We all know that cycling nutrition is important and we should be eating when we're on a long bike ride, especially if riding for over two hours. We’ve put together a handy guide so you know when you should be fueling and how much you’re going to need depending on the intensity of your ride.
Carbohydrates are one of the most important fuel sources for exercise. Carbs allow the body to restock its glycogen stores and ensure you’re able to retain energy throughout your ride to avoid ‘hitting the wall’. During exercise, it’s recommended that adults take on between 30-60g of carbohydrate per hour. Essentially, the maximum amount of carbohydrate the human body can absorb is roughly 1g per minute, which is where the advice for 60g per hour comes from.
However, the use of certain carbohydrate drinks using a 2:1 ratio of glucose/fructose has shown positive results in increasing the absorption rate of carbohydrate into the body, effectively allowing you to absorb more per hour, which is why they suggest a potential increase to 90g per hour. It’s important to note that every individual is different, and what works for you might not work for others, so it’s best to play around with amounts and types of fuel to figure out what best suits you and your riding.
Common sense suggests that fueling your body before you even swing your leg over the bike is vitally important. For the best results, you should aim to eat a meal two to three hours before your ride so your body has time to digest it. This is less important if it’s a lower intensity ride or shorter than an hour where you can get by on just a snack, but you want to make sure there are enough carbohydrates in the tank - think like Goldilocks and test out some porridge (or a similar slow release meal). If it’s a short ride, you will be able to get away with loading up on carbs the night before, with a meal of pasta or rice or something of that ilk. You might opt to do a fasted low intensity morning ride if you’re working towards particular goals - forcing the body to use its depleted stores to build endurance and/or burn fat - in which case recovery is particularly important.
If you’re riding an easy session, say an endurance Z1 ride, the rule of thumb is to eat every hour. You won’t need the maximum amount of 60-90g per hour for this low intensity, you’ll just need enough to keep stocked up without over-feeding. Try eating a banana or a flapjack for a slow release of energy and pair it with a sports drink.
For rides that are slightly harder than your endurance rides, think tempo or sweet spot, you'll want to be taking on solid fuel at least every 45 minutes, which will give you enough energy to maintain your efforts throughout your ride. A banana or a couple fig rolls are a great way to take on some quick energy. Alternatively, look for something more sports-focused such as these Honey Stinger Waffles which provide 21g of carbohydrate in one hit.
For those rides or races where you’re gripping onto your handlebars for dear life, it’s recommended you try to take on fuel every 30 minutes or so. This is where gels are handy in giving you that shot of carbohydrate in an easy-to-digest form. Make sure you test a few different gels before your race day though to avoid an upset stomach, such as CLIF shot energy gels and chews that come in a variety of flavours.
Depending on the conditions, i.e. if it’s hot or cold, you should be looking to take on between 500ml to 1litre of fluid for each hour of riding. This can be quite tricky and takes a bit of getting used to, but a good rule of thumb is to try to remember to drink at least every 10-15 minutes. Taking in a sports drink loaded with carbohydrate or electrolytes will help you replenish your glycogen stores and is easier than eating on the bike.
Unless you’re not going to be eating a full meal for a while after, you don’t need to invest in expensive protein shakes. A decent meal with a balance of carbohydrates and proteins will help you to recover faster and restock your glycogen stores - fish or chicken with vegetables and a portion of rice or pasta, for instance.
Perfecting your fueling strategy while riding is something that takes time, and a fair amount of trial and error. We’ve all made mistakes with eating too much and feeling sick, or eating too little and feeling faint. Try and hit between 30-60g of carbs per hour as a guideline and from there you’ll be able to tailor your fueling strategy so you never run out of energy. Top tip: if you feel hungry (or thirsty), it’s already too late.
Once you’ve perfected your fueling strategy and are ready to take on some adventures, keep an eye on Nomad Frontiers for the launch of our upcoming cycling trip packages, tailored especially to you and your riding.