The next question in our series of 'Ask Nigel Mitchell' looks at how the Cannondale Drapac Pro Cycling Team tackle the issue of sleep. A hugely important factor for any athlete, but particularly during stage races when maximum recovery is crucial.

What are your top tips on using nutrition to aid sleep?

We do quite a lot of work around the sleep environment, and with a lot of pro teams now, a lot of them are using these mobile bed room set ups, so they will transport from hotel to hotel the same mattress for the riders, this is something I was involved in instigating about 7-8 years ago with British Cycling. The reason is, sleep quality really improves when you have that familiar environment. Light pollution can also have big impact on sleep so little things in the rooms such as the standby light on a TV or a charger emitting light can be an issue. So getting the room as darks as possible is important by covering these lights. You know yourself if it affects you because if you are someone that tends to wake up in the middle of the night, if it is the first thing that you see when you wake up, then that is probably contributing to you waking up. Obviously there are other things affecting sleep as well such as exposure to the light of a computer monitor, phone or tablet.

In terms of nutrition, caffeine for some people can be a problem. For some people having caffeine after 3pm can affect not only the ability to get off to sleep but the quality of sleep too. What we do is we do not give riders on an evening or afternoon caffeinated coffee. Riders are often highly charge with caffeine gels so this can have a really negative affect. I have tried to look for caffeine antidote and I can’t find anything. So avoiding caffeine is an important one.

There are things that can help us to relax and sleep better. Heard the old wives tale of camomile tea? A lot of people find having a cup for before bed can help to relax them. I also advise to have spoonful of honey in that as it helps to restore liver glycogen and maintain even blood glucose through the night. Some casein containing protein on a night, so things like yogurt, milk, cottage cheese, can be beneficial. Try something like some natural yogurt with a spoonful of honey on a night. The protein content can again help to support sleep and recovery throughout the night. Other things to consider are things like temperature, so having a cooler room can help us sleep better too. So the factors for sleep are really multifactorial and nutrition plays a small but important part to this.

Going to bed on a full stomach can affect the quality of sleep as the body is working to digest it. As we are digesting food it increases our core temperature so that can affect our ability to sleep. The problem the pro’s have in the Tour de France is that quite often they are not actually getting their evening meal until 9-10pm due to transfers, so what we tend to do is feed them really well straight after the stage, so on an evening it can be a lighter meal.

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