cycling nutrition

Cycling nutrition while riding

While most cyclists focus mostly on the training aspect of riding a bike, cycling nutrition is typically an afterthought. Our body can store up to 400-500 grams of glycogen, which is then used to propel us forward.

Cycling nutrition is not only about on the bike, but also off the bike. Meaning It is essential to fuel yourself correctly throughout your ride. Since glycogen is the primary fuel used during your cycling, understanding how to implement proper cycling nutrition into your bike training can help you immensely.


Cycling nutrition and fluid loss

Our bodies are made up of approximately 60% water, because of this, the body’s fluid loss must be continuously topped up. If you are training, commuting or riding a stage race, lack of fluid intake can compromise your performance. Even a 2% drop in body weight coming from fluid loss can hamper the bodies ability to function and recover.


1. Weighing yourself daily after training can help measure any sudden drop of weight.
2. Monitoring your urine colour is another way to check your hydration levels.


Studies have shown that levels above 4% can have consequences on your muscles performing. That means, more considerable fluid loss above 10% can cause hallucinations and heat stroke on top of your performance loss. Checking both of these may help suggest if fluid intake should increase during your training or racing.



Hydration planning for cycling

There are multiple brands of sports drinks available now, and this means picking the correct hydration strategy can be difficult.


Sports drinks typically fall into these three categories:



First, on the list, Isotonic sports drinks contain concentration levels of salt and sugar similar to the body. Hypertonic sports drinks, on the other hand, provide a higher concentration of salt and sugar to that of the human body.  Leaving just the Hypotonic sports drinks, you guessed it. They provide a lower concentration level of salt and sugar than the body.

Picking the right sports drink is a personal choice and is based on how the body can process the fluid and the weather conditions of the event.

It is a common occurrence that cyclists lose anywhere from 500-1000ml each hour they race. It entirely depends on the weather conditions and riding intensity that can affect the amount of fluid loss you see.

For shorter days in the saddle, plain water is ok for most people. But during those longer rides, it is essential to include electrolytes (potassium, calcium, and magnesium) which come from your sports drink. Adding this will allow hydration and replacement of electrolytes while enabling a healthy cellular function.

Most sports drinks on the market provide your around 30 grams of carbohydrate when mixed at a 6% dilution. Planning to spread your carbohydrate intake throughout the ride (every 20-30minutes) will allow you to keep your blood sugar levels stable. The result is a more stable energy flow.


Cycling nutrition on the bike

During cycling, your body burns glucose as a source of fuel. Thus, turning glucose into a form called glycogen. Glycogen is then broken down to glucose when the body needs more fuel. The body can only store glycogen to supply around 90 minutes of moderate-intensity riding. After this period of 90 minutes, you will need to get your glucose from either food or sports drink.

To know what type of food to eat is essential. Not just for fuel, but being able to access it freely while riding a bike is critical.

Eating foods rich in carbohydrate such as raisins provide a simple solution to fueling but also the practicality of riding. The carbohydrates structure means that it can be broken down quickly into glucose, much faster than deriving glucose from protein and fat. Dried fruit or cookies also offer a high carbohydrate alternative, so look for a high carbohydrate alternative from pasta or rice that you can eat while riding.


Cycling carbohydrate intake

If you are already feeling the effects of not eating, you are already far behind your cycling nutrition plan. Aim to eat small amounts of high carbohydrate every 20-30 minutes throughout the ride. If you are racing, replace some of the foods we talked about with energy gels or energy bars for faster eating. Then make sure you are continuously drip-feeding carbohydrate throughout the rest of the race. You should aim to ingest around 60-90grams of carbohydrate per hour, split into multiple segments if possible.


Recovering after cycling

After riding, it is essential to not only recover but to refuel through carbohydrate intake and fluid replenishment. Aiming to do so within 30 minutes is good practice for the cyclist. Replenishing your carbohydrate stores with up to 1.2 g/kg of carbohydrates will help speed up your recovery. Another tip is to include 40grams of protein in your cycling nutrition plan before sleep can help supply amino acids to the body while sleeping.


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