Fuelling for long distance cycle rides

If you read ‘Good nutrition can transform your cycling’, you may remember I mentioned fuelling every day for a ride whether you go out on your bike or not. I also mentioned planning ahead for longer rides. Today’s post is all about those longer rides.

What you need to do.

  • Manage your everyday nutrition
  • Carb load the night before
  • Eat a good breakfast
  • Take ride food
  • Time it right

Manage your everyday nutrition

I covered everyday nutrition in the post linked above, but essentially the aim is to fuel for riding even on days you’re not riding. You can slowly adjust your intake to maintain size and weight while still giving your body everything it needs to get the job done.

Carb load the night before

Carb loading is still a contentious issue but I prefer to do it rather than not. I can always burn the carbs if they are there but can’t if they aren’t. Having pasta or rice with a protein the night before should take care of carb loading nicely if the rest of your diet is adequate.

Eat a good breakfast

Porridge should be compulsory for cyclists. I hate the stuff but I eat it anyway. It’s low GI, slow release and can be flavoured in a multitude of ways. For best results you can add nuts and fruit with a little honey or syrup for sweetness. I tend to add chocolate milkshake flavouring to the milk instead as I have fruit smoothies when I get back.

Take ride food

Ride food is hugely subjective, so you will have to choose your own. I have a hard time with this as I’m gluten intolerant. I tend to eat Trek bars or just make my own. My gluten free energy bar recipe is pretty good although they tend to get a little sticky when the temperature rises.

Your body can absorb approximately 60g of carbohydrate an hour while cycling. For longer rides, it’s a good idea to use this limit so you don’t deplete your glycogen stores. How you do it is up to you. I tend to use a mixture of gels, Haribo and energy bars. I don’t use energy drinks unless it’s really hot and then only for the electrolytes.

Time it right

Depending on your fitness, it’s usually a good idea to begin taking on that 60g of carbohydrate after 30-40 minutes. While you will have carbs in your system from breakfast, you’re planning ahead. Unless you’re using an energy drink, gels and food take time to get into your system so you need to plan accordingly. A gel will take between 5-15 minutes but a bar, cake or pack of sweets could take anything up to 45 minutes to an hour.

Plan for that in your mind and time your eating to supply your body with a fairly steady stream of energy throughout the ride. That way, you’ll always have something in the tank for a sprint finish or surprise ascent.


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