Cycling Food

Eating is an intrinsic part of cycling. If you get your food intake wrong, it doesn’t matter how fit you are – you could just ‘hit the wall’ (experience the dreaded ‘bonk’). Even many top pros can get their food intake wrong; insufficient food is a big factor in explaining an unexpectedly poor performance. As well as eating the right amount of food, it is also important to eat healthy foods which offer more than just calories.

Essential Tips for Cycling Food

  1. Use your common sense. Eat a good balance of healthy foods from a range of food spectrums.
  2. Consider how to maintain constant energy levels – avoid spikes in blood sugar levels.
  3. Make sure you have access to all important food groups, minerals and vitamins.
  4. You need more calories when cycling, but you don’t want to overload your stomach. Liquid food is good, fatty food is harder to digest.

food

More tips for Cycling Food

Right Balance Protein / Carbohydrates.  One mistake cyclists can make is to just eat carbohydrates; but for recovery and long term good health, you will need a mix of carbohydrates and protein.

Avoid Too Many Simple Sugars. When you are very active, it is tempting to feel that you will burn off simple sugars, found in sweets and chocolates. However, even though you may burn off the calories, it is important to bear in mind these foods have nil nutritional value and can cause fluctuations in blood sugar levels, which is not desirable. It is better to base calorie intake primarily on complex carbohydrates such as grains, lentils and  pasta. These provide steady blood sugar levels and not just an immediate ‘hit’

naturalfoodGood Balance - When doing long rides, it is good to take a balance of foods. For example, I like the ‘natural raw food bars’ pictured left. It makes a good change to the maltodextrin based energy bars and drinks usually found in cycling. A good balance of food is important both physically and psychologically..

Don’t Wait Until Hungry

When riding, it is important to eat regularly and not wait until you feel hungry. If you wait until you are hungry it will be too late. This is important for races lasting over 2 hours such as a 100 mile time trial. There is only so much food the body can take per hour, therefore, there should be a constant supply of food.

What Are Good Foods to Eat When Cycling?

  • Bananas (although has relatively high glycaemic index)
  • Muesli bars (mixture of food)
  • Sandwich rolls e.g. jam sandwiches, banana sandwiches,
  • Apples.
  • Malt loaf
  • Custom energy bars. Tend to be expensive, but can choose bars which have mixture of carbs and protein. I often buy similar bars, which are not specifically manufactured for athletes. These tend to be cheaper. For example, Fruesli bars, Nutri Grain bars e.t.c.
  • Liquid energy. – The simplest way to take on board energy. Good for short races where digestion is difficult.

Eating For Recovery.

It is just as important to eat food for recovery as it is food before and during a race. I recommend taking a recovery drinks after hard ride. This enables and easy absorption of carbohydrates and protein; it also helps to re-hydrates. See: Recovery drinks

Glycaemic Index  GI Index

Foods with a high glycaemic index increase the blood sugars rapidly. Foods with a low glycaemic index raise blood sugar levels gradually over a period of time. Therefore, before the start of a ride and at the beginning of a ride it is good to eat foods with relatively low glycaemic index. These foods include: apples, bran, spaghetti, baked beans.

  • For example, brown bread is a lower GI index than white bread. Therefore, it is better to switch to brown bread before a ride.
  • Foods with a high glycaemic index are better eaten at the end of a ride. High GI foods include: bananas, potatoes, jelly beans.
  • Getting constant energy levels and avoiding blood sugar spikes is very important for cycling.
  • I recommend reading: constant energy levels

Super Foods

Super foods are often over-exaggerated. You don’t become an amazing cyclist by eating some secret combination of ‘super-foods’ However, it is good to eat a variety of fruits and pulses with high-anti-oxidants and good mineral source. One super food I do recommend for racing is beetroot juice

Snacks During a Ride

Cycling Oxford

 

These are the main snacks I take on a ride. Power bars, protein bars, bananas. I buy them in boxes of 24. I also take some of the nutri-grains because they are cheaper. I take liquid energy snacks when I’m doing intervals or really hard rides when the stomach is under greater stress.

Best Energy Bars for Cycling

I have reviewed all the different energy bars I’ve used during cycling here: Energy Bar reviews

Breakfast Before Cycling

Before cycling, I like to take Muesli with some fresh fruit (raspberries, blueberries). The oats provide good low GI energy source and are easily digestible. The fruits also provides good long lasting energy source and also give anti-oxidant properties. If it is a long ride, I may have some extra toast as well, but I don’t like to eat too much, as your stomach will be heavy. To take on extra carbs, I will eat snacks between meals.

Evening Food before Long Ride

Before long ride, I will have a good source of complex carbohydrates (e.g. lentil / rice mix) or some pasta. Avoid temptation to eat much more than usual. You will just give yourself stomach problems, which won’t help. Sometimes for early morning race, I have a small bowl of oats for supper. Rather than have super big meal.

Eat for the Next Day. Don’t just think about the present day; think about how your food will affect your ride on the next day.  If you have a long ride for tomorrow, eat good quantities of complex carbohydrates the day or two preceding.

How Much to Eat?

You can consume double the amount of usual calories during a 100 mile ride. During the Tour de France, riders can consume up to 7,000 calories a day.  See: Calories consumed

I feel you have to learn to listen to your body and respond to usual signals of hunger/ satiation.

Related

Cycling Food

I would be interested to hear what other cyclists views are on good / bad foods for cycling.



14 Responses to Cycling Food

  1. LeeM October 11, 2012 at 2:24 am #

    …and for protein…eggs, fresh fish (salmon), organic beef

  2. LeeM October 11, 2012 at 2:20 am #

    After 2 mins of exercise we use more Aerobic than Anaerobic system. After 30mins it’s 95%+. The aerobic system uses oxygen with fat to release energy. anaerobic uses sugar. The key to endurance training is to lower your HR for the same amount of effort. There is little point in bulking up with carbs when the aerobic system uses (predominantly)fat as its energy source. Good fats in the diet (extra virgin olive oil, avacado, nuts) are best. Carbs do play a role during exercise but latest research suggests even during exercise high GI foods can cause blood sugar issues and the insulin it causes the release of inhibits fat burning. Eliminate refined carbs, increase fat intake and eat plenty of vegetables, low GI fruit, nuts and seeds. This diet will ”enable” proper development of the aerobic system within most people. My advice would be to experiment within these parameters.

  3. George July 8, 2012 at 3:44 pm #

    Hello.

    Great article! The bad thing is that in my country these protein/energy bars are extremly expensive! I am interested have you tried to prepare home made bars? I am thinking of some oats and nuts mixed together and “sticked”with honey. And what do you think about honey. Is it a good source of energy during the rides?

    Thanks!

    • tejvan July 10, 2012 at 11:54 am #

      Yes, honey is a good source of energy. It has a lower GI index than pure sugar. I think in moderation, honey can be great (plus I like taste)

  4. Chris August 15, 2011 at 6:53 pm #

    I am an older cyclist ( 54) and I find eating properly is more important than ever.
    For me old fashion oats work great, I like them cooked with skimmed milk, bananas and raisins topped with cinnamon. I eat about 1/2 cup for every hour I plan to ride , with 30 minutes digesting time for each 1/2 cup connsumed( 3 hour ride , 1 1/2 cups, 90 minutes before ride). Along with a 4 oz. glass of Orange Juice.

    I also will start drinking water and 50/50 gatorade and water immediatly after my ride starts , about 25 oz. per hour. Then eat bites of Cliff Bars every fifteen minutes and a Cliff shot every hour.This formula has worked well

    For post ride I like 1 cup of melon or sweet potato immediatly after I get off the bike( within ten minutes). And then a good light post ride meal within 1 hour.

    ” it never stops hurting, you just go faster” greg lemond

    Cheers

    • Richard August 16, 2011 at 7:25 pm #

      Thanks Chris…likewise I’m 54, training towards an 85 mile ride at the end of September. I have had concerns and queries about nutrition so I’m sure your input will be very helpful

  5. Doug May 8, 2011 at 8:12 am #

    Hey great blog site, I’m adding it to my list.

    Here’s my idea of an ideal breakfast but might be a bit filling for some cyclists but it serves me very well. If I run, it’s best on a near empty stomach.

    http://ramblingsofdoug.blogspot.com/2011/01/my-ideal-breakfast.html

  6. boBBy April 12, 2010 at 7:46 am #

    whats a good pre/post food for cycling?. i do about 100miles per week. bout 30miles a day or so. i take a 200 calorie 50 gram protein shake before i ride and when i come back im soo exhausted on the ride back home.i consume another 200cal 50 gram protein shake with a banana post and im still exhausted for the remaining day. should i be eating while i cycle and drinking another shake while i ride too??..anyone have any pointers.?.any advice is appreciated..

  7. Henry April 8, 2010 at 1:59 pm #

    Very true about the not eating too much, I secently did the C2C and on day two had a BIG meal before riding up hartside. Hit the wall badly afterwards and the climb was horrible, no energy, both legs cramping. The sleet didn’t help either!

  8. David Campbell September 10, 2008 at 10:56 am #

    somerfields own all butter flapjacks, pack of five for about a quid, all individually wrapped are excellent value all round.

  9. thePig May 20, 2008 at 5:08 pm #

    Great post, Tejvan.
    Although most of my cycling is touring and recreational I have had the bonk and it is not fun – it took several cans of red bull and some GOO to get me back on the bike.

    I now always do what you suggest – eating small amounts often. It is mostly bananas and muesli bars. Occasionally I have moments of weakness and order fish and chips at the lunch stops. It does not take to long to regret it!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Food and Nutrition for Cycle Training | Cycling UK - July 28, 2010

    [...] Cycling Food [...]

  2. Good Value Energy Gels and Bars | Cycling UK - June 25, 2009

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  3. Common Mistakes in Cycling | Cycling UK - May 26, 2008

    [...] Just as eating too little food will cause us to slow to walking pace. Eating too much food can also cause problems. If you eat a 3 course meal, your body will want to sleep not cycle 30 miles at a fast pace. One experience I will never forget is a two stage hill climb in Otley. I thought there was 3 hours between the hill climb races. So after the first race I ate quite a lot of cakes. When I’d finished eating I realised in 60 minutes I would be racing up East Chevin. (1 in 6 gradient) – not a nice experience. Needless to say I dropped a couple of places in the second race and finished with an unpleasant feeling of nausea. – See: Cycling Food [...]

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