Balanced Nutrition For Cycling – How to Fuel Up Your Body As a Cyclist

How-Tos & TipsNutrition

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A good cycling nutrition plan is essential to help you perform your best. A lot of factors such as the time of your ride, the duration, the intensity impact the type of food you should have pre and post-ride.

Sometimes if your ride is too long and intense, you might need to carry a few calories in your backpack to replenish your body from time to time! Read on to find what cycling nutrition plan you should follow, and how to go about it.

What to Eat While Cycling

Almost all sports research recommends eating something 1-2 hours before you venture out for a ride, every 20-30 minutes throughout the bike ride, and then within 20-60 minutes after you’re done. 

During Recreational Rides

Low intensity and short rides of about an hour don’t need extra fuelling as your body’s glycogen stores are enough. You can also train your body to use its fat stores during these low-intensity rides instead of carbohydrates. To do so, you can go for such rides in a fasted state (such as before breakfast). 

This will reduce your body’s dependency on carbs, and make it use the stored fat instead. However, if you’ve woken up and feel really hungry (like stomach growling etc) you can have something small like a spoonful of nut butter or a palmful of almonds and just a bit of water to wash it down your throat. This also serves as a snack that is low-fat, packed with carbohydrate and has a bit of lean protein that can be digested easily during the ride, unlike fatty or protein-filled snacks. If you wish to have a fulfilling breakfast, have it at least 90 minutes prior to your ride. Getting your pre-ride meal’s timing correct is very essential. 

During High-Intensity Rides: About 1.5 Hours, on Hilly Areas and Intervals

Riding at such intensities requires you to fuel your body properly. Try to have a metabolically efficient, mid-morning snack (preferably rich in carbohydrates) around an hour before you hop onto your bike.

Keep yourself hydrated by having enough water (possibly electrolytes) during the ride. If your ride is over 90 minutes, keep taking carbs during the ride too. Make sure to have a protein and carbohydrates packed lunch after your bike ride.


During Long Distance Cycling Ride: About 2-3 Hours

Before you start out on such rides, eat just enough to satisfy your morning hunger for breakfast. Carry some calories such as homemade and food-based energy bars, nuts, fruits, etc, and start eating them after 20 minutes into the ride. The goal is to replenish your body with 60-90 gms of carbohydrates every hour, throughout the ride. Keep a bottle or two of water with you to stay hydrated.

During a Night Ride Before Dinner: 90 Minute-Interval Ride

Fuel your body with an afternoon snack, and carry a sports drink if you’re hitting the trails 2-3 hours after your afternoon snack. As the intensity is high, your body might need a few extra calories to keep you going throughout the ride. Once you’re done, eat a light yet metabolically efficient dinner and call it a day. 

What to Eat After Cycling

Whatever be the duration or intensity of your ride, after it’s done, your main goal should be Recovery. The first thirty minutes after a bicycle ride is over is known as the replenishment window or glycogen window.

During this time, you need to feed your body so that it replenishes its glycogen stores to rebuild your damaged muscles due to the workout. The golden ration that you must follow is 3:1 – 3 parts carbohydrates and 1 part protein. 

The carbohydrate is needed to fuel the energy stores in the form of muscle glycogen, whereas the protein is needed to convert the carbs into glucose and repair and rebuild the muscle fibers. 

You can have a milk-based drink, a whey or soy-protein enriched smoothie, or jacket potatoes and beans. All these are sensible options as they have ingredients such as glutamine and colostrum that provide extra immune support post-workout or cycling sessions. 


Additional Q&A’s Regarding Nutrition for Cycling

Should You Take Caffeinated Drinks or Not?

Caffein, undoubtedly, has the power to boost your performance. Most physiologists and studies report that 1-3mg caffeine per kilogram of your body’s weight can result in enhanced performance, better mental focus, and more power output. However, if you take larger doses than recommended, it does not bear any additional benefit. 

Studies also show that caffeine bears no effects in hotter climates, as fatigue usually occurs due to thermoregulation in such climates, and not due to the reduced fuel supply.

Which Vitamins and Minerals Should You Incorporate Into Your Cycling Nutrition Plan?

You need to take equal quantities of both fat and water-soluble vitamins. Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble ones that are stored in the body. The water-soluble ones aren’t, and hence need to be incorporated into your daily diet. 

Darker colored fruits and vegetables offer sufficient quantities of all types of vitamins and minerals. Try to have at least five types of fruits and vegetables every day. You can also invest in a good multivitamin supplement and have it daily, however, make sure to not take them in large quantities!

How Much Fluid Should You Drink?

Apart from drinking at least 1.5-2 liters of water in a day, cyclists should also be drinking an additional amount of fluids. 

An easy way to find out the amount of fluid/water your body needs is to weigh yourself before and after your ride. The number of kgs that you’d have lost is the amount of additional water/fluid you need to drink to replenish your body. Suppose, after a 60-minute ride, you find yourself weighing 0.5kgs lighter, This means that you need to drink an additional amount of 500ml of water!

Even a mere 2% dehydration can significantly reduce your performance. Drinking enough fluids not only enhance your performance, but also improve your energy levels. 

As a Cyclist, What to Eat on a Daily Basis for Nutrition?

Remember the equation “Protein+Fat+Fibre”. You need to have a daily cycling nutrition plan that has enough protein like lean meat or fish, good fats such as fish oil, vegetables, fruits, and a lot of whole grains for fiber; such as asparagus, bananas, oats, etc. To put together a balanced meal, you can choose food (or cook them) according to the equation.

What are Some Good Fats, Proteins and Carbohydrates that You can Have?

For Proteins

You can include beans and pulses in your daily cycling nutrition diet. Lean meat, fish, and low-fat dairy foods are also a great option. Try to limit your consumption of red and processed meat as they give way to health risks and heart diseases. Take small amounts of protein in each meal rather than gobbling a large amount at one go, making your body struggle to digest it. 

For Good Fats

Good fats mainly consist of polyunsaturated fats such as Omega 3 and Omega 6, and monounsaturated fats such as Omega 9 fats. You can gain Omega 3 and 6 fats from nuts, seeds, fish and oils such as flaxseed, borage and starflower oil. 

For Carbohydrates

Your weekly cycling nutrition’s requirement of carbohydrates depends upon how many miles you ride. Your intake should be within the range of 5-9 grams per day, for every kilogram you weigh. Energy bars, drinks, and gels are great options. You should try having a fist-sized portion of low-glycemic carbohydrates with every meal. You can have cereals such as oats in the morning, a fruit mid-morning or afternoon, or a whole grain sandwich or a salad for lunch or dinner. 

Eat, Ride, Sleep, Repeat!

Following this on a daily basis is easier than you think because this doesn’t have any food restrictions, (unless you are allergic or intolerant to any) and so it’s not like a proper diet. Try to follow this 90% of the time and the rest 10% you can indulge in a few cheat meals here and there, to maintain a healthy relationship with food!

*Featured image credit: Vivek Kakkar

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