The Fight Against Under-Fuelling: Cycling’s Secret Epidemic...

The Fight Against Under-Fuelling: Cycling’s Secret Epidemic...

Jul 2022
The Fight Against Under-Fuelling: Cycling’s Secret Epidemic...

Most cyclists know that, in order to get the most out of their training and competition performances, they need to fuel their body correctly. Unfortunately this knowledge is not translating itself into practice. Instead, many riders throughout the ranks, all the way from amateur to elite, suffer in silence as they push weaker watts than what their body is actually capable of through the pedals. 

How bad is this problem? 

A recent study showed that 88% of athletes are under-fuelling and that more than 1 in 4 males are significantly under-fuelling themselves and suffering the consequences of RED-S (relative energy deficiency in sport). The numbers unfortunately get even worse in female populations with more than 1 in 3 suffering a similar fate and as high as 39% of females losing their menstrual cycle as a result.

What is RED-S?

Now, if RED-S is a new term to you it refers to the impaired physiological functioning of your body caused by under-fuelling. In a nutshell it is how your body responds to you chronically mismatching your energy intake and energy expenditure. As I’m sure you can imagine, the implications on health and performance are not pretty. 

Below are some of the performance problems those getting their fuelling wrong may suffer from:

  • Decreased endurance performance
  • Decreased muscle strength
  • Increased injury risk
  • Decreased training response
  • Impaired judgment
  • Poor concentration
  • Decreased coordination
  • Decreased glycogen stores

As if the list wasn’t scary enough it does extend to include impacts on mood such as increases in irritability and probably worse of all depression. 

Despite the negative news above, the aim of this article is not to present a story of doom and gloom for cyclists. Instead we want to shed some light on, and help you recognise, what the most common causes of this problem are so you may be able to help yourself, a family member or a friend if they may be at risk of chronically under-fuelling because early detection is crucial to improve performance and prevent long term health consequences.

The reasons athletes are under-fuelling

There are, generally speaking, two primary underpinning factors related to under-fuelling and that sometimes these mistakes are made completely unintentionally. The first scenario that may trigger a mismatch between your energy intake and energy expenditure could be changes to your training or competition schedule. For example, you may be going through a particularly tough block of training or competition where the volume of your workouts and/or the intensity of these workouts have increased. These changes in training and competition demands would drive up your body’s energy expenditure and if you have altered your intake to accommodate for all of this additional workload you could find yourself in trouble. This is also why at hexis we ensure we capture the type, intensity and duration of your workouts when you add them to the platform. With this information we can provide detailed daily fuel plans for any workout scenario.

The second situation that could leave you short comes from well-meaning but misguided weight management practices. Unfortunately, some of the misinformation combined with oversimplified messaging on social media only makes matters worse, especially when that content wasn't designed for people who want to perform. This misinformation could lead to a downward spiral into Metabolic Compensation, where the body tries to compensate for a lack of fuel by slowing its metabolic rate. This compensation decreases the body's ability to burn fat, which often leads to further under-fuelling as athletes grow frustrated with their lack of progress. Fortunately, at hexis, we are happy to only share evidence-based information with you and fill in the blanks the influencers left out. To start, when it comes to weight loss, yes, a calorie deficit is essential, HOWEVER the size of that deficit and how you get into it matters a lot when it comes to your health and performance.

For example, a bad but common approach to weight loss is setting yourself static daily calorie and macronutrient targets to help control your intake. What this approach fails to take into account is that, depending on your training, you may be expending significantly more energy on one day of the week when compared to the next. This is why having adaptive Kcals and Macros is essential, the adaptive daily Kcals and Macros feature on the hexis platform ensures your daily targets are adjusted to avoid excessively large deficits so you can meet your bodyweight goals in a safe way whilst still enhancing your performance goals. 

Now let’s talk about timing. Your body’s endocrine (hormonal) responses act on real time changes in energy intake and expenditure so how you distribute your energy throughout the day also plays an important role in keeping you healthy and reducing stress on your body. Hexis will soon launch our Live Energy which will help you understand your body’s energy journey in real-time. If you want early access, be an early adopter and sign up now.

Never under-fuel again.

If you want to achieve your body composition and workout goals without the worry of under-fuelling hexis has you covered. Discover how hexis provides you with a unique and adaptable fuelling plan every day check out our features page, or sign up now.

Dr. Sam Impey

Performance Scientist

1 line bio and interests/awards/achievements



Dr. Sam Impey