Cycling nutrition is instrumental to your performance. Making sure you replenish your energy stores and maintain enough to keep on riding is one of the finer balancing acts (pardon the pun) of cycling. As a rule of thumb, you should be aiming for 30-60g of carbohydrates per hour when you ride for longer than 90 minutes, although the nuances of exactly how much and when are something personal to you as a rider and your workout. However, on the basis that we all need to eat and make sure our energy levels are topped up, we've put together a few ideas of what you might want to take in your back pockets next time you ride.
Carbohydrate replenishment is key when you're on the bike, but how and when depends on how fast you get through the energy. For those days where you're riding seriously hard or you're racing, consider fast-acting carbs and glucose such as energy gels. These come in many different forms, but usually contain around 25g of carbohydrate and are easily digestible given their almost liquid form. Gels are completely personal to each individual’s taste, and due to the concentration of carbohydrate, they can irritate some stomachs more than others. There are so many types of gels, not to mention flavours, on the market now and it’s good to go through a few brands and find one that works for you – but do this before race day, lest you risk gastrointestinal distress when it matters.
For the days when you’re not working quite as hard and can afford to eat a little bit slower (and chew) on the bike, try some slow-releasing carbs such as bananas, waffles, rice cakes, and of course, cake at the all-important café stop. You don’t need to buy sports-specific foods, but they will be tailored to cycling’s specific requirements and it will be easy to figure out how many you need for your ride based on the number on the packet.
There are plenty of in between options too - if you don't get along with gels then don't fret. Things like energy bars, chews and gummies are all just as digestible. You just need to remember that food takes roughly 15-20 minutes to make its way to your stomach. So when you're debating whether you really need your next snack, remember that it's for the you 20 minutes from now, who might be feeling a whole lot worse without the added energy. See what we stock in our nutrition store here.
Using a carbohydrate drink is a great way to take the necessary carbs on board without needing to eat as much. If you’re riding hard and long, you want to look for carbohydrate energy drinks which can provide anywhere between 4-8g of carbs per 100ml depending on whether they're labelled isotonic or hypertonic. The best drinks use a 2:1 glucose/fructose mix which allows the body to increase its carbohydrate intake to roughly 90g per hour. If you’re not riding as intensely or for as long, you can get away with either water or an electrolyte drink to help re-hydrate you as you ride.
Electrolyte drinks are readily available and can be found without calories. They come in plenty of flavours too, so just like gels, you should be able to find one that suits your tastes. These drinks can help to replace the lost sodium from sweating, as well as potassium, calcium and magnesium. Electrolyte drinks can easily be made at home so you don’t need to spend a fortune, but it is easy to figure out exactly what you’re taking on board in terms of quantities of nutrients when it’s written on the side of the box.
If you're riding for less than an hour then water should suffice, but always make sure you bring enough for the distance or duration of your ride. An average adult should be looking to take on about 500ml an hour, which is typically one bottle's worth. Although it’s quite unlikely, it is possible to over-hydrate and drink too much water, which can become life-threatening. A good rule of thumb is to drink every 10 minutes or so, and this is especially important if you're riding in hot weather. Set an alarm on your watch if you need prompting, otherwise, just try to keep sipping at your drink when you remember.
Eating and drinking on the bike doesn't have to be difficult or expensive. Make sure you shop around and find some drinks and food that you like and that agrees with you while you're riding. What works for one person may not work for another, so just bear that in mind when swapping gels with your mates. If you're still not sure about exactly when you should be eating and drinking, read our science-packed article on it here.
If you’ve mastered cycling nutrition and the art of keeping hydrated and energized on your rides, then keep an eye on our website as we will soon launch our new trip planning service for cyclists.