BottomBracket's Guide to Cycling Nutrition

Cycling Nutrition

Cycling, especially training, racing or touring is demanding.
Your bike is powered by the food you eat.

Even a potter around the lanes will feel easier if your 'tanks are topped up'. You've gotta top 'em up with the right stuff though...

You need to:
  • Fuel your muscles.
  • Repair muscle and tissue damage.
  • Replace lost electrolytes and other nutrients.

    This means you should be aiming to get enough nutrients in your diet
    to sustain you while cycling and to recover afterwards.

    Eating the right food means...

  • Cycling will feel easier so your fitness should increase faster...
  • Your recovery time will be cut so you can ride again sooner...

    Easy cycling burns more than 300 calories per hour so you can shovel food in without worrying too much about gaining weight (training or racing can burn up to 1000 calories per hour).

    If you do not eat enough, your performance will suffer and your immune system can be weakened!

    Eating for Endurance - What to Eat?

    CARBS - Down with Atkins!
    A high carbohydrate diet is recommended for anyone involved in an endurance sport such as cycling.
    This means that at least 60-70% of your food should be carbs.
    Foods such as potatoes, rice, porridge, pasta, bread and fruit are all high in carbohydrates.
    Carbohydrates are easily converted by your body into glycogen.
  • Glycogen is the primary energy source for your muscles.
  • Glycogen depletion is the main cause of tiredness.
  • Fast and Slow Carbohydrates

    Carbs come in different types; fast (simple) and slow (complex).

    Simple carbs like sugar are available as glycogen quicker than complex carbs like rice - but are used up more quickly.

    For muscular endurance, aim for a mix of simple and complex carbohydrates with more emphasis on the complex.

    FAT
    Oils and Fats make an important contribution to your nutrition. They aid glycogen production and storage.

    Around 15-20% of your food should be oils and fats.

    Nuts, such as Almonds, Brazil nuts and Walnuts are high in beneficial oils. Avocado is high in monounsaturated fat and potassium.
    Saturated fats such as milk, yoghurt, butter, cheese are OK in moderation (but can sit 'heavy' on the tummy during exercise).

    Olive oil and rapeseed oil are also high in vitamin E. Extra virgin/cold pressed oils are more expensive - but are the best in nutritional terms.
    You can dribble some over any meal as a dressing...

    PROTEIN
    Proteins are the building blocks of tissue repair and also aid glycogen production and storage. 20-25% of your diet should consist of protein.

    Beans, eggs, milk, cheese, nuts and vegetables are all easily-digested sources of protein. Incorporate small amounts of these into your meals. Meat does provide protein, but is not so easily digested.

    OTHER NUTRIENTS
    Vitamins, minerals, enzymes, bio-flavinoids and other micro-nutrients also have their parts to play in your nutrition.

    Eat a variety of fresh fruit and veg to keep your immune system healthy, maintain body functions and aid tissue repair. Cooking destroys some nutrients so if your meal comes with salad - eat it!

    FLUIDS
    Drink before you feel thirsty when cycling!

    A cyclist loses fluid both through sweating and breathing (you can see the steam on a cold day!)

    A water bottle fixed to the bike is a must so you can keep sipping - in very hot conditions you might need a litre per hour. On a 5+ hour ride on a very hot day, a pinch of salt in your bottle can help maintain Sodium levels.
    Even in winter you lose fluid through your breath, so you still need to keep drinking on longer rides.

    WHEN to EAT?

    BEFORE
    Load up with slow-burn carbs and fluids

    A large high-carbohydrate breakfast with a little protein will help to set you up for a day of cycling.

    Load up with porridge, cereal, muesli with milk, toast and peanut butter, honey, jam, bananas, fruit juice etc.

    You can start your carbo-loading several days before a very long ride or a race.

    DURING
    Your stores of glycogen are limited - on longer rides (more than an hour or two) you will have to top them up.

    Top up carbs at regular intervals.
    Individuals vary - you may need to nibble every hour or two to sustain your cycling effort

    Carry spare food with you on longer rides....

    AFTER
    Low glycogen stores lead to poor recovery and will reduce your performance on subsequent rides.

    It is important to replenish your glycogen levels as soon as you can when you stop - especially when cycling long distance or on a multi-day ride.

    The body is most effective at replacing glycogen stores immediately after exercise.

    A high calorie drink is often the easiest way to get these post-exercise carbs down. A fruit juice, a can of pop, milk or a sports recovery drink as soon as you stop, followed by a large carbo loaded meal as soon as you can!

    PRO-CYCLING

    A pro-cyclist needs to eat a huge amount to fuel their training and racing regime.
    Cyclists riding in the Tour de France need up to 7000 calories per day.

    Whatever other help Lance Armstrong was getting - he had his diet optimised to an enormous degree as well. Eating the exact amount to fuel each days effort and recover most efficiently. Without gaining weight.

    Armstrong's race-day breakfast was a bowl of pasta with an egg, cheese and basil on top and a sports drink.
    Then, a light carb-filled lunch and more sports drink about an hour before the stage start.

    Throughout the stage, food and drink are collected by the cyclists en route - energy products, sandwiches, fruit and even baked-potatoes!

    Immediately after the finish, more sports drink starts the recovery phase. Then there is a carbohydrate-rich meal as soon as possible and later a full dinner heaped with potatoes or rice.

    You probably won't need to eat as much as a pro, but the same principles could help you enjoy your cycling more.


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