With cycling fast gaining popularity as a form of sport and recreation in Singapore in recent years, it is common for cycling enthusiasts to participate in events such as the OCBC Cycle Singapore and even overseas cycling events in neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia. However, embarking on a long-distance cycling event may be daunting, especially for beginner cyclists. Having the right preparation and training for such events is crucial to reduce the risk of injury and knowing how and what to eat before, during and after the ride is important as well.

In our email interview with the kind folks at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), we sought advice from two healthcare professionals, Dr Jason Chia, Head of Sports Medicine & Surgery Clinic & Ms Rachel Ling Yun, Dietitian, Dept of Nutrition and Dietetics who gave useful tips on how to make the best out of our cycling routines.

What are some common issues/injuries that long distance cyclists experience? Correspondingly, what kind of treatment or recovery steps do you recommend? 

Dr Chia: I assume we are speaking of musculoskeletal issues. Back and neck ache are common complains amongst long distance cyclists. The cause of the pain varies and often is due to fatigue in the muscles in the lower back. Others may have underlying problems of their spine e.g. disc degeneration and the cycling is an aggravating factor. Hence there is no one size fits all solution either.

Progressive increase in training load allows the back muscles time to adapt to training and core strengthening helps to train the muscles that stabilise the lower spine. Symptomatically, stretches to the back and hamstring might help to relieve some of the soreness from riding and cyclists often strengthen the leg muscles which act in concert with the back muscles for propulsion. Other considerations include the fitting of the bike. Symptoms of the knee are also common including anterior knee pain and lateral knee pain due to iliotibial band friction syndrome.

Above: Riding in groups is fun and there is safety in numbers, not to mention learning from more experienced riders. Photo: TTSH Charity Ride 2012

What kind of advice would you give to a cyclist who is about to begin long distance cycling/training? 

Dr Chia: Consider joining a riding group. Apart from the fun of riding in a group, there is also the factor of safety in numbers.

Bike fit is very important but very individual-specific. Allow time for adjustments to find the most comfortable fit.

Ease in to increase in riding distance as the body takes time to adapt to the increasing distance but also to sitting on a bike seat for long periods.

Always have a backup plan when riding alone: someone should know your route and when to expect you back.

Sun and eye protection (especially for those riding in the day) and helmets are important safety equipment as well.

It’s important what we eat before, during and after a long distance ride. Photo: comocyco.com

Any tips on nutrition and hydration for long distance cycling?

Ms Ling: Long distance cycling requires strength and endurance. The long duration of the event require the cyclists to consume high energy diet, particularly carbohydrate for muscle fuel stores (glycogen) as well as adequate hydration. Along with high carbohydrate diet, a good quality diet with a wide range of foods from across food groups will also help to provide necessary protein, vitamins and minerals for good performance during the event.

Pre-event meal and snack are important for topping up energy stores during the event. If time allows, consume a carbohydrate rich meal 2-3 hours prior to the event. In the case of a very early start, opt for a larger supper the night before and a lighter snack or fluids 1-2 hours before the event. Choose high carbohydrate, low fat foods that are familiar and well tolerated. Examples are cereal bar, fruits, low fat yoghurt and sports drink. Begin the race well hydrated by drinking regularly throughout the day leading up to the event.

During the event itself, it is advisable that cyclists carry food and drinks on their bikes. Easily digested carbohydrate-rich foods should be consumed to prevent fatigue secondary to glycogen depletion. Examples of these foods are bananas, cereal bars and sports bars. Alternatively, sports drinks are a great choice – providing both carbohydrate and fluid. In hot conditions, additional fluid such as water is necessary. For fluid intake, adopt a pattern of drinking small volumes regularly rather than trying to drink large volumes in one go. It is also important to take the opportunity to stop for refills to ensure adequate hydration.
A good recovery requires ingestion of fluid and carbohydrate immediately after the event. Sports drinks can be an easy way to do this. Alternatively, low fat yoghurt and milk-based drinks are good choices of providing additional protein and other nutrients. Soon after, follow up with a carbohydrate-rich food such as rice, pasta or bread combined with leans protein sources (meat, fish, poultry) to replenish fuel stores and help repair muscle damage.

Thank you Dr Chia and Ms Ling for the practical tips for injury prevention and nutrition for long distance cycling!
For those who are still keen to sign up for the TTSH Charity Ride 2013, it’s not too late to register!
Please visit https://www.ttsh.com.sg/charityride2013/ for more details.