As a coach, one of the points I want my cyclists to understand is that all cycling performance flows from three primary elements: training, nutrition and recovery. You cannot be a successful cyclist unless you master all three.
1. Training. The most obvious element of cycling performance is training. You cannot improve your performance as a cyclist if you do not engage in some type of training program. There have been many books, articles and magazines written on effective training for cyclists and most of these can be helpful, depending on your experience level and goals. However, the simplest way to think about training is through the F.I.T.T. model, which stands for Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type. Frequency is the number of times you cycle each week. One of the first decisions you must make is how often you want to ride. This will be based on several variables including the time you have available to ride and your goals as a cyclist.
Intensity is a measure of how hard you work during a given cycling session. Time is the length of the cycling session such as 60 minutes or 20 miles. Generally speaking, there is an inverse relationship between intensity and time. The harder you work in a given workout (e.g., the higher your heart rate), the shorter the session and vice-versa. The key to successful cycling training is to consistently balance intensity and time in a way that facilitates improved performance. Type refers to the kind of exercise you will do during a workout (e.g., cycling, hill training, interval workout, strength training). To optimize the training effect (i.e., the performance benefits you derive from your training regimen), you have to make decisions about how to best apply each of the components of the F.I.T.T. model based on your goals as a cyclist.
2. Nutrition. To maximize your performance as a cyclist, you need to engage in effective nutritional practices. Good nutrition provides at least 3 benefits. First, and most obviously, it will enhance your cycling performance by providing you with the energy you need to complete your cycling workouts and events such as races and tours. Second, good nutrition will facilitate the recovery process. The difference between feeling great during a workout and feeling like your legs are about to fall off may come down to effective nutritional practices. Finally, good nutrition allows you to have a fit and healthful life beyond cycling.
3. Recovery. Recovery may be the most overlooked element of cycling performance. It may also be the most important. Simply stated, you don’t improve as a cyclist because you train hard. You improve because you rest hard. OK, you have to do both, but the physiological adaptation process that leads to improved performance occurs during rest, not during training. This happens because of the body’s desire to maintain an internal equilibrium known as homeostasis. For example, after a hard workout, you may feel extremely fatigued and sore because your body is not used to the physical stress it experienced during that workout. During recovery and rest, the body undergoes physiological adaptations that make it stronger.
The next time you perform that workout, it feels much easier because of these adaptations. The key is to allow for adequate recovery from that initial hard workout. This is the essence of progressive overload and training for performance. You work hard, get adequate rest so your body can recover and get stronger, and then frequency, intensity and duration can be gradually increased. Your primary goal as a cyclist is to create a training program that pushes you to your limits, and then allows for adequate rest and recovery so your performance can improve. Always remember, hard work without adequate recovery is a recipe for overtraining, which will have an extremely negative impact on your cycling performance.