Cycling Nutrition: Advanced Guide To Fueling

You wouldn’t start a road trip with no gas in your tank, so why start a ride with nothing in your stomach. Just like a car, your body needs fuel to run, especially during hard activity like a long or shorter, high-intensity ride. And just like a car, giving your body the right blend of fuel can make all the difference in how you feel, and how you perform.

We’ve all heard of the concept of “carbo-loading”, but it’s actually a little more complex than just digging into some fettucini alfredo the night before a ride. To help make it a little clearer, let’s take a quick look at what happens inside your body during a ride. Your body primarily runs off a type of simple sugar called glucose that’s stored in your muscles as a substance called glycogen. This is like the gas in a car. As your body burns glycogen, it will eventually run out, and will begin to burn blood glucose, and then muscle proteins for fuel. Blood glucose is like running on fumes, and the muscle proteins would be your buddies pushing your car into the gas station on neutral. Both are eventually unavoidable, but topping up the tank before leaving and fueling up regularly along the way helps delay the process. So how do we do this?

Fueling: Before your ride
Firstly, ensure you eat plenty of carbohydrates. You can “carbo-load” to a certain point, but your body only has a limited amount of storage capacity for fuel. Instead of eating a heaping plate of pasta the night before, shoot for eating smaller, 200-400 calorie, high carbohydrate snacks about 2-3 hours before your ride begins. This gives you body time to digest the food and store it as glycogen. Ideally, this should also be part of your recovery routine as well.

Fueling: During your ride
Once you’ve left for your ride is where fueling becomes really important. Bonking is an athlete term for when the body runs out of fuel, and when it happens it can feel pretty scary. It’s easy to avoid though. A 160-170 pound rider should try to consume about 50-60g of carbs and 24oz. of water per hour. That’s bout two gels per hour with plain water or one gel and sports drink per hour. Everyone is a little different though, so it’s important to learn to listen to your body. Try experimenting with different nutrition products and fueling at different intervals to find what’s right for you. You’re body will let you know when you’ve found the right combination.

It’s worth pointing out that, from a calorie standpoint, this will not fully replace the calories that you may be burning but this is OK, the body will always be able to burn calories faster than it can absorb them. Eating too many calories with too high a concentration of carbs can cause GI problems and potentially painful bloating. One final thing to consider is that for rides lasting longer than three hours it is important to consume some type of protein as roughly 10-15% of your calorie intake from the start of the ride. During rides longer than three hours your muscles will keep looking for more sources of energy as you go through your reserves and eventually will start breaking down proteins in the muscles themselves to use as an energy source. Adding protein to your fueling mix will help slow this process and speed up post ride recovery.

Shop: All Nutrition or select from our Fueling, Hydration & Recovery Products


Important Note: This guide provides a basic overview of cycling related hydration and nutrition, but should not be considered exhaustive. If cycling is a major part of your lifestyle, or if you are dealing with a particular health issue, we highly recommend that you seek out a qualified sports nutritionist. (Our lawyers made us say that, but it's actually good advice)


Nutrition and Hydration