NUTRITION FOR CYCLING

Shaun George BOTS Guides

While riding, the average person is burning anywhere from 350-800 Cals depending on the pace and intensity. This means that your body is firing on all pistons and you should fuel up adequately. As you begin upping the distances you ride, nutrition starts to play a bigger and bigger role in ensuring a comfortable ride.

Rider nutritin and hydration during a rdie

It’s crucial to replace lost electrolytes and take in the right nutrients to refuel during and after a ride. This means knowing what to eat, how much to eat, and when to eat. We’re going to guide you through just that! Everything a cyclist needs in terms of nutrition. Whether that’s energy gels and bars or electrolyte drinks and protein supplement stacks that work.

RIDER NUTRITION TIPS

1. CALORIFIC INTAKE

If you’ve taken up cycling you need to immediately increase your daily calorific intake to match your output. This doesn’t mean you should go overboard with your indulgence. Stick to healthier options and don’t go above your calorific expenditure. Basically, don’t eat more than you can burn – it’ll just make you feel sluggish and heavy.

Energy bars are super energy reviving

Eat smaller portions but eat more frequently, this way you’ll keep your cravings at bay. How much do I eat? A good way to estimate your additional calorie requirement need is to multiply the distance traveled by 40-50 calories. Therefore, if you’ve been out for a 50km ride you can estimate an extra calorie need of between 2,000 – 2,500 calories. Make minor adjustments to this requirement as per your pace of riding and how you are built.

Post the ride, if you’re seeking a little weight loss, then aim to leave a shortfall in calories replaced. This is to create a deficit that will encourage some fat loss. Don’t overdo this deficit though, limit it to around 250 calories a day maximum if you want to continue to ride strong.

2. CARBS, CARBS, AND MORE CARBS!

Carbohydrates are the body’s primary energy source for cycling. Stored in the muscle, any excess in total intake above the body’s calorie needs will be stored as fat – so don’t overload.

It’s easier than you think to overload on carbs. The average person can process, only about one gram of carbohydrate per minute. Your intestines can transport glucose from the food you eat into your bloodstream only so fast – dumping more carbohydrates into your stomach doesn’t increase the absorption rate, but rather an upset stomach.

A practical way to eat enough carbohydrates to support your riding is by avoiding large servings. Instead, eat a fist-sized portion of a low-glycaemic carbohydrate such as “slow-burn” carbs (whole grains, fruit, vegetables) with each meal or snack.

3. PROTEIN IS YOUR FRIEND

Protein-rich foods have always been associated with buff, gyms going guys. It’s been something that’s been considered more or less irrelevant to cyclists. Getting adequate amounts of protein into your diet will support immune function and recovery. Responsible for tissue maintenance in the body. Protein helps repair the muscles you “damage” while out riding or training.

The inclusion of beans and pulses in your diet along with lean meats, fish, and low-fat dairy foods can help you meet your protein requirement. Similar to carbs, keep your portion intakes to a minimum but increase the frequency.

4. VITAMINS AND MINERALS

Vitamins and minerals are essential for a rider’s everyday diet. Water-soluble vitamins are not stored in the body and therefore are needed in the diet every day. Minerals such as calcium, iron, and zinc are also needed daily, but only in very small quantities. High water intake of about 2-5 Ltrs should be maintained especially during and post-ride.

High intake of fruits and vegetables is essential in the daily achievement of the essential vitamins and minerals along with sufficient fiber intake. A good multivitamin such as the Steadfast Nutrition Multivitamin is a good idea to consume to meet your daily multivitamin requirements.

5. DRINK UP!

It’s a fact, not well know, but a fact nonetheless that most of us are actually under-hydrated even before we start our ride. Even if you don’t have a ride planned anytime soon, keep chugging glass after glass of water on a regular basis.

Drinking enough fluid will not only support better riding but will result in better energy levels while you’re riding. In addition to drinking 1.5-2 liters of water across the day, cyclists should ideally be drinking additional fluid to match the loss of fluids during riding.

Peter Weening on stage two of the 2015 Tour of Italy

Dehydration can cause severe bonking and some pretty nasty muscle cramps on a ride. You will also notice a significant reduction in performance, it’s worth paying attention to this statistic. It’s such a small step, but it will make a huge difference in the long run.


FUELING SHORT RIDES

Duration: 45 mins – 1 hr

On short duration rides, it’s most likely that your pace is going to be slightly higher than on a longer ride. Here you just need to ensure sufficient hydration since it’s a short ride – eat a banana before the ride and carry a water bottle.

For optimal recovery, eat a full meal within an hour of finishing an intense workout.

FUELING LONG RIDES

Duration: 3 hrs or more

On long rides, you will want to carry a minimum of two water bottles, one with some electrolyte solution and another with good ol water.

For nutrition you will want 30 to 60g of carbs per hour. Digestion can get harder as rides get longer, so eat more solids at the beginning of the ride, and switch to gels and other easily-digested foods during the final part of the ride. Just be sure to drink plenty of fluid to chase down gels, so you don’t get an upset stomach.
Supplement bars and gels that are carb-rich are good to consume during the ride – just eat what tastes good so you keep eating.

COMMONELY USED RIDER SUPPLEMENTS

During long-ish rides, muscle fibers break down, especially if you’re on an intense ride. Post the ride, you get stronger when the muscles rebuild, and ingesting protein helps to facilitate what is known as muscle protein synthesis – in other words, muscle building and recovery.

1. WHEY PROTEIN

Protein is available in everyday food in a decent amount, especially in eggs and chicken. Whey protein, however, makes ingesting high-quality protein quick and easy – plus you’ll know exactly how much you’re taking. You can mix it in with milk for a smoothie, or simply top your morning porridge up with a scoop. 

The amount of whey protein you need varies dramatically depending on how long you ride and at what pace and intensity – a track cyclist will damage more muscle fibers than an endurance rider in their own disciplinary rides.

2. ELECTROLYTES

Ah, electrolytes! A cyclist’s best friend – we cyclists use electrolytes a lot. Electrolytes are salts and minerals – sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, calcium, etc. These electrolytes are often lost through sweat which is rather often for most cyclists.

Most “sports drinks” these days contain about 200mg of sodium per serving, but the amount you needs depends upon the salt content of your sweat and how much you sweat.

3. CAFFEINE

Coffee and cycling go hand-in-hand. Besides improving alertness, concentration and reaction time. There’s good evidence that caffeine also enhances performance in both high- and low-intensity exercise and reduces the perception of effort during endurance exercise. Levels peak at around 30–45 minutes after consumption.

Making a cup of coffee at home will enable you to control the amount of caffeine you put in and consume.

CYCLING NUTRITION FAQs

Q. What should I eat/drink before a ride?

While riding you need to consume some carbs, but clearly on the bike isn’t really the time to be tucking into a bowl of rice. Stick to some whole grains, dates or energy bars. If you’re using some type of supplement then make sure you’ve tried it out before because the last thing you want is your body reacting badly to a supplement because you’re not used to it.

Q. What foods should I avoid before a ride?

You’ve probably heard of carb-loading right? That’s something you want to avoid before a ride as a cyclist. In the hours leading up to a ride you should try to limit your consumption of foods high in fibre or fat, plus unusually spicy foods should be avoided. As a general rule, don’t pig out on anything before a ride. Carry a few gels and a bar or two if you’re out on a long ride.

Q. At what point during a ride should I drink/eat?

“Drink before you’re thirsty and eat before you’re hungry”. Refueling should be done at a steady rate throughout your ride. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

  • Sip some water/electrolyte every 10-15 mins into a ride.
  • Eat an energy bar when you decide to stop or when you’re low on power. Ideally not at the end of a ride.
  • Sip on an energy gel towards the end of a ride for that final “kick”.

Q. What should I eat/drink after a ride?

The urge to stuff your face after a long ride is strong. Instead, focus on replacing the glycogen you burned during the ride, in a controlled manner. What you have after a ride is important for ensuring proper recovery. It is essential to use the window of opportunity in the 30 minutes after a ride when your metabolism is still lifted.

Immediately after a ride, you should hydrate; water is fine but fruit juice or a recovery-specific drink will replenish your calorific cravings as well. Next, wash up and then consume a proper meal that contains a mix of carbohydrates, fats, and definitely proteins.


There you go! Our take on the ideal nutrition strategy and supplement guide for all you cyclists out there. Let us know what you thought about this and if we missed out on anything.

Happy riding!

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