Nutritional guidance for before, during and after cycling

Nutrition tips that will help you maintaining a stablished fitness level

Athlete Oscar Flores training in Key Biscayne. (Photo by MCS)
Athlete Oscar Flores training in Key Biscayne. (Photo by MCS)

A good Nutrition and Hydration provide the energy required by every function of the body and, for endurance cyclists, our two major fuel sources are carbohydrates and fats. The average human stores over 100,000 calories worth of energy in fat, and a much smaller reserve of carbs – around 2,000 calories.

Cycling breakfasts:

*Cooked Oatmeal with fresh berries, banana and mixed seeds

*Scrambled egg whites on whole-grain toast and grilled tomato

*Smoothie: Banana, nut butter, milk and oats

Tips to Fuelling

Fuelling guidelines for low to medium-intensity training rides.

1hr ride: No on-bike fuel needed
1-2hr ride: 20g carbs P.H.

2-3hr ride: 30g carbs P.H.
3hr ride: 40g carbs P.H.

For higher-intensity training and races:

1hr session or race: No on-bike fuel needed
60-90min session or race: 30g carbs P.H.
90min-3hr session or race:45-60g carbs P.H.
3hr session or race: 90g carbs P.H.

*These guidelines take for granted that 1) your gut can tolerate the carbohydrates; and 2) you had sufficient carbohydrate in your diet prior to the session (i.e. glycogen stores are full).


What about low-carb training? To cut a long story short, it’s easier and faster for the body to extract energy from carbohydrates than from fat. This is why carbs are king, even if we only store them in modest amounts. No pro in the peloton performs without an abundance of carbohydrates on board.


It is hard to overstate the importance of carbs for cycling performance. Mitochondria use this simple sugar in your cells to produce ATP, the energy source for all activity. All forms of carbohydrates you ingest are eventually converted to glucose. When your body has more glucose than it needs, it is converted to glycogen and stored in the muscles and liver.

The central concept in fuelling is homeostasis – the human body likes to be stable. When we train, we upset the balance, often accruing a deficit. To optimise performance, we need to match refuelling and rehydration as closely as possible to what we are using (or used) during training. When we under-fuel or under-hydrate, we put additional stress on the body, forcing it into ‘protect and conserve’ mode.

Three ways to eat 60g of carbs >
1 x banana, 1 x 500ml energy drink, 1 x cereal bar
6 x dried dates, 1 x 500ml energy drink
6 x jelly candies, 2 x fig rolls


When we ride, we excrete water (and salt) through our sweat, which helps to keep our body temperature stable.

Cyclists should ideally be drinking additional fluid to match any loss during riding. An easy way to work out your need is, is to weigh yourself pre and post-ride. For each kilo you have lost, you require an additional litre of water, so if a 60-minute ride leaves you 0.5kg lighter then you just require an extra 500ml of fluid in the diet to rebalance things.

“There are many factors that influence dehydration; the science is not clearcut,” responds Lim. “How much people sweat, and how much salt is in sweat, varies from person to person. When cycling in hot weather, to stay hydrated you might need up to two litres per hour, depending on your body size and intensity.


Accordingly with Coach Heidi Blunden whose believes that “95 per cent of cyclists don’t eat enough at the right times, before and during their riding.” Fasted riding is possibly one of the most practized but least understood strategies in cycling.

The basic concept is that reducing carbohydrate availability will force the body to burn more fat.

“It’s true that fasted training can increase certain metabolic processes including fat metabolism,” says Marc Fell, “but you can also get these adaptations while fuelling well. If you are under-fuelled, you cannot help but reduce the intensity of your training, reducing your power, which in turn reduces the training stimulus.”
Blunden urges her athletes to focus on accessibility – making sure they can easily eat and drink at the right times while riding; preparation – planning what they will be eating before, during and especially after rides; quality – finding what works best for their stomach; quantity – how much they need; and rationale – knowing why you are using what they are using.

So should Speedy Rides be off the menu completely? “You can train low-carb at low intensity for short periods of time,” says Fell, “but chronic under-fuelling puts stress on the body, and riders tend to eat more after a fasted training session. Whether it’s worth it is questionable.” James Malone is equally sckeptical and advises: “The more we train, the better we get at burn fat, irrespective of nutrition.”

The amount of carbs that you need to perform will depend not only on the training intensity and duration but also on how well your gut can absorb your chosen refuelling substances.


The first 20 minutes after a ride is known to be the optimal refuelling period where nutrients are taken up more efficiently and transported to the muscle stores. Refuelling with real food after cycling with a carbohydrate-rich meal or drink in this period will improve the rate at which your energy stores refill, thus impact directly on how much stored energy you have available for your next ride.

With research indicating that an intake of 1g of carbohydrate per kilogram you weigh during this time is perfect for re-fuelling, a 70g carbohydrate feed for a 70kg cyclist is perfect. Combining this with 10g of protein will reduce your likelihood of getting injured, assist muscle recovery and reduce muscle soreness and has even been shown to speed up carbohydrate muscle refuelling.

A milk-based drink, a whey or soy protein-enriched smoothie, a jacket potato and beans, or a specialized recovery drink all make good, sensible options. With some of the specialized formulas you can benefit from ingredients such as glutamine and colostrum, two proteins that can provide extra immune support after strenuous training sessions or races.

Cyclists RECIPES:

Recipe for ” Make your own Rice Crispy Cakes “:
Rice Cakes
600ml water, 400ml thick coconut milk, 500g sushi rice, 25g sugar, 25g coconut oil, 5ml vanilla extract, Pinch of salt, 50g dark chocolate, chopped and 150g mixed nuts and dried fruit.

1) Combine the water, rice, sugar, coconut milk, coconut oil and vanilla in a heavy-bottomed saucepan with a lid (or rice cooker if you have one). 2) Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Once it starts boiling, cover the pan with the lid and reduce the heat to low. 3) Once the rice is cooked, mix in the chocolate, nuts and dried fruit. Spoon into the lasagne dish and flatten with a spatula. Leave to cool in open air. Once cool, transfer to the fridge to set overnight. 4) The next day, cut the rice cakes into pocket-sized pieces and wrap in foil. Store in the fridge or freezer.


Some people avoid caffeine like the plague and others embrace it for its performance-supporting effects. If you’re a fan, you’ll find most sports physiologists are with you with studies showing that three to six milligrams (mg) of caffeine per kilo of body weight can result in enhanced performance, increased power output and improved mental focus, with larger doses generally offering no additional benefit.
For example, a 60kg cyclist would take between 180-360mg of caffeine – that’s two or three cups of coffee. Interestingly, caffeine’s effects appear to be negated by the heat, with studies in hotter climates showing no benefit. This may be due to fatigue being limited by thermoregulation in these conditions rather than fuel supply.
If you are thinking of giving a caffeinated drink or gel a try in an event try it in training first. However, it’s not for everyone. If you suffer from high blood pressure or a heart condition, caffeine use is not recommended and if you are on any medication, it’s best to check with your doctor before giving it a try.


There are two main types of vitamins: fat-soluble and water-soluble ones. The fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K are stored in the body. The water-soluble ones, however, 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.
These vitamins and minerals can be found in a variety of foods.

The NHS recommendation of five pieces of fruit and vegetables per day is aimed to assist in the daily achievement of these vitamins and minerals along with sufficient fiber intake. Selecting a rainbow of colors and aiming for darker-colored fruits and vegetables is recommended.

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