A bike ride depletes energy reserves in the body, making it essential to stock up on resources by eating before, during, and after a bike ride. Eating ensures energy reserves during the ride for best performance and energy for recovery post-ride. Eating the correct type of food is critical.
Athletes have a wide variety of nutrition supplements during bike riding events. This article will help you grasp the importance of nutrition before, during, and after bike rides. Neglecting your body by not fueling it enough with the right type of food can result in “bonking”.
What Food To Eat Before A Cycling Event
Just like other types of endurance sports, the right food to eat when preparing for a bike race/event is vital for optimal performance. Every athlete always wants to give their best at events, which is no different with cyclists.
Should you Carb-load?
The principle behind carb-loading is maximizing the amount of carbohydrate (glycogen) stored in your muscles and liver. It is like starting a long journey with a full tank of gas – you will go further with a full tank before running out of fuel.
This can improve your performance and endurance during a long-distance bike event. The best way to do this is to eat a high-carb meal one day or several days before if you’re doing a series of events.
You don’t have to carb-load for short events, just eat the right food the night before your event. Prioritize carbs such as pasta, vegetables, bread, whole grains, and fruit. Don’t forget to enjoy some dessert! Healthy desserts are fruit salad (watermelon and cantaloupe), low-fat ice cream, banana, and blueberries.
Which food is the best to eat the day before a cycling event? Here’s a list of foods ideal for a carb-loading meal the day before a ride:
- Green vegetables
- Brown rice
- Whole grains
These foods will fill up your muscle with ready-to-burn energy to keep you replenished during your bike race/event.
What To Eat The Night Before A Long Bike Ride
Long bike rides can be very draining. One of the ways to fuel your body for long-distance cycling is to eat a carbohydrate-rich meal the night before. Precisely, aim for carb consumption closer to 3.6 to 5.5 grams per half a kilogram of your weight.
Here are some excellent carbohydrate-rich foods to eat the night before your ride:
- Whole grain rice
- Sweet potato
According to experts, protein and fat have only a slight effect on energy levels compared to the powerful effects of carbohydrate loading. Although it doesn’t mean you cannot have all the good servings.
Best Food To Consume Before A Bike Ride
On the ride day, before the event, it’s best to consume food with complex carbohydrates. You don’t want something that burns quickly and gives you a short spike in energy.
Good breakfast options include fat-free fruit smoothies, bagels, low-fat muffins or banana bread, raisin toast, and sandwiches or toast. All of these foods are digested not too quickly and will provide your muscle with a steady amount of energy during the event.
Other foods include the following:
- Certain cereals and low-fat milk
- Low-fat muffins
- Pasta and vegetables
- Low fat ice cream
Foods like avocado, coconut oil, and yogurt are excellent sources of healthy fats, while eggs, fish, and nuts provide high amounts of protein. These are also good to eat before a bike ride.
The most important thing is to eat something you’re already used to eating.
Don’t eat food that is new to you before a race, your body might react in a weird way and gives you an upset in the stomach. If you need to, take a week or two to get used to some of the food above.
If you are experiencing a challenging time consuming large amounts of carbs, another option is to add some extra high-carb drinks in the form of low-fat fruit smoothies, for example, smoothies with nut butter, banana, and low-fat milk. Juices or shakes, such as protein shakes, can also be added to your list of extra carb drinks.
If you are not used to eating a lot of carbs in general, you can consume carbs in much smaller amounts. You can also add liquid carbs to fuel your body, which is less likely to leave you feeling bloated and uncomfortable.
The Worst Food To Eat Before A Cycling Event
Here is a list of some foods to avoid and why they slow you down. Read it carefully because, besides training, nothing affects your performance more than a diet.
- Too much liquid. Ingesting large amounts of water thirty minutes before an event will only make your stomach feel bloated. Your bloodstream can only absorb a certain amount of fluid per hour, so riding with a lot of water churning in your stomach is counterproductive.
- Coarse Food. Avoid eating foods that require more energy to digest than the calories they provide before a cycling event. Foods such as lettuce, popcorn, kale, broccoli, and other less-dense vegetables are not a good choice for the eve of a race.
- Energy Foods. Many think that having a candy bar, energy bar, or even a doughnut before the race will give quick energy. It will, but that energy will be left unused and the body will release insulin to recoup from your sugar intake. The latter will cause the removal of glucose from the blood and bring down the levels too much. You might experience a sugar crash which will make you feel sluggish.
- Fast foods. Highly processed restaurant foods such as sausages, bacon, burgers, apple pie, and other fried foods contain a lot of fat, protein, and sugar. You can’t use these nutrients in a race because they can take eight hours to digest.
- Coffee. It is proven that caffeine improves your athletic performance, but it’s important to note that caffeine is a diuretic that can cause the body to dehydrate. So don’t drink coffee right before the event starts, instead drink it one or two hours before.
- Whole milk. It can cause slight dehydration, and many bad saturated fats in milk slow digestion. Eat low-fat dairy products throughout the week and avoid full dairy products on race day.
- Coke. Soft drinks do not contain as much caffeine as a cup of coffee. But it includes a lot of sugar which has no nutritional value and will cause insulin production to skyrocket. Effervescent water gives you a false feeling of fullness, lacks hydration, and interferes with water absorption.
Develop preliminary routines. Get your body used to the good food, and avoid the bad food. Find the product that works for you and keep using it. Eat to win!
Should You Do Fasted Ride Training And Is It Good For You?
In fasted training, the goal is to ride on an empty stomach to encourage your body to burn more fat as fuel, not carbohydrates, to improve endurance. The idea of fasted riding means you will not consume carbs up to one night before the ride.
Keep in mind that we’re strictly talking about training, not before a race/event.
Some studies claim that cycling on an empty stomach helps you burn fat while you are training, while other studies claim that there are no benefits. So, in short, we can’t give you a clear recommendation on whether you should do it or not.
What is clear is that you should not stay fasted during a long bike ride. It will lead to bonking and not being able to finish your training session. For a short ride—maybe during an active rest day, sure, give it a try and see if your body can handle it.
When And How Much Food To Eat During A Cycling Event
Considering the best food during a bike ride is more than just energy. It has to be portable, and it needs to provide essential nutrients to the muscles, be consumed on a schedule, and be easy to carry while riding.
First of all, always carry more snacks than you think you need, and try to eat a few foods and a few sips of liquid, typically every 15 to 30 minutes depending on the intensity.
Proper nutrition is essential to maintaining energy levels throughout your bike ride. While your body does store carbs as glycogen in the liver and muscles, they last about an hour and you need to keep fueling your body to maintain performance.
It’s crucial to start hydrated and stay hydrated, but the longer you ride and the more hills you climb, the more you rely on snacks for energy. So, if you are participating in a long bike ride, make sure you have enough snacks on board.
Electrolyte-rich drinks are recommended for more than 3-hour bike rides. Less than that, water is usually enough.
No Food Consumption Is Necessary During Rides Less Than 1 Hour
No matter how intense the ride is, you don’t need food if your ride lasts less than one hour. The reason for this is that your body needs 15-20 minutes to absorb simple carbs, and you probably have enough of it in your glycogen storage.
If you’re preparing for a criterium or similarly short ride event and feel like you can use some extra energy, consume an energy gel before the ride starts.
Best Type Of Food to Eat During A Bike Ride
Eat complex carbs before a ride, eat simple carbs during a ride. That’s the general rule.
If you bring an assortment of food, start with solid foods early. Food like sandwiches, homemade rice bars, and sports nutrition bars. Keep chewable tablets and gels for the last third of your ride.
On average, people can absorb one gram of carbs per minute, so your goal should be a maximum of 60 grams of carbohydrates every hour of your ride. Water replenishment will depend on the intensity of your bike ride.
Below is a list of examples that contain 30 grams of carbs (make sure to read the nutritional label on the packaging):
- 500ml bottle of isotonic sports drink
- One and a half carbo energy gels
- A small handful of jellied sweets
- One banana (large)
- One large cereal bar or carbohydrate-based energy bar is low in fiber.
Stick to easily digestible, high-GI carbohydrates to avoid discomfort and nausea. Include sports drinks that contain carbohydrates and electrolytes for long rides to meet your fuel and water needs.
The Importance Of Hydration – How Much To Drink
Drink about 500-750ml of an electrolyte beverage within 2 hours before long rides or races. Even if you miss it, don’t drink too many fluids before riding, it will likely guarantee early and numerous “comfort breaks.”
Fluid consumption is essential. Drink a little bit of water ever so often. It would be best not to wait until you feel too thirsty. Try to take 2-3 good-sized sips from your bottle every 10-15 minutes from when you start.
Electrolytes are salts that consist of sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. It would help replace electrolytes lost through sweat since they are essential for normal cell function. Most sports drinks have the correct electrolyte balance.
When To Eat After A Bike Ride
You should eat a larger meal within two hours of riding. This meal is vital for replenishing the body’s stores of carbohydrates used during exercise and providing amino acids and fats to help you build and repair muscle.
If you missed the two hours window, at least just try to eat enough for the rest of the day. Don’t overeat if you have another ride the next day.
After riding, a basic meal idea: Lean protein such as eggs, chicken, tuna, or tofu, along with complex carbs like whole-grain pasta, rice, sweet potatoes, and some healthy fat – try avocado.
Best Food To Eat For Recovery After A Cycling Event or Training
Protein can antioxidants can help your body recover and rebuild stronger muscles. Here are some of the best food to eat for recovery:
- Chicken (grilled or baked)
- Sweet potato
- White rice
- A healthy smoothie (for example, a mixture of strawberries, blueberries, apple, milk, and mango)
- Nut butter
Omega 3 supplements and tart cherry juice are new recovery techniques that help reduce muscle inflammation and delayed onset muscle soreness.
If you continue training immediately after riding, you should consume at least 20 grams of protein within 3 hours for optimal muscle recovery.
In addition to a disciplined nutritional strategy, proper sleep, rest, and stretching are also crucial for recovery.