Ride Nutrition #1: Basics for Cycling Performance

We get a lot of questions about what to eat and when, so rather that trying to cram it ALL into one post, we’re going to make a library of them for you. Feel free to ask us event specific or any nutrition question that you have in the meantime!

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Where do we even begin? Let’s get really basic…

What fuels a bike ride?

Carbohydrates

  • Fruits

  • Grains

  • Legumes

  • Vegetables

  • Sugary Sweets

  • Milk / Dairy

  • Cycling Specific Sport Food


What is the other macronutrient that can be used as fuel, but not as effective of a source for endurance activities like cycling?

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Fats

  • Dairy

  • Seeds

  • Nuts

  • Oils

  • Meat

  • Tofu

  • Avocados

What helps you recover from intense, muscle shredding activities?

Protein

Meats

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  • Milk / Dairy

  • Eggs

  • Lentils

  • Seafood

  • Legumes

  • Nuts

  • Quinoa

Vegetables

Are you confused that many items are in multiple categories? It makes it hard to understand what are you supposed to eat, and when, if you want to optimize your nutrition for cycling performance.

We’re going to break it down for you.


When do you want to focus on eating carbs? Before high intensity interval sessions (Zone 4 or higher) or long duration sessions (3+ hours).


When do you want to focus on eating protein? Immediately after a mega hard session of lifting, intense intervals, or a 4-6 hour ride.

When do you need to specifically eat fat? For most of us; never. It will naturally get into your diet. Ideally you’ll be consuming healthy fats like nuts, seeds, fish, and oils, but a nice steak or pork chop a few times a week is a great way to change things up.


But, the carbs and protein proportion can be way off.

The following points are based around these tenets from (these are taken from this source here, Asker Jeukendrup, a leader in Sports Nutrition):

  • Glycogen concentration in the muscle is dependent on diet. The more carbohydrate in the diet the higher the glycogen stores

  • Glycogen concentration declines during exercise, especially higher intensity exercise

  • Higher glycogen concentrations in the muscle resulted in less fatigue and better performance

If Carbs Fuel Cycling, Why Can’t I Just Eat Them All The Time?

While we shift our diet towards carbs, remember that you need protein to repair your body after hard sessions and you need fats for healthy body function. NOT EATING FATS is a recipe for sickness and poor performance. But again, you most likely don’t need to seek fat out; Just don’t avoid it.

The other main reason you can always go crazy on carbs is that you will retain more water and look a little puffy, like the Michelin man, not P. Diddy, after carb loading, so you need some time to “unpuff”. Many times when cyclists think they’ve gotten fat somehow after a long weekend of riding and racing, it’s just the puffiness from all the carbs. So, eat less carbs those days to reduce this.

When do you shift your focus to carbs?

During Race Season, carbs are king, and really need to be eaten often to keep your energy rolling along.

Let’s assume the following schedule, and these are how focused you should be on carbs. The issue with laying out a plan like this though is that some people ride in the morning, others at night, and some swap back and forth. In order to really get this dialed in, we’d need to know at what times you are riding, so this are GENERAL guidelines.

Monday: OFF, lean more towards protein and healthy fats to stay full; extra carbs not needed. Use this day to UNPUFF from all the carbs over the weekend.

Tuesday: Intensity, 2 hours; carbs for breakfast (oatmeal, cereal, breads, jams, etc). Just lean breakfast towards carbs, aim to finish solid foods 3h before the ride. This may take some adjustments due to work and depends on when you are riding.

Wednesday, Moderate riding, 2 hours, no major focus on carbs, eat normal proportions.

Thursday, Endurance Riding, 2 hours, no major focus on carbs, eat normal proportions, unless you have a big day on the weekend, in which case you want to start carb loading.

Friday, OFF, lean more towards protein and healthy fats to stay full; extra carbs not needed, unless you have a big day on the weekend, in which case you want to start carb loading

Saturday, Big Ride or Race, CARBS, protein after to recover and rebuild

Sunday, Big Ride or Race, CARBS, protein after to recover and rebuild

Take a look at this infographic which will break down our Nutrition Fueling Suggestions:

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So that’s it - that’s the basics. Keep in mind the key word: BASICS.

We optimize nutrition planning for all of our athletes. Want to learn more? Have an experience with trying to optimize your nutrition that you want to share? Reach out and start a conversation in the comments!