How many calories, and what cyclists typically eat in a day, will depend on whether they are engaging in a multi-stage event or a gruelling sportive, or the length and duration of training rides. Either way, achieving optimal nutrition is fundamental for peak performance.
Whether training or competing, failing to put together a nutritional strategy can result in you running out of fuel to complete rides, and delaying recovery.
Knowing what works best for you is important. You may find it easy to rely entirely on sports drinks and energy gels; whereas others may struggle to stomach these, and so opt for the comfort of foods such as sweets, dried fruit, bananas, cereal bars and even sandwiches.
It’s not just nutrition on the day of a big event or long training ride that counts. Cyclists should also make sure they eat well the day before, and stay hydrated.
While you don’t need to carb load the night before, a good breakfast and regular snacks before you set out on a ride should set you up to achieve your goals.
We’ve also spoken to registered Sport and Exercise Nutritionist Ted Munson, and Louise Sutton, Head of Sport and Exercise Nutrition at Carnegie School of Sports, Leeds Beckett University; to uncover their five top nutritional tips for cyclists.
Nuts and seeds
If you are generally eating well, easy rides of less than 90 minutes should not require additional fuel to be consumed whilst riding. For longer, more intense rides, a fuelling plan that provides between 30g and 60g of carbohydrate per hour is ideal. Experiment with carbohydrate sports drinks, a mix of water and sports gels or bars, or normal foods and snacks to find out what works best for you.
If you struggle to consume fuel during long rides, start at the lower end of this range and gradually increase on subsequent rides. Intakes will improve with practice. Solid foods such as bars will likely be better tolerated towards the start of a ride, and switching from bars to gels as your ride progresses may help. On long rides, start topping up on energy supplies early.
Whether you’re training or competing, if you aren’t paying attention to your hydration, you’re compromising your performance, sacrificing training gains and prolonging recovery time. Keeping tabs on your body weight can help you manage your hydration. Large drops in weight can be an indicator that you should increase your fluid intake. Drink on the bike, but don’t wait until you feel thirsty.
Stomach trouble can ruin a ride, so in competitive situations, plan ahead and find out which manufacturer will be supplying the feed stations. Try out their products in training to ensure you can consume and tolerate them. Water should be freely available, so if these are not for you, prepare your reliable brand in measured quantities to be mixed in your water bottle.
To cope with the demands of training and competitions, don’t neglect your recovery nutrition. Ensure recovery meals and snacks are nutrient-rich and well timed. If your appetite is suppressed, fluids such as smoothies and flavoured milk may be more easily consumed.