Nutrition for Cyclists

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Eating a balanced diet that meets your needs can give you a leg up on your rides. Think of your nutrition as another part of training. Learning what works for you and what foods to eat and when to make you feel your best, takes planning and practice. And like training, getting your nutrition dialed will help you crush it on your bike. We’ve compiled some general guidelines for optimizing nutrition for cyclists.

 

Keep in mind that there are many things that make you unique: your goals, level of fitness, body size and composition, and diet. We recommend speaking with a licensed professional for the nuance you need to set yourself up for success.

Nutrition for Cyclists:
Foods to Eat Before Your Ride

Cronometer staff mountain biking in Revelstoke, BC
Brendan and Sadegh debating line choices on a rowdy little descent.
Make sure you have the energy you need to get you through the physical and mental work of a challenging bike ride. Whether you’re riding trails, gravel or road – you’re burning extra calories.
 
Having energy available when you are on your bike will improve your coordination, endurance, concentration, and your recovery after exercise. It also prevents irritability and helps you make good decisions when taking risks on your bike.
 
If you’re not sure how many calories you are eating, try tracking the foods you eat for a few days. You’ll also need to track your activity to know how much energy you need for riding. To optimize your nutrition for cycling, log your foods and rides with Cronometer. It can sync with Strava too!
 
Pre-ride foods should be high in carbs, moderate to low in protein, and low in fat and fibre.
 
If you’re going on a longer ride (1+ hours), have a larger snack or a meal no later than 2 hours before your workout, with a small snack (like a gel) 30 minutes before you begin.
 
Good pre-ride food choices:
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Bananas
  • Gels/chews
  • Granola bars
  • Bagels – we really love bagels at Cronometer!
  • Rice

Nutrition for Cyclists:
Foods to Eat During Your Ride

Mountain biking in Revelstoke, BC
Our Nutrition Scientist is typically all smiles and even more so when wearing this shirt!
Having carbs in your system on an enduro ride with bursts of high intensity will help prevent fatigue and improve concentration.
 
For light to moderate rides (up to an hour per day): aim for 3-7 g of carbs per kilogram of body weight every day, to make sure you have enough energy for your ride and recovery.
 
For harder, longer rides over an hour: your carbohydrate needs will be more in the range of 6-10 g/kg body weight/day for a typical day.
 
Longer rides and higher intensities are where you can benefit from eating more carbs. Even putting carbs in your mouth during exercise sends a signal to your brain that keeps you feeling good and helps sustain your level of effort.
 
So, if you find yourself getting tired or feeling fuzzy during your ride, try eating or drinking something with carbs in it. Start with around 30 g of carbs and go up from there if you need it.
 
Foods to eat mid-ride:
  • Rice cakes (we love the ones in the Feed Zone Portables cookbook by Skratch Labs)
  • Potatoes (pre-boil and bring on your ride)
  • Gels/chews
  • Low-sugar cereal like Shreddies (you’ll get the iron from fortified cereals, important for endurance athletes!)
 
Whatever you bring, make sure you go for low acidity carbs so there’s less of a chance of heartburn or an upset stomach. It might take a bit of trial and error to find the right carbs for you!

Nutrition for Cyclists:
Foods to Eat for Post-Ride Recovery

Cronometer staff mountain biking in Revelstoke, BC
Protein in your diet promotes muscle building after your ride – meaning you’ll be stronger on the next!
 
To support your body during bike season, aim for 1.2-1.4 g of protein / per kg of body weight / per day.
 
Spread your protein intake between your meals and snacks throughout the day. This has better effects than having a lot of protein at once. 
 
After your ride, refuel with a 4:1 or 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein.
 
For example, if you’re making a smoothie, you would want it to have 30 grams of carbs for every 10 grams of protein. This ratio becomes more important to consider the longer or harder your ride. You may not need to refuel as methodically after a shorter ride. But if you’ve been out there for a while or working hard, this will help refill your carb stores, build strength, and repair muscle damage.

Drink Water

Cronometer staff mountain biking in Revelstoke, BC
Oh yeah, there's a reason we call him Sendy Brendy at the office!
For peak performance, hydrate before, during and after you ride. A few hours before you hop on your bike, drink 5-10 ml/per kg of body weight.
 
You’ll start your ride well hydrated with enough time to get rid of excess beforehand, saving you time looking for a rest stop on the trail.
 
During and after your ride, drink enough water to replace what you lost, without overdoing it. To estimate what you need, weigh yourself before and after a ride. Then, aim to drink fluid to replace what you lost.
 
For example, if you weighed 1 kg less when you hop off your bike, aim to drink 1 L of fluid during your workouts. Drink more after your ride, too – roughly 0.25-0.5 litres for each kg of weight lost.
 
Up your fluid intake when you up the intensity or duration of your ride and when it’s hotter, more humid or higher altitude than usual.
 
If it’s a hot day, or if you would consider yourself a sweaty person, add electrolytes to your water before and during your workout. If you can tolerate it, Gatorade can be useful as both a carb and a source of electrolytes.
 
A word of caution though as some find that consuming that much sugar in liquid form upsets their stomach. If that’s the case, look for a product like Nuun or Hammer Endurance Endurolytes.
 
When it comes to electrolytes, you want something low/no sugar, but also without artificial sweeteners like sugar alcohols, which may also cause stomach upset.

Nutrition for Cycling:
Essential Micronutrients

Cronometer staff mountain biking in Revelstoke, BC
Vitamin SHRED.

Eat a diet that gives you all the essential vitamins and minerals you need:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Protein: legumes, eggs, tofu, fish and chicken.

     

Micronutrients for cyclists

While tracking all the micronutrients is what sets Cronometer apart, there are a few highlighted here for athletes: iron, calcium and vitamin D.

Iron

Helps supply your muscles with the oxygen they need to make energy. Hitting your bike regularly can increase your need for iron, so consider boosting your daily intake above the recommended dietary allowance; 18 mg/day for most adult women and 8 mg/day for adult men and post-menopausal women. This is more important if you are doing long rides, vegetarian or, a woman who menstruates. 

Calcium & Vitamin D

Calcium and Vitamin D are also important nutrients for endurance cyclists. They help with muscle function as well as reducing the risk of injury.
 

Good sources of calcium include:

  • Spinach
  • Tofu
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese
 
Few foods contain vitamin D; sources include eggs and oily fish like salmon and sardines and milk often has vitamin D added.
 
We can make vitamin D when our skin is exposed to sun. Cycling indoors, in the early morning or evening, wearing clothing or applying sunblock that covers your skin all limit your ability to make vitamin D this way. That might mean more reliance on dietary sources and supplements to meet your needs.

Drink (Less) Beer

Cronometer staff mountain biking in Revelstoke, BC
Hydration, as we mentioned, is crucial!
A celebratory brew after a long ride, that fits within your energy needs, is part of a healthy diet. Drinking too much alcohol can impair your recovery, as well as your performance even after your hangover wears off.
 
If you feel like you’re not performing at your best, save the suds for the shower and curb your alcohol intake in the day or two before you plan to ride.

Eat smarter. Live better.

Track your food, exercise and metrics with Cronometer.

For more of the details behind these recommendations and more information for competitive athletes check out the source:

Nutrition and Athletic Performance, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: March 2016 – Volume 48 – Issue 3 – p 543-568. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000852

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