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Fueling to Ride

Fueling the body, or lack of fueling, before, during and after a ride can really make or break your performance. There is nothing worse than a ride taking longer than expected and praying you find a gas staton for emergency gummy bears before you bonk.

The purpose of this article is to help the cyclist become mindful of what to eat and drink for obtaining maximum performance and enjoyment throughout the cycling season. The main factors in fuel for the cyclist are carbohydrates, proteins, and hydration. The amount and frequency of intake of these nutrients needed depends on the length, intensity and duration of the ride and the body composition of the cyclists. 

Take a look at how our friends at GCN prepare for  short, medium and long rides


Pre Exercise: As you exercise at high intensities, you’ll use mainly carbohydrate that is in your liver, blood and muscle. The feeling of fatigue that develops during long road rides is linked to low blood sugar, liver glycogen and muscle glycogen levels, and it is because of this that we have heard the advice to carb load in the days before riding. If your ride is longer than 90 minutes then you should be eating plenty of carbohydrates on the day before the ride. Anywhere between six and 12 grams of carbohydrate for each kilogram of your body weight, depending on the length of your ride.  For rides longer than 90 minutes, you need to consider how to fuel before, during and after your ride to ensure success and enjoyment on future rides.

Post Exercise: But what you eat after your ride is just as important because taking in the proper nutrients post-workout of any length or intensity ride can benefit your recovery and even subsequent rides.

Whether you just got back from a 45-minute spin to help clear your mind or a hilly four-hour long ride, carbs and protein are the most important nutrients you need to refuel. It’s best to get something in your system between 30 to 60 minutes after exercise. Carbs are used for glycogen repletion, and if you don’t replace the carbs you used up on a ride, you can feel sluggish, weak, and sore in the coming hours and days, including on your next ride. Protein is used to repair and build your muscles, so if you don’t consume enough after the ride, your muscles’ recovery process can be impeded. The length and intensity of your ride do play a role in the amount of carbs or protein you need to consume. Carbs and protein intake should be based on bodyweight, however, spread out your protein intake through the day since your body can only absorb so much protein at one time. Aim for a 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein within 30 to 60 minutes after a ride. Fat intake should be limited since it can interfere with digestion. Let’s say that you’re starving after a long ride. A study found that fast food from McDonald’s is just as good for recovery and subsequent performance as other foods meant for those purposes. If you’re on a short, slow ride, it’s better to wait a little longer for a healthier option. Chocolate milk, fruit smoothies, fresh fruit, yogurt, peanut butter sandwiches are healthy choices that could be planned ahead of tme to avoid bad choices.


Pre Exercise You should aim to drink about 500ml of fluid about four hours before starting. The next time you urinate, if it is dark in color, you should aim to drink the same amount again, and keep doing so until your urine is light or clear in color. Some people sweat so much during exercise that they might struggle to replace all the fluids that are lost, and they may benefit from hyperhydrating before exercise. While there are potential benefits, it does increase the risk that you may have to stop to urinate during the ride, so be careful.

During Exercise  During exercise our body produces a lot more metabolic heat than it normally does, and the main way of losing this excess heat is sweating. If you lose more than three per cent of your body mass in sweat, it will most likely have significant detrimental effects on your performance. Water and/or an electrolyte drink are essential to have with you on every ride.

A closer look at fueling during cycling.

A few words of caution

Hyponatraemia: If you consume more fluid than you lose through sweat, there is a risk of developing hyponatraemia, where the sodium in your blood becomes diluted. Prolonged exercising and sweating, combined with drinking water without electrolytes, is the cause of exercise-associated hyponatraemia. This is common among marathon runners and participants in other endurance events The symptoms of this include confusion, weakness and faintng. In the most extreme cases, seizures and even death have occurred. 

Caffeine is arguably the most commonly used supplement in sports due to its performance-enhancing effects. However, caffeine affects everyone differently. Factors such as tolerance and timing need to be adapted to the individual cyclist. Some specific hints on how to adapt caffeine use to your daily nutrition preferences can be found in the article below.

6 Truths about Coffee and Caffeine


Fueling your body is very important for obtaining maximum performance and enjoyment from your cycling adventures. In planning your own fueling strategy keep in mind your riding style, body type and cycling goals and create a cycling menu to fit your personal needs. You should also experiment with and optimize your nutrition practices during your training sessions, so when it gets to the long, important rides, you are accustomed to the fuel regimen and will be ready for whatever challenge lies ahead. 

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