Nutrition for cyclists – where to start

If you ride for longer than 90 minutes in one go then you start to use up your body’s store of easily accessible fuel – glycogen. Rather than go into the chemistry and biology of what’s going on,  I thought I’d share my personal tips for keeping energy levels topped up –

  • Before the ride eat a mixture of simple and complex carbohydrates. I like a breakfast of porridge with raisins or blueberries. Whole wheat toast and fruit/bananas are also very good. I’ve had excellent results from Belvita and Weetabix breakfast biscuits. For particularly long rides (6 hours or more) try topping up with bucket loads of pasta and other carbs one or two days before the ride.
  • About 90 minutes into the ride it’s a good idea to eat a few hundred calories. Some raisins, a banana or a commercially produced ‘energy bar’. Keep taking on small amounts at least every half hour. Eat too much and you could get stomach cramps or that bloated feeling.  An alternative to energy bars are flapjacks (Tesco’s tray bake are my favourite). You can also put energy powder in your drink, so you take on fluids and calories at the same time. If you are on a very long or fast ride then start to take on calories after 45 minutes,  and keep snacking regularly.
  • After the ride it’s best to take on lean protein to help your muscles recover. Chicken, an omelette or a tuna sarnie are great. Eat protein as soon as you can after the ride – within half an hour if possible.

Every body is different,  so you need to see what suits you best. Try a few options and gauge how you feel during the ride,  after the ride,  and a few days later. It takes a lot of trial and error so don’t expect it to find the ideal formula immediately. There is a lot of advice on the internet so do a spot of research and  find out a few combinations that suit you.

Here’s a few ideas for food I like to to take on a ride:

  • Malt loaf. Squidgy energy goodness. I can’t eat much of this as it doesn’t agree with me when riding, but I’ll carry a few slices for variety on very long rides (over 6 hours). You may find it ideal;
  • Flapjacks. Mmmm. Shop bought ones are cheaper and more convenient (got to mention Tescos again) but home made ones allow you to experiment. There are plenty of recipes out there and you can include fruit and nuts, coconut, almond and cherries, apricot and mixed nuts (my favourite, if you’re bring some along), whatever takes your fancy;
  • Trail mix. This is a shop-bought or a home made concoction of dried fruit, nuts and cereals. All dry and lose on a bag for snacking on. Again, there are plenty of recipes out there. Lidl do a nice granola mix you can eat straight out of the bag – good for making flapjacks with, too;
  • Fruit or bananas. A classic favourite, but they can get bruised when riding off road or long distances;
  • Sandwiches. Go with your favourites and see which makes you feel stronger for longer;
  • Biscuits. Kids love ’em too, but they do tend to get turned to a bag of crumbs. Fig rolls are ideal as they stay in one piece;
  • Energy bars/drinks/gels/sachets. Mr Cycles stocks a range of energy products. You can buy them in singles and they have a long shelf life, making them easy to try out;
  • EZ Fuel energy bars. My favourite because they are simply dried fruit and oats. They don’t squash or deform in my pack, and they have a long shelf life. They also suit my digestion, they are relatively cheap, and I love the taste. I buy these in bulk and always carry two;

Mix it up,  too. You’ll get bored with the same old option week in,  week out. This is especially true on very long rides where you will crave variety. Hopefully you will soon find a few trusty favourites.

I’ll say it again – try things for yourself to see what your body likes and dislikes, and see how you feel. What suits one person may not suit another. Got some energy bars you don’t like or can’t stomach? Try swapping them with another rider to see if their choices make you feel superhuman.

 

Hydration

You should also keep hydrated – drink before you feel thirsty. Sip water throughout the ride; this is where a hydration pack makes things easier – these are rucksacks with a built-in water bottle and drinking tube,  allowing you to sip while you ride – especially good if you have your energy drink added to your water. I tend not to use these except for very long rides – for me, a kilo or two of water is a lot of additional weight on my back (I prefer the weight on the bike frame in a bottle),  but it’s the best way to keep drinking while on the move. Again,  it’s a personal choice and you should always try things for yourself. Your local bike shop can show you some excellent options.

 

I hope this gives you a good idea of what to try.

 

Got a favourite we haven’t mentioned? We’d love to hear from you…

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