half a protein bar about every couple of hours.

Micro Nutrients and Vitamins

Image of Brocolli - Lands End to John O'Groats - What to eat riding LEJOG

Whilst carbohydrates, proteins and fats provide the body with fuel (as well as other things) it also needs a variety of other things in order to function properly.  These are broadly termed micronutrients and include things like vitamins, minerals and enzymes.  The body needs these to maintain the body’s immune and hormone system (you’ll need some adrenaline to get you up those hills), to repair body tissues and to control nerve and muscle function and fluid levels.

The best way to make sure you are getting the micro nutrients you need is to eat your ‘five a day’ fruit and vegetable portions.  Although, when you are training hard and using twice as much energy as usual, you will also need to up your micro nutrients.  So you may have to eat ten a day.  [Please note that whilst wine is made from grapes it does not count as one of your five a day.  Nor does cider.  Or any other alcoholic beverage.]

You should strive to maintain the balance of 60/15/25 (or so) at each meal to provide the body with a steady stream of all the things it needs.  Of course this is not always particularly easy when you are on the road for possibly 12 hours or more a day.  Even if you stop for proper meals you will still need to maintain a steady supply between stops if you do not want to suffer from peaks and troughs in performance.  Which is why most professional endurance cyclists use a predominantly sports drink. energy bar and energy gel diet when in competition.

How much do I need to eat?

Finally I would like to point out is just how much you will have to eat on your ride.  Actually that’s not true, I don’t know how long you are intending to cycle every day or how fast you intend to ride or how hilly your route is or how big you are etc..  The point is it may be more than you think. 

To illustrate, this is how I estimated my calorie intake.  I worked on an average calories consumption of 600 kcal per hour (I was between 70 and 75 kg during my ride).  Each day I was intending to travel approximately 150 miles spending about 12 hours in the saddle.  So 12 x 600 = 7,200 kcal.  Say 8,000 kcal per day because I would be burning some energy in the other 12 hours of the day.

To put this in context the consumption of an average man should be about 2,500 kcal per day or 2,000 for a lady.

Food

Serving

Kcal

Potato Baked, Flesh & Skin

1 Med/180g 245

Banana Fresh

1 Med/150g 143

Apricots, Dried

1 Serving/50g 83

Pear

1 Med/170g 68

Orange

1 Med/160g 59

Apple

1 Med/112g 53

Pasta – white

100g (uncooked) 357

Rice – long grain

100g (uncooked) 358

Bread – multi grain

100g 250

Chicken – roasted

100g 128

Pork sausage

One link 48

Heinz Baked Beans

can 540g 396

You can see from the table of calories contained in some basic food item that to consume 8,000 kcal I would have to eat 32 baked potatoes or 56 bananas or 20 large cans of beans or 166 pork sausages (!) each day to replenish my energy supplies.

Unless I wanted to spend a huge amount of time off the bike in café’s etc.. I would have to find a way to eat the bulk of this on the move.  I tried stuffing my pockets with 32 baked potatoes but they didn’t fit [not really] and I would look ridiculous with a string of 166 sausages looped round and round my shoulders [that is true] so I had to find something which packed the calories into a smaller package.  For me it was energy bars, cereal bars, protein bars and energy drinks supplemented with bacon sandwiches, pasties, pot noodles and multi vitamins.  Not to everyone’s taste but it worked for me!

Here is a list of what I worked out I would need to eat each day: 

 

Quantity

Calories

Energy bars

6

1284

Protein bars

4

940

Energy Gels

3

460

Energy gels with Caffeine

3

460

Recovery Drink

1 litre

1373

Energy Drink

6 litres

1555

Cereal Bars

6

900

Pot Noodle

1

250

Oat Biscuits

100g

430

Bacon Sandwich

 

500

Total

 

8152

Please note that this is not the world’s best diet!  It is lacking in many ways but was based on the fact that I only needed to maintain it for six days.  In those six days my main concerns were energy and muscle recovery.  My diet during my training period was based on the balanced diet discussed above [vaguely].

Lands End to John O'Groats Nutrition image for Mystery Superfood

Of course everyone likes different things to eat and drink, some are restricted in diet medically or through belief and we all have different approaches as to how we want to eat whilst on a ride.  Many people like to make regular stops to eat and drink and it becomes an integral part of the ride, a chance to have a break from pedaling and to socialise for a while (especially if riding solo).  Others, like me, pack our pockets and chaff at every stop or slight detour from our route to have to deal with the tedious task of loading up with food and liquid again.

Whatever your preferences you will need to think about the logistics of nutrition.  In some areas there can be long stretches between places to eat.  If you are riding a route using major roads these bypass most towns and you can ride for hours without passing any shops or even services on the road.  Equally, in 2013 and in 2014 I rode LEJOG on very minor roads, canal paths and cycle ways and also found very few shops.

So you have to balance how much you can carry and how much you can buy en route each day.  My strategy had one major flaw – where could I buy sports energy bars, drinks and protein supplements en route everyday?  I certainly couldn’t carry them all with me and even if I could I’d have to get them to John O’Groats and the start line.  My solution was to post each day’s supplies to myself.  I had pre-booked B&Bs so arranged for the owners to received a ‘red cross’ parcel with all my supplies of the next day at each destination.  As long as the parcels arrived I would be ok.  It also gave me an added incentive to complete my mileage everyday. [As it happened I found it very difficult to eat everything so ended up carrying an increasing weight of surplus food because I was too tight to throw it away.  I got really hungry on day four though and ate most of it!]

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Top tips

  • eat little and often.  Set a timer to remind you to eat if necessary.  Eat even if you are not hungry – you have a lot of calories to consume!
  • listen to your body.  If it starts craving bacon its probably after protein, if its chocolate you need carb energy fast.  Get a sugary fix AND eat some slower burners otherwise you will ‘crash’ again quickly.
  • on long rides consume carbs and protein in a 4:1 ration.  This will aid energy levels and boost recovery.
  • caffeine can help your concentration levels towards the end of a long ride but don’t overdo it.  Carry emergency caffeine gels.
  • things can taste sweeter towards the end of a long ride so if you are using energy drinks dilute them a little more as the day progresses.

Final Word on Nutrition

I know I have wittered on about nutrition but that is because it is so important, especially on a tour of several days or more.  My personal opinion is that getting your eating and drinking right will have a greater impact on how you feel and perform on your end-to-end than getting your training right will. 

Of course eating and drinking right doesn’t mean you don’t have to do the training.  Sorry.  But if you can get the eating and drinking right during your training as well, you will get much more out of it.  Firstly it won’t be as painful, secondly you will recover from each training ride more rapidly and thirdly, your fitness will improve more quickly. Finally I would point out that training when dehydrated and with low energy levels can be a wasted effort or even detrimental.  I know riders who pride themselves on being able to complete a 100 mile ride on one 500ml water bottle and a lick of a flapjack wrapper.  I can’t help thinking how much better they would feel and how much fitter they would become if they weren’t so hard.

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Where to next?

The most popular pages on the site concern planning your End to End, including training for long distance cycling, thinking about the cycling equipment you will need, how to look after your bike, what you should be eating and drinking whilst cycling and how to create a route for Lands End to John O’Groats. Or you can read my own account of cycling End to End to get some idea of what to expect.

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