Nutrition and fuelling for cycling are pet subjects of mine. Having battled with my diet for years in order to increase it enough to fuel my riding, I read and research a lot on this very subject. I don’t care about food. If my stomach didn’t rumble, I probably wouldn’t bother eating. As a cyclist who burns an average of 130,000 calories a year on the bike (according to Garmin) that can be a problem.
Over the past year, I have made some small but significant changes to my diet that have transformed my cycling. No more calorie deficits, no more slow recoveries and no more depending on meal replacement shakes and recovery drinks to give me nutrients.
Important aspects of cycling nutrition
One of the fundamental lessons learned so far is that you should fuel for cycling every day regardless of whether you’re going out or not. Even a slight increase in low GI carbohydrate and protein can have a massive effect on your riding.
Principles of my cycling nutrition advice includes:
- Fuel every day for rides
- Ensure adequate carbs and protein each day
- Plan ahead for longer rides
- More is better than less
- Rest is best
Fuel every day for rides
If your body doesn’t have enough calories available, it eventually breaks down muscle fibres for fuel. That sentence alone should be enough to get you eating right. I know it worked for me.
There is a transition period between using readily available glycogen and metabolising fat for energy. In that time your body eats muscles for fuel. As a result, muscles can be damaged which will compromise the ride itself and recovery. If this happens, all your good work on the ride could be undone. Not only will your body have to recover from the ride itself but also the extra damage done to those muscles by your metabolism.
Introducing or increasing protein rich foods, good carbohydrate sources, fruit and vegetables into your daily routine will help with all this. If you fuel properly every day, you will only ever need to carb load for the longer rides.
Ensure adequate carbs and protein each day
Lack of energy can affect you in all your daily roles. It makes concentration more difficult, makes you lethargic and unenthusiastic which has a knock on effect to every aspect of life. Add cycling into that and you’re always going to be playing catch up.
A healthy breakfast, snacks during the day, a protein-filled lunch and a balanced dinner will help in all aspects of your life. Add a little extra of everything on the day before a big ride and you should have all you need in the tank for the next day.
Plan ahead for longer rides
If you’re going out for a few hours, you may benefit from carb loading the night before. You will certainly benefit from a bigger breakfast, some ride food and a good meal once you get home. It all goes into feeding the engine. Not just the one that pushes you along but also the one that repairs the damage afterwards.
More is better than less
Given how many calories the average cyclist burns, we can afford to indulge a little. Eating more than we might need is fine as long as the food sources are good ones. I don’t think there is such a thing as too many vegetables or too much fruit. A protein-rich diet is also fine if you ride regularly.
There’s no need to go overboard though. The more is better mantra is fine if you’re sensible but it isn’t an excuse to pig out on cake and beer. I said quality food sources…
Rest is best
Resting after exercise is not being lazy. Ask any pro what they do after a warm down. They eat, drink, be massaged and then lie down. They only get up for another meal before lying down again. Giving your body time to repair and recover ensures it is ready for the next challenge.
Cycling nutrition is about listening to your body and giving it what it needs. It’s a learning process where no two solutions are the same. But follow the basic rules and you can adapt to your own needs and supercharge your riding. Now get out there!