How to fuel a cyclist
You wouldn’t go on a long drive without filling up your car with the right fuel, so why treat your body any differently? Follow these simple cycling nutrition tips to keep your wheels spinning as the miles rack up.
With cycling, as with any endurance sport, it’s important to keep your body properly fuelled before, during and after the ride itself.
Before the ride
Nutrition before a big cycling race is fairly standard and in line with the sort of things you would be eating for any other kind of endurance event.
- Keep your carb intake up. This means healthy amounts of pasta and rice and cereals to keep your energy stores stocked up during your long training sessions. You don’t want to overload your body with stodgy carbs, but a good dose of pasta will give you the energy you need to get the miles done. The idea of ‘carb loading’ is a slightly outdated concept that has been proven to impact on the quality of your sleep so don’t over-do it on the pasta.
- Hydration is key. Making sure you keep your water intake up is just as important as what you’re eating. Try and stay consistently hydrated in the few days leading up to the ride so that you don’t have to try and catch up on the day and risk losing time in toilet stops.
- Race-day breakfast.You will want to get your breakfast in 90–120 mins before you start riding. This is to give your body ample time to digest the food and get all the energy that you’ll need from it.
- Porridge is the perfect pre-ride meal, giving you the perfect level of energy, without overloading you with carbs, fats and fibre. If you’re going for a longer ride then why not add in an omelette to give you some extra slow release energy to keep you ticking over.
- Again, make sure you’re keeping hydrated. The trick is to take sips of water at regular intervals over the day.
You will start to make your way through your energy and water stores as you go around the course so make sure you keep topping these stores up.
- Keep sipping your water as the race goes on. Aim to have a sip of water every 5–10 mins so that you can aim to get through around 500–1000ml each hour depending on water stops, your build and the weather.
- Carbs need to be taken on board early and in small amounts. Although 30 mins into the ride may feel too early to start chomping down on an energy bar, 15–20km later when your legs are really starting to work, you’ll be thankful that you did.
- If you’ve got energy gels or bars with you, you’ll want to get one down you every 60–90 mins to keep your energy intake consistent and efficient. Bear in mind they are often stuffed full of sugars so don’t go crazy unless you’re planning a visit to the dentist.
- Make the most of the feed stops. Most cyclosportives will feature a feed stop around the halfway point (longer rides will have multiple stops) and make sure you stock up when you’re there. They’ll often have lots of jelly babies and flapjacks, both great stores of energy that will keep you going and going.
After the race
Recovery food is just as important for your body as pre-ride food. If you’ve paced yourself right and fuelled yourself properly then when you cross the finish line you should be pretty hungry, but not starving. If you can, get your hands on some kind of protein and carb-filled drink to really kickstart your recovery stage. This will help give your muscles what they need to start their recovery.
- Try not to get caught in the trap of ‘I burned all these calories so I can eat what I want’. Your post-ride lunch wants to be nice and healthy and have good amounts of carbohydrates and proteins. Be sensible and don’t overdo it.