Nutrition plays a crucial role in cycling. It affects performance and can shape your overall experience in the saddle. Whether you are buying your first bike or winning the Tour de France, your fueling can make all the difference.
There is a lot of misinformation out there and it’s easy to get bogged down in the specifics. However, understanding and implementing the basics is priority. Therefore, I have outlined three fundamentals of cycling nutrition to get you started: Fueling, hydration and recovery. A nutrition strategy built around these three fundamentals will make longer rides more enjoyable, the day after less painful and will ensure you avoid every cyclist’s worst nightmare: Bonking.
Hydration is important day to day and you should aim to drink 2.5 -3.5 Litres of water daily. However, our needs increase on training and race days due to the amount of fluid and salt lost through sweat. It is important that you account for this by nailing your hydration before and during your ride. Not meeting these fluid and electrolyte needs will result in dehydration. This will of course be detrimental to your performance but more importantly can lead to serious health implications so maintaining hydration levels is crucial.
If you do not hydrate before your ride you are already fighting an uphill battle. To ensure you are well hydrated, on top of daily guidelines drink 500 – 1000ml of fluid at least 2-3 hours before riding. Using GO Electrolyte or GO Hydro will ensure you increase fluid retention, due the additional electrolytes (most importantly sodium) they provide that you will lose through sweating.
During a ride you should aim to lose no more than 2-3 % of your body mass. Weighing yourself before and after a ride is a helpful way to determine whether you have met your hydration needs, as the is very individualised. As a strong starting point aim to take on ~500ml of fluid per hour but bear in mind that your requirements will increase in hot weather. Once again, Go Electrolyte is your best option but consider switching to Go Hydro for shorter rides when additional carbohydrates are not required.
Carbohydrate, stored as muscle glycogen, is your primary fuel source at a high intensity. In order to fuel for the work required, you must consider the demands of your sessions in advance. The longer or more intensive the ride, the more carbohydrate required both before and during. Meeting the demands will ensure you have the required energy to complete the ride and don’t end up bonking.
For longer rides you need to plan well in advance. Aim to consume at least 8g/kg of carbohydrates in the 24 hours prior to the ride. To save yourself measuring carbohydrate intake, make sure all your meals include a carbohydrate source and include 3 high carbohydrate snacks throughout the day. The longer the ride, the higher the priority of meeting these guidelines.
Aim to consume a carbohydrate rich meal ~3 hours before riding. This could be a bowl of porridge first thing or a pasta bake for lunch. Top up your energy stores with a carbohydrate snack such as a Go Energy Bake 30 mins prior to riding.
Aim to consume 60g of carbohydrate every hour. Practically, aiming for 20g every 20 minutes is a helpful target. It is important that you consume carbohydrate in this quantity from the first hour. Although you may not feel like you need it initially, you will thank yourself for this 30km later.
Experiment with different carbohydrate sources and find what works for you. For example, within the first hour you could consume 36g of carbohydrate through Go Electrolyte and 30g through a Go Energy Bar. The following hour you may consume 3 Go Isotonic gels at 20 minute intervals. Focus on solid foods earlier in the ride and gels later on. The Isotonic nature of gels mean you will absorb this carbohydrate faster than solids or fluid so they are therefore particularly effective in the latter stages.
When it comes to recovery, focus on the 3 Rs: Rehydrate, Refuel and Rebuild. This will reduce DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and ensure you are ready to ride again the following day.
Always make sure to weigh yourself before and after your rides and aim to replace 150% of the fluid volume lost through sweating. This is particularly important if you are riding the following day. For example, if you have lost 0.8kg, aim to consume 800ml of fluid on top of meeting daily guidelines.
Replacing carbohydrate stores you have lost throughout the ride is also important. Aim to replenish these stores with a portion of 1.2 g/kg of carbohydrates every 3 hours for the next 12 hours. Be flexible on meeting these guidelines. Just as your fueling requirements vary based on the ride length and intensity, so does your need to refuel.
Always aim for at least 1.5g/kg of protein daily. This is particularly important following a ride, as protein plays a vital role in repairing muscle fibers damaged during exercise.
Consuming a REGO+ shake following your ride will help you rehydrate, refuel and recover immediately. Your next meal should also contain a protein source, such as chicken, salmon or black beans, as well as being rich in carbohydrates. Spaghetti Bolognese is an ideal meal post ride. This highlights the fact there is no need to overcomplicate things with this meal and your cycling nutrition generally.
If you put all these fundamentals in place you will be well on your way to enjoying your rides more, with the assurance that you are safe and putting yourself in a position to make plenty of improvements.